• Gatineau Park forest-cover map

    A 1974 forest-cover map of Gatineau Park. The 361-square-kilometre protected area in southwestern Quebec is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. (Map credit: Gatineau Park: Forest cover types / Department of the Environment [1974], © Government of Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada (2018), e011086587.)

It's not as good as actually being in Gatineau Park amid the rich autumnal colours, but looking at this map of the 80-year-old protected area in southwestern Quebec is a mesmerizing experience unto itself.

The camouflage-like tapestry of predominantly ochre, orange, yellow and red helps hold your gaze and piques your interest — where, exactly, is the army on Earth that’s using this pattern to conceal its soldiers? — before evoking images of stands of forested hillsides ablaze with colour in September and October, not to mention meandering strolls through them in crisp fall air.

When this forest-cover map of the park was completed in 1974, many city-dwellers in the National Capital Region (Gatineau Park is a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa and operated by the National Capital Commission) had long been feeling the itch to run for those hills. They wanted an escape — or at the very least, a break — from the fug of smog that came with post-war urban expansion and population growth; they wanted to breathe in the fresh air of forests, stroll on trails through the wilderness on their doorstep and perhaps even catch glimpses of wildlife such as black bears.

But visitors eager to experience the outdoors left behind more than just footprints and photographs. As outdoor recreation grew, so did the pressure on the park’s forests, which made authorities increasingly concerned about the welfare of the woods. So in 1969, the Forest Management Institute of the Canadian Forestry Service was dispatched at the request of the National Capital Commission to survey the situation on the ground and map the park’s patchwork of forest cover. When the service finalized its map five years later, it finally had a comprehensive picture of the park’s spectrum of tree types — dry, moist and wet hardwoods, mixed woods and softwoods — and its biodiversity, which remains unusually high for an area that’s just 361 square kilometres.

The information proved invaluable for supporting forest management plans and was an important modern step in maintaining what remains today a cherished wild refuge.

*with files from Erika Reinhardt, archivist, Library and Archives Canada