Canada has a reputation for having breathtaking natural beauty. There are spectacular natural attractions all around the country, from the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta to the untamed waterfalls of Ontario. Here are 10 stunning places to learn about Canada’s first nations culture.
While many visitors to Canada have heard about Mounties and maple syrup, many others — including many Canadians — are unaware of the country’s rich and complex Indigenous past.
Canada is home to some of North America’s earliest human settlement sites. The country is rich in historic sites where visitors can learn more about Indigenous heritage and culture.
French River Provincial Park, Ontario – Canada First Nations Culture
Though generally associated with 17th-century French explorers, the French River was a significant transportation route for Indigenous peoples such as the Shield Archaic, Algonquian, Huron, and Ojibwe for thousands of years.
Many pictographs and important archaeological sites can be found along the river’s waterway. The award-winning French River Visitor Centre allows visitors to delve into the rich history of Indigenous, French, and English cultures that shaped the area.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta
For nearly 6,000 years, Blackfoot hunters surrounded buffalo herds at their grazing grounds in the Porcupine Hills, herded them into lanes lined with hundreds of stone cairns, and drove them full speed toward the “jump,” a precipice about 328 yards (300 m) long and more than 33 feet (10 m) high.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the world’s oldest, largest, and best-preserved jump sites. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and now has a $10 million interpretative center.
Broken Group Islands, BC – Canada First Nations Culture
The Broken Group Islands, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, are a group of approximately 100 islands featuring white sand beaches, rocky shores, diverse wildlife, and a rich Indigenous heritage. Benson Island, also known as C’isaa, is the ancestral home of the Tseshaht Nation, who first settled on the island 5,000 years ago.
C’isaa has a Tseshaht cultural interpretive display and a traditionally carved house post. Guests can also meet the “beachkeepers,” who look after the area, greet visitors, and carry on the Tsehaht peoples’ tradition.
Bon Echo Provincial Park & Mazinaw Rock, Ontario
Mazinaw Lake, located in Bon Echo Provincial Park, is the second-deepest lake in Ontario, excluding the Great Lakes. Mazinaw Rock’s cliffs stand 330 feet (100 m) above the lake’s surface, and it was here that Algonquin ancestors etched over 250 images in red ochre on 65 rock surfaces hundreds of years ago.
These ancient pictographs, claimed to be the oldest on the Canadian Shield, including human and animal images and abstract and geometric designs.
Bighorn Backcountry — David Thompson Country, Alberta
Bighorn Backcountry is a collection of twelve Public Land Use Zones located just east of Banff and Jasper National Parks. It is home to spectacular alpine beauty, a wealth of animals, and some significant First Nations heritage.
For thousands of years, First Nations people camped in the area they considered sacred. Visitors can see the remains of sweat lodges and prayer sites. These sensitive structures must be respected, and visitors must refrain from removing or touching objects.
World’s Tallest Totem Pole, British Columbia – Canada First Nations Culture
The world’s highest totem pole stands over 173 feet tall and is located on the fringes of the Nimpkish Reserve at Alert Bay, on the northern extremity of Cormorant Island (53 m). The main characters carved on this pole symbolize Kwakwaka’wakw Nation tribes.
Alert Bay is home to some of the world’s best Indigenous artifacts, art, and totem poles. Traditional memorial poles at the town’s Nimpkish (or Namgis) burial sites can also be seen by visitors, as can the U’mista Cultural Centre.
Baffin Island, Nunavut – Canada First Nations Culture
Baffin Island is Canada’s largest island and the world’s fifth-largest island. The island has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for millennia, with evidence of Pre-Dorset culture dating back 4,000 years. While the western half of the island is mostly tundra, the eastern side is covered in snow-capped mountains, some of which tower over 8,000 feet (2,440 m).
Most of the island’s residents are Inuit who live around the coastal trading ports. Many inukshuks can still be seen on the island. In the Inuktitut language, inukshuk means “in the shape of a person,” They were traditionally used to lead travelers or hunters, warn people of danger, or mark sacred areas.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park & National Historic Site, Ontario
Petroglyphs Provincial Park has the highest known concentration of First Nations petroglyphs (rock carvings) in Canada, with approximately 1,200 images carved by Algonquian- or Iroquian-speaking people between 900 and 1100 AD.
The engravings show symbolic forms, human figures, animals like as birds, mammals, reptiles, and fish, and supernatural entities. They are known as Kinomagewapkong or “the Teaching Rocks” by the area’s Ojibwe people. Deep holes in the park’s rocks are considered to lead to the spirit world, and a trickle of water running beneath the rock generates sounds regarded as those of the Spirits.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park — Áísínai’pi National Historic Site, Alberta
The highest concentration of petroglyphs on the North American Plains can be seen in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Petroglyphs and pictographs (rock paintings) are part of an ancient Indigenous rock art tradition, and some of the earliest works at Writing-on-Stone could be 5,000 years old. According to Blackfoot tradition, this rock art was created by spirits.
According to archaeological evidence, people camped in the area for at least 3,500 years. Petroglyphs were created by gouging images into the sandstone using pieces of bone, horn, or rock. The pictographs were painted with ochre, a red, yellow, and orange pigment made from crushed iron ore and animal fat.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, British Columbia
Gwaii Haanas, according to Haida belief, is where time began. Gwaii Haanas, which means “people’s islands,” is the Haida name for the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago of 1,884 islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia that is often referred to as the “Galapagos of the north” due to the presence of 39 subspecies of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. Salmon, herring, halibut, mussels, crab, starfish, sea urchin, and octopus abound in the surrounding water, as do orcas, grey, humpback, and minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, and harbor seals.
The old and now-abandoned Haida settlement of Ninstints on Anthony Island is part of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. Foreign illnesses carried by fur traders destroyed the population of this and other settlements in the 1800s. Weathered and rotting totem poles guard this UNESCO World Heritage Site.