Stars seen in the midnight gaze.
Stars shining above the haze of the coast
Guiding us, teaching us with multiple stories.
The stars speak about ourselves, from birth to old age.
Its permanence ties us to times past.
But to hide their secrets, they still try.
Looking at them makes dreams of the future shine.
But to see them disappear is to lose a lot of delight.
At Ontario Parks, we are committed to protecting and preserving our province’s biodiversity. The night skies in their natural splendor are an important part of that protection.
Our night skies are part of our heritage
Since ancient times, stars have always been present in the clear night skies. They have fascinated us and awakened our curiosity.
One of the oldest human connections, felt universally throughout the world, was that of coming together at the end of a day’s work and passing on the knowledge and wisdom of elders. His stories, which transmitted culture from one generation to the next, were often both practical and moralistic in nature.
As the telling of these stories often occurred under the stars, it is not surprising that many of the stories were transposed to the constellations. So the stars became omnipresent storytellers, connecting us to our ancestors and our stories.
From a scientific point of view, the ancients discovered the ability to navigate and predict important seasonal events from the stars. They used the stars to navigate, like many insects and birds, which led to intra- and intercontinental travel and trade routes.
The cyclical nature of our seasons was revealed by observing which stars rose or set at any given time. This knowledge was then used to create calendars that could predict when important events would occur, such as the annual flooding of the Nile or the planting and harvesting of crops.
The ability to navigate and forecast calendars from the stars sparked curiosity and fascination, and compelled our ancestors to learn more about those mysterious points of light.
Our night skies are crucial to protecting Ontario’s ecological health
Many birds, amphibians, insects and plants (and us!) have evolved to rely on uninterrupted periods of darkness during the night.
Seasonal changes in the length of darkness at night help plants prepare for spring and fall, and provide important signals to other animals that trigger events such as amphibian reproduction and bird migration.
Unfortunately, the desire to illuminate the night and banish darkness has led to vast areas where artificial lighting has spilled over into cities and backyards, disrupting the darkness that is important to so many creatures and plants.
Some animals emerge at night, so light pollution can delay their activity, reducing the amount of time they can be outside foraging, migrating, or finding a mate. Likewise, some predators are dusk specialists; The longer “sundown” lasts, the longer they can be active, putting greater pressure on other wildlife populations.
Many birds and insects migrate at night and some use the moon and stars to orient themselves. Artificial lights can distract or divert wildlife. Migrating birds may crash into the windows of illuminated buildings at night, thinking the light is a more distant star.
Artificial lights also attract insects. They may fly towards the light, getting tired, depleting fat reserves, and becoming too tired to do what they were supposed to do (migrate, find a mate, etc.).
Dark skies in today’s society
Today, our ability to see the stars is under extreme threat as the extreme lighting needs of our civilizations encroach on natural darkness. During the 1970s, people living outside Toronto could still see the Milky Way at night. Now this is only possible during blackouts.
This light pollution is very visible from space. Image: NASA/NOAA (VIIRS)
According to the American Medical Association, “[m]Over the past decade, much has been learned about the possible adverse health effects of exposure to electric light, especially at night. The main concern is the alteration of the circadian rhythm.” In other words, the impact of nighttime light, especially towards the bluer end of the spectrum, can significantly affect our sleep patterns and overall health.
It does not have to be this way.
With proper shielding and selection of lighting fixtures, light can be directed only to the ground where it should be, preserving the sky and eliminating spillover into our rooms. This not only saves our health and our night sky, but also significantly saves money.
The dark sky is preserved in provincial parks
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is an international leader working to protect our health and the night skies. In collaboration with other similar organizations, such as the International Dark Sky Association, RASC has created several designations that denote a place focused on the protection and preservation of our night skies.
In 2018, Killarney Provincial Park became the first provincial park in Ontario to receive the official Dark Sky Reserve designation.
RASC guidelines indicate that dark sky reserves must follow three criteria:
Killarney has implemented programs and safeguards to ensure that ALL local lighting is shielded, dimmed or turned off when not in use. Outreach programs through interpretive signage and instructional programs describe best practices and their benefits.
Killarney Provincial Park continues to work and cooperate with local groups, organizations and landowners to promote this continued dark sky awareness and preservation.
Ontario Parks is committed to protecting this crucial natural resource. A few months later, Lake Superior Provincial Park became our second Dark Sky Reserve, and in February 2021, Quetico Provincial Park became our third as an official International Dark Sky Park.
We are proud to help safeguard this natural resource.