Thu. Feb 29th, 2024
Then and now: park uniforms

Preparing to celebrate our 125th anniversary had us searching through archives for old photographs and documents. Throughout the year, we will share our discoveries in our OP125 blog series.

This month, we look at the evolution of our park uniforms.

When Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario’s first provincial park) was created in 1893, park rangers did not have uniforms. They wore a ranger badge with their bush clothing.

Black and white image of a circular brass pin, including the Ontario shield, that reads Algonquin Park Ranger. The first model of Algonquin ranger insignia was made of molded brass. This particular badge was issued to gamekeeper Robert Balfour.
Pin that includes the shield of the province of Ontario that says Algonquin Park RangerWorn by Stephen J. Waters, park ranger from 1893 to 1912. In the photo below, you can see Stephen wearing his badge.
Two men outside a primitive cabin circa 1897. The men are surrounded by several skins that are being stretched. Park visitor (left) meets ranger Stephen Waters while patrolling, 1897

In the late 1920s, there were formal blue uniforms that Algonquin rangers wore to meet the train, however, they were rarely worn because they were not practical for working in the forest.

In the 1930s and 1940s, there are written accounts of the first ranger uniforms, but the next photograph we have is from 1951.

Algonquian naturalist Al Hemsley in khaki uniform, 1951

Beginning in 1947, a crest with the words “Ontario Lands and Forests” was created and worn on the sleeves of uniforms. The shields also had various departments and positions labeled (see uniform above).

Black and white image.  Two park staff members take water samples and record, standing in front of a platform.  In the background, a little boy watches.Superintendent records drinking water samples, Restoule Provincial Park, July 1967

The Department of Lands and Forests administered Ontario’s provincial parks until it was reorganized and became the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1972.

This style of shield became the official shield of the provincial parks program within the new Ministry of Natural Resources in 1973.

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1970s Park Warden on a sunny day talking on a two-way radioPat Walsh wears a jacket with the park warden’s crests. This badge was developed in 1976 when the park ranger program was launched.

Larger crests were developed for use on jackets in 1982 and remained the same until 1988.

A male and female goalie pose with the Smokey Bear statue Mikisew Provincial Park gate staff, 1985
6 Park staff and volunteers from the 80s posing together in front of a dark brown cabinPark staff and volunteers wearing the new green and yellow shields, Quetico Provincial Park, 1989

Beginning in 1988, the park’s uniform crests became bilingual. More text was included on the shields than in previous versions.

Park ranger stepping out of a canoe with a bright yellow crest on his shoulderQuetico Provincial Park naturalist Shan Walshe wearing the uniform with the yellow bilingual crests

Around the same time, the uniform crests changed slightly to include some green text. This change was made in response to complaints of too much yellow in the previous shield.

In 1996, Ontario’s provincial parks system adopted a new business operating model and officially became Ontario Parks. This was symbolized by a new brand and logo that remains to this day. The new look also meant new uniforms!

Three park employees standing together in front of a truckPark ranger and gate staff at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park

In 1997, the uniform changed from beige and brown to beige and navy blue. New badges were created and a polo shirt with the Ontario Parks logo on the chest was also introduced.

Park staff show something that is not visible to a park visitor from their car.Learn to be a camp leader from a park visitor, Sibbald Point Provincial Park

Park uniforms have changed and evolved over time; however, the staff at Ontario Parks has always worn our hearts on our sleeves.

Thanks to the dedication and hard work of park staff, Ontario Parks is known as one of the best park systems in the world.

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Boy in yellow helmet standing next to white Ontario Parks truckMaintenance Worker, Turkey Point Provincial Park

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks, park staff will wear a commemorative pin on their uniforms throughout 2018. The pin design is inspired by the original Department of Lands and Forests logo.

small metal pin in the front pocket of a beige parks shirt that says: Ontario Parks, 125 years, 1893 2013

Do you have any old camping photos from your time spent in Ontario parks? Share your photos with us using #OP125 @OntarioParks.