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17 Canadian World Heritage Sites

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Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes World Heritage Sites that are of great cultural or natural value. The designations are meant to help drum up an international commitment to preserve the sites. There are currently 981 sites on the list, and 17 of them are in Canada, including two that straddle the border with the United States.

1. L'Anse aux Meadows

This 11th century Viking settlement is the earliest evidence of Europeans living in the Americas. It was inhabited until about 1500. It's on the island of Newfoundland, at the end of the Great Northern Peninsula.

2. Nahanni National Park

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This park spans about 1800 square miles' worth of wilderness in the Northwest Territories. In addition to the super gorgeous Nahanni River, the park contains waterfalls, limestone caves, and forests.

3. Dinosaur Provincial Park

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Located in the province of Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park is now stark rocky badlands. But back in the Cretaceous period, the area was subtropical and home to around 35 species of dinosaur. Excavation began in the late 19th century, and since then paleontologists have pulled 300-plus dinosaur skeletons from the park.

4. Kluane/Wrangell-St Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek

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This group of parks straddles the border between the Yukon and Alaska and represents the largest non-polar icefield in the world. 

5. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

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With easily the best name on the list, this site in Alberta has an amazing number of bison bones below a rocky ridge where wily aboriginal hunters used to chase bison off a precipice for an easy kill.

6. Sgang Gwaay

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This 19th century village, also known as Ninstints, is on an island off the coast of British Columbia north of Vancouver Island. The carved wooden poles on the island were made by the Haida people to remember the dead. The village also includes ruins of cedar long houses.

7. Wood Buffalo National Park

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The grasslands and sedge meadows in this park are home to wood bison and whooping cranes. The park is in the north-central region of Canada.

8. Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks

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This cluster of seven parks includes the national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, along with the provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber. The alpine region has dramatic landscape—mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, and boreal forest. The Burgess Shale marine fossil site is also here.

9. Historic District of Old Quebec

Courtesy of World Heritage

Quebec City dates to the early 17th century, and still retains parts of its old defensive structures, including ramparts, gates, and garrisons. There are also a number of well-preserved 17th and 18th century houses.

10. Gros Morne National Park

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Newfoundland is a geologist's paradise—especially this park on the west coast, which is apparently a good place to observe the effects of continental drift. The area is noted for coastal lowlands, alpine plateaus, and fjords. Fjords!

11. Old Town Lunenburg

Courtesy of Open Travel

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is a well-preserved British colonial town dating to 1753. Many of the buildings in this fishing town are original brightly-painted wooden structures more than 200 years old.

12. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

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This park straddling the border between the United States and Canada, and is comprised of the Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park and the American Glacier National Park. The biodiverse region has a number of endangered species, including great horned owls, wolverines, and red deer.

13. Miguasha National Park

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This park in Quebec is a significant site for fish fossils from the Devonian period, dating from 370 million years ago. The park is especially noted for the lobe-finned fish that are considered to be ancestors of the first terrestrial vertebrates.

14. Rideau Canal

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This canal connects the city of Ottawa with Lake Ontario, and was of great strategic importance in the early 19th century when the British and the United States were duking it out for control of Canada.

15. Joggins Fossil Cliffs

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This site in Nova Scotia is famous for its fossils from the Carboniferous period, also known as the "coal age," which spanned from about 359 million to 299 million years ago. There are a lot of fossilized critters in this site, and some fossilized trees are still upright, embedded in the cliffs.

16. Landscape of Grand Pré

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This marshy area of Nova Scotia contains archaeological evidence of 18th-century agricultural methods, including the aboiteau farming system that allowed the Acadian settlers in the area to farm in spite of the boggy conditions.

17. Red Bay Basque Whaling Station

Courtesy of UNESCO

This seasonal European whaling settlement was founded in 1530 by Basque mariners in current-day Labrador. Here, whales were butchered and the fat was rendered into lamp oil. Archaeologists have found equipment and living quarters used by the whalers. Off shore there are sunken vessels and deposits of whale bones.

Sources: UNESCO World Heritage CentreParks Canada

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environment
Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
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geography
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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