Point Pelee National Park (est 1918, 15 km2) is located at the tip of Point Pelee, a long peninsula jutting abruptly into Lake Erie near Leamington, Ont, the southernmost tip of Canada's mainland. It is on the same latitude as Rome and northern California.
The park's climate is somewhat warmer than in the rest of Canada; many species found in the park are typical of southern areas. The park sits atop a deposit of sand up to 70 m thick left by glacial meltwaters on a submerged limestone ridge. Over the centuries a thin but rich soil has formed, supporting a lush, almost jungle-like deciduous forest of such exotic species (to Canada) as shagbark hickory, sassafras and hackberry, one of Canada's few remaining stands of Carolinian forest. Sand beaches, regenerating fields and a large cattail marsh comprise other important habitats in this park, which has been designated as a Ramsar site (a wetland of global significance).
Point Pelee is renowned as Canada's finest bird watching spot. Located on the crossroads of 2 major migration flyways, some 360 species have been recorded in the park, and over 100 species stay to breed here. The park is also a staging area for monarch butterflies on their southwards migrations.
The spit was named by French explorers, who called it Pointe Pelée, meaning "bald point," for its lack of vegetation. Lobbying by naturalists and by duck hunters led to formation of the park in 1918, though it was still dotted with cottages and, by 1939, 2 hotels.
Threats to Integrity
Although the park is protected, its small size, and its location in a region where 97% of the surrounding land has been severely modified for agriculture and housing, makes it vulnerable to both internal and external threats. Overuse during spring bird-watching season results in trampled vegetation. The park's population of white-tailed deer has grown beyond the carrying capacity of the park, severely affecting the species composition of the forest and regenerating fields. Introduced plant species are displacing native vegetation. It is believed that 10 species of amphibians and reptiles, as well as flying squirrels, have disappeared from the park over the 20th century. The populations of remaining species of reptiles and amphibians are largely isolated from others, a precursor to local extirpation.
Point Pelee is a day-use park, permitting hiking, swimming and bird watching. A boardwalk gives access to the marshlands comprising much of the park, and a bicycle trail runs the length of the park.