04/17/2013 01:25 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Google Maps L'Anse Aux Meadows, Pacific Rim National Park


Some of Canada's most beloved national parks and historic sites are going online in hopes that allowing people to hike the woods on their computer screens will encourage them to do it in real life.

A deal between Parks Canada and Google Maps is allowing the global Internet giant to take its special cameras to natural and historic wonders from L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland to British Columbia's Pacific Rim National Park.

"It's a way that we see we can step into the psyche of a lot of Canadians and really be able to show these great, iconic places that belong to all of us in a new way," Andrew Campbell, vice-president of visitor experience for Parks Canada, said Wednesday.

"If people are dreaming about going there, this gives them a way to explore before they go."

Google staff plan to drive the roads, hike the paths and peer into the rooms of 120 national parks and historic sites by the end of 2014 using backpack-mounted cameras being used this year for the first time in Canada.

"The (camera) is capable of going anywhere a person can hike," said Google spokesman Aaron Brindle. "It really will be a big part of this collaboration as we go through backcountry hiking trails, drive-in camping sites, campgrounds and all these nooks and crannies of historical properties."

Virtual visitors will be able to stop and look around just as if they were actually in a place of outstanding natural beauty.

"You are virtually immersed in these environments," Brindle said. "You can pan around 360 degrees and see exactly what you would see if you were standing right there."

Faces of hikers will be blurred, as will licence plates from passing cars. Google has run into privacy concerns in Europe and Australia.

The parks and historic sites that Google plans to map are found from coast to coast, including Gros Morne in Newfoundland, Grasslands in Saskatchewan, Banff and Jasper in Alberta and the historic walls and citadel of Quebec City. Filming is to begin next month at Cape Breton Island's Fortress of Louisbourg, which celebrates its 300th birthday this summer.

The Louisbourg map should be up some time this summer, said Brindle.

The Google maps — which are being created at no cost to Parks Canada — will also give people an idea of what's involved in different hikes or drives and allow them to plan better. They're also intended to lure foreign tourists by giving them a taste of what Canada has to offer.

The online maps of historic sites could become a valuable classroom resource, said Campbell, or give people some sense of places they might never get to see.

Still, he acknowledges it's no substitute for the real thing.

"There's a big difference between going on a vacation and sitting down at your computer."

The idea is to entice people from an increasingly urbanized and immigrant society who may not have a relationship with nature beyond a city park.

"The first thing you have to do is create the dream in people's minds," Campbell said.

He said it's part of Parks Canada's attempts to attract more visitors. New attractions are being added, such as a scenic walkway over the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park. So are camping options such as wood-floored, heated "tents" being offered at several mountain parks.

Making the parks part of Canadians' lives is the best way to preserve them, Campbell suggested.

"As people visit, they come to love these places. They love them from the perspective of they want to see them in the future. They want to see their kids be able to enjoy them. They want to see them last from generation to generation."

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