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Sable Island National Park in Nova Scotia

 

Horses and seal on Sable Island. Photo: M. Beedel / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

Exploring Canada has never been easier — in honour of the country’s 150th birthday all national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas are free to visit! Let’s find out more about one of Canada’s most faraway parks — Sable Island!

Where is it?

Planes have to land on the beach.

Planes have to land on the beach. Photo: D. Harvey / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

Sable Island is in the province of Nova Scotia, but just barely! It’s 160 km off the coast, in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s not easy to get there — the only way to arrive is either by a small plane, which lands on a beach instead of a real airport, or by sea. Even arriving by water is tricky. Big ships can’t get too close, so they have to anchor offshore and send in a little boat to land on the beach.
 

Sable Island as viewed from the sky

Sable Island is located off the coast of Nova Scotia. Photo: S. Coffen Smout / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

The island is a sliver — only 1.5 km wide and just over 40 km long, so you can explore most of the island in a day or two. That’s good because camping isn’t allowed on the island. The only people who stay there are Parks Canada staff, researchers, and the people who run the island’s weather station. Sable Island is a good place to study the weather, because it gets lots of it! Wind, rain and fog made the island a spot known for shipwrecks hundreds of years ago.

Who goes there?

Horses in sand bowl.

Horses in sand bowl. Photo: J Tompa / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

It may be hard to get there, but if you’re a weather or animal researcher than Sable Island is worth it! Lots of animals make the island their home and the landscape is filled with beautiful views of sand dunes and the sea. Some of the plants and animals there are found nowhere else on earth!
 

Horses on Sable Island

Horses on Sable Island. Photo: J. Tompa / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

The island’s most well known inhabitants are the over 550 wild horses that live there. These strong and shaggy horses are believed to be descended from Acadian horses that were on their way to Boston from Nova Scotia. Instead the horses were left on Sable Island. Lucky for them there’s fresh water and lots of grasses to eat, so the horses were able to make the island their home. You can see the horses running over the sand dunes or checking out visitors. You can’t go up to them or pet them though, the horses are a protected part of the park.
 

Part of a wooden ship wrecked on the beach of Sable Island

Part of a wooden ship wrecked on Sable Island. Photo: Marah Medill / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

There’s been more than 350 shipwrecks here due to the rough seas, fog and sand bars in the waters around the island! It’s no surprise that the island is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” In 1801, Nova Scotia built Canada’s first life-saving station to rescue people who were shipwrecked. Nowadays there’s a lighthouse, and ships have technology to help them avoid getting stuck on the island’s sandbars, so there aren’t any more shipwrecks. It’s still a great place to imagine yourself on a desert island!

What’s there?

Seals on the beach

Seals on the beach. Photo: J. Tompa / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

There’s lots of animals on Sable Island! The wild horses are easy to spot, but there are also the grey seals that come to the island to have their pups on the beaches. Other kinds of seals hang out on the island too, and swim in the waters around it.
 

An Ipswich Sparrow sitting on a fence

The Ipswich Sparrow. Photo: J Tompa / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park

There are lots of birds that visit on their migrations and some that live there year-round. The island is actually the only known breeding location for the small Ipswich Sparrow. The big sand dunes which give the island it’s name — sable means "sand" in French — are always on the move, shifting in the winds, so that you’ll never see the same landscape twice!
 

Sable Island is the largest breeding ground for grey seals in the world

Sable Island is the largest breeding ground for grey seals in the world. Photo: Sarah Medill / ©Parks Canada / Sable Island National Park