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Manitoba Parks is committed to protecting our night skies.  Just as we work to preserve historic sites and natural landscapes, we also recognize the importance of preserving the night.  Through education and interpretive programming, park visitors can take in night sky observing and learning experiences, enjoyable for the young and old alike.  Promoting and demonstrating the use of night-sky friendly outdoor lighting is key to protecting the night sky in our parks.

The night sky is one of the most awe-inspiring views we can ever experience.  Provincial parks are ideal natural, dark sky environments for observing starry skies and dancing aurora borealis.  The same dark skies we observe today have been observed by humans for thousands of years – evoking countless art and stories from cultures around the world.

Learn more below on the importance of protecting the night sky, tips on viewing night skies, and discover the work we’re doing at Spruce Woods Provincial Park to preserve the night.

Preserving the Night

The starry night sky has been used for agriculture, time-keeping, navigation, storytelling, and spiritual and religious practices for thousands of years.  When we point out a constellation or the North Star to our children, or sleep beneath the stars, we keep alive this natural connection we have for the world and heavens around us. Experiencing dark skies as it was pre-electric lighting helps us imagine David Thompson or Samuel Hearne paddling our northern rivers under the guidance of the North Star, Indigenous peoples fishing under moonlight, or Ernest Thompson Seton exploring the sand hills of Spruce Woods.

Light pollution – light shining where it’s not needed or wanted, glare, and sky glow – is caused by excessive and poorly aimed artificial light and destroys the night sky.  Light pollution impacts the health of plants and animals, as well as human health.  Artificial light can have detrimental effects on the natural growth cycle of plants, predator-prey relationships, migration patterns, and natural foraging, nesting and mating behaviours of wildlife. 

Light pollution is a relatively easy environmental problem to resolve. Solutions are immediate, effective, and often save money.  When reviewing your own residential lighting, consider the following steps:

  • Light only if needed, and only when needed.  Use motion sensors or timers.
  • Light only where needed.  Shield lights to direct down to only illuminate the area needed.
  • Use warm-white or amber light (avoid blue-white light).
  • Use the minimum amount of light needed.
  • Use energy-efficient lights.

Protecting night skies for ourselves and future generations only takes a bit of knowledge and effort in choosing night sky friendly outdoor lighting.  Share your appreciation of the night and ways to protect it with your family, friends, and neighbours.  Encourage them to make the night a better place for your community and nearby parks.

Viewing Night Skies

Whether you’re observing the cosmos or the aurora borealis, here are some tips and considerations for viewing the night sky.

Find a Dark Sky
The farther away from roads, street lights and urban areas, the better your night sky experience will be.  Provincial parks are ideal for this!  Even getting away from urban areas a short drive will illuminate the stars above.

A night time visit to Spruce Woods Provincial Park is a signature experience for any night sky lover.  Spruce Woods is Manitoba’s first designated Dark Sky Preserve!

Driving & Parking
Do not observe the sky while driving.  Driving slow and distracted by the sky is dangerous for both you and other motorists.  Pull off the road to view the sky safely.

Avoid parking vehicles and viewing skies along roadways.  Parked cars on road shoulders at night become hidden obstacles for other motorists.  Walking along roads and your parked car can also be dangerous as other drivers might not see you very well.  Headlights from other vehicles will also ruin your night vision.

Park your vehicle in a parking lot, and walk to a space away from traffic and lighting for best viewing.  On arriving at your location make sure that you turn off your headlights right away and also make sure your interior dome lights are switched off too. Knowing how to turn off all your lights if warming up in the car in winter is encouraged.

Respect Others
When viewing night skies in rural areas, always respect private land.  Ask landowner permission first, or keep your viewing to only public spaces such as provincial parks.

Avoiding the use of any form of light as much as possible is the best practice.  Light impedes your night vision and impacts your ability to detect faint objects in the night sky.  Light is also very disruptive to others viewing night skies – avoid flashing light at other people’s faces, especially headlamps.  An amber or red-coloured light is best to maintain your night vision. 

Keep noise level to a minimum if there are others around you.  People often like to view skies in silence, and experience the natural sounds of the night. 

Be Wildlife Smart
Be aware of potential wildlife in your viewing areas.  Most parks are in black bear country, and bears are active at night, along with other wild animals like raccoons, coyotes, wolves, and deer.  Always keep a keen awareness of your surroundings while observing night skies and be prepared to encounter wildlife.  Learn how to be Wildlife Smart at manitoba.ca/human-wildlife.

Leave No Trace
Always pack out everything you packed in.  Keep campfires in designated pits only.

Park Events
Need an introduction to viewing night skies?  Park Interpreters at Spruce Woods and other provincial parks host enjoyable night sky learning experiences for young and old alike.  Check our Events page for upcoming park programs.

Be Inspired
The night sky has been an inspiration for myth, literature, art, scientific discovery and religion.  Find your own way to connect with humankind’s celestial companion.  Revel in its beauty and wonder, and most of all - be inspired!

Spruce Woods Dark-Sky Preserve

Spruce Woods Provincial Park attained Dark-Sky Preserve designation by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) on September 4, 2022, and is the first designated Dark-Sky Site in Manitoba. 

A union of RASC's inherent interest in dark skies for the benefit of astronomy, with the emerging science of scotobiology (the study of biology as affected by darkness) led to the development of the Dark-Sky Preserve program in the early 2000s. This program has since seen the designation of nearly two dozen Dark-Sky Sites in Canada, among which Spruce Woods Provincial Park is now proudly counted.

What is a Dark-Sky Preserve?

Dark-Sky Preserves protect the nocturnal environment by limiting the use and impact of artificial lighting, allowing you to experience the natural wonder of the starry sky and life at night.  In order to receive a designation from RASC, sites must fulfill certain requirements in regards to lighting, sky quality, and outreach. 

At Spruce Woods Provincial Park, outdoor lighting on buildings and facilities are fully shielded to direct light downwards.  Lights are low intensity and amber in colour, which is less harmful on eyesight than bright white-blue spectrum lights.  Interpretive signs are placed at park buildings that feature night sky friendly lighting, highlighting how the park is reducing light pollution.

Spruce Woods boasts sky quality readings of 21.5 - 21.7 mag/arcsecond2, measured by a sky quality meter of brightness of the night sky at the zenith.  The park has some of the darkest skies in southern Manitoba, thanks to its distance from nearby towns, surrounding agricultural areas and other large undisturbed natural areas that neighbour the park, including wildlife management areas and the CFB Shilo ranges.

Park Interpreters host numerous night sky themed events and programs throughout the year, including stargazing at the visitor centre during the summer camping season.  Local astronomers from the Brandon & Area Astronomical Society and members of Winnipeg RASC Centre often bring out their telescopes to help guide visitors way through the stars.  Winnipeg RASC Centre also hosts an annual Star Party in the park.

What can you expect when visiting Spruce Woods?

  • Most areas have little to no artificial light.
  • Any lighting is low intensity, controlled through shielding and aim, and is amber in colour.
  • Most lights are turned off when not in use and overnight, or controlled by sensors.
  • Your eyes need at least 20 minutes to adjust to the dim lighting, and you will be able to safely navigate once they do.

How can you help protect the Spruce Woods Dark-Sky Preserve?

To protect the nocturnal environment and the nighttime experience for other visitors:

  • Limit the use of high-beam headlights when travelling in your vehicle.
  • Use low lights or low-beam flashlights when travelling on foot.
  • When possible, use amber bulbs or amber filters over white lights.

At your campsite:

  • Turn off lights when they are not in use.
  • Use dimmable flashlights or lanterns.
  • Avoid use of string lights or area lights.

Learn more about the night sky at Spruce Woods an interpretive event or at the visitor centre.  For more information on RASC Dark-Sky sites, visit www.rasc.ca/lpa