Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Parks Canada!

This month marks the 100th birthday of Parks Canada, the world’s first national parks service. Canada has 42 national parks and national park reserves located in 28 of 39 regions covering over 300,000 square kilometers. The national park system of Canada is a reflection of our nation, beginning as an economic development project in Banff in 1885 after the railroad opened up the beauty of the country for all Canadians to see. The Act in 1887 described the park as “a public park and pleasure ground for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of the people of Canada.” The natural beauty of the area was to be preserved as a scenic jewel, before ecological values were even imagined.

The park system was formalized in 1911 as the Dominion Parks Branch. The wide open spaces of the nation became populated over time, and the government found it necessary to expropriate private land, sometimes whole communities, to clear the way for more parks. Following a public enquiry in 1980, the Act was revised so that the practice of expropriation was prohibited. Negotiations and public consultations became part of the process, and out of these consultations came the emphasis on environmental protection and conservation of ecological values. Parks Canada has evolved with the goal to have a national park or national park reserve in each of 39 ecological regions of Canada.

Recent national park acquisitions and management plans have taken care to include First Nations so that lands that have aboriginal claim can be part of the Parks Canada system. These park lands, designated as Park Reserves, were made possible by a 1976 amendment to the National Parks Act that required Parks Canada to negotiate agreements with First Nations who have unresolved land claims to the area.

We are also celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR), one of several park reserves established and managed through consultation with First Nations. The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve represents the Strait of Georgia Lowlands natural region, protecting approximately 26 square km in 29 sites on 15 islands including 30 islets and reefs, with special attention to the endangered Garry oak ecosystem. Visitors are welcome, and are reminded to keep dogs on a leash, to not feed the wildlife and stay on the designated trails. As part of the celebrations, Parks Canada is hosting a Centennial Geocache Challenge – the first 100 visitors to complete the cache will receive a limited edition centennial geocoin.

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