In Canada, Saturday July 16 is Parks Day, and this year it has special significance. Cross-country celebrations will mark the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada. When founded in 1911, it was the world’s first national parks service. Although Banff National Park had been established since 1885, the government recognized that a dedicated organization was needed to protect the habitat, provide education and tourism opportunities and work to establish additional parks.
Since then, Parks Canada has become a formidable organization with 5,000 employees, and its programs are respected around the globe. The agency oversees 42 national parks, including Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with dramatic mountains, Fundy National Park with the world’s highest tides and Quttinirpaak National Park with the most remote, rugged and northerly lands in North America. Parks Canada also preserves the past by managing 167 national historic sites, such as the Rideau Canal and the Fortress of Louisbourg. Four national marine conservation areas also lie under Parks Canada’s protection.
Natives play a vital role in Canada’s parks. For example, Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site on the wild, remote islands off the coast of British Columbia are managed jointly by Parks Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation. Since Gwaii Haanas includes a marine conservation reserve, it is the only place on earth protected from ocean floor to mountaintop. A Haida Watchmen program protects five abandoned villages, their monumental totem poles quietly decaying like ghosts in the forest. In 2005, National Geographic picked Gwaii Haanas as the top national park in North America. The more isolated northern parks, especially, include a significant component of aboriginal culture. At Torngat, for example, Inuit are not only guides but also guardians who protect visitors from the ubiquitous polar bears and vice versa.
Numerous Parks Day events are planned, including free entry to all national parks and historic sites, free concerts in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the release of a commemorative coin and postage stamp, photo exhibits, and of course hiking, camping and nature programs. At Jasper National Park in Alberta, a traditional Haida cedar-bough blessing will be followed by a peace dance and then the raising of a newly carved totem pole from the west coast. At Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaw First Nation, their culture, and their relationship to nature will be celebrated including music by the internationally acclaimed Eastern Eagle Singers and dance demonstrations. Batoche National Park, Saskatchewan, will feature the largest Métis art exhibit since 1985.
Parks Canada’s work of protecting beautiful and significant patches of Canada is far from complete. We can look forward to many new national parks and historic sites in the next 100 years.