|View of Banff from Tunnel Mountain, William J. Oliver, Library and Archives Canada/ PA-057241|
How our national parks evolved
From Grey Owl to Chrétien and beyond, 100 years of Parks Canada
By Adam Shoalts
Canada’s first national park, Banff, was established by an 1885 decision to set aside 26 square kilometres around the hot springs of
Sulphur Mountain in today’s Alberta, but it took more than a quarter-century before an actual national park system was established.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s government
passed the Dominion Forest Reserves
and Parks Act in 1911, which created the
Dominion Parks Branch. The legislation
reflected more a need for bureaucratic
efficiency in the Department of the
Interior than any philosophy of conservation.
However, the Parks Branch was
the first service of its kind in the world,
and under the leadership of its pioneering
commissioner, James B. Harkin, the
park system would become a source of
pride for Canadians and a symbol of
the country. Milestones in the service’s
The Dominion Parks Branch, the world’s first national park system, is created.
Fort Anne in Nova Scotia is
designated as a national historic site by
the Historic Sites and Monuments Board.
It remains Parks Canada’s longest operating
The National Parks Act declares
that Canada’s national parks “are hereby
dedicated to the people of Canada for
their benefit, education and enjoyment
… and will be maintained and made use
of so as to leave them unimpaired for …
The Parks Branch recruits
wilderness apostle Grey Owl (Archibald
Belaney), along with his two charismatic
orphaned beavers, to work as a naturalist in Riding Mountain National Park
in Manitoba and, later, Prince Albert
National Park in Saskatchewan.
The Parks Branch phases out
“predator control” policies that entailed
the killing of wolves, cougars, coyotes
and other carnivores in national parks.
The government’s first comprehensive
National Parks Policy stresses
the preservation of significant natural
features as the Parks Branch’s “most
fundamental and important obligation.”
The National Park System Plan
divides Canada into 39 natural regions
and calls for the expansion of the park
system to protect the characteristic physical,
biological and geographic features
of each region. Among these is the East
Coast Boreal Region, the easternmost
extent of the Canadian Shield, which
includes Labrador’s Mealy Mountains
While flying over Baffin Island
with his wife Aline, an awestruck
Jean Chrétien resolves to make a park
here for her. Chrétien later explained,
“When I returned to my office … I
consulted the Minister of Indian Affairs,
who was myself, consulted the Minister
of Northern Affairs, who was myself,
and consulted the minister responsible
for parks, who was myself, and they all
agreed on the matter.” As a result,
Auyuittuq National Park is created.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
in the Northwest Territories is designated
a World Heritage Site by unesco.
Signifying a further shift
from recreation to preservation, the
National Parks Policy is revised to
make “ecological integrity” the parks’
Reflecting growing concern
about marine ecosystems, Canada’s first
national marine park, Fathom Five in
Ontario, is established.
In a flurry of activity,
10 new national parks and marine
conservation areas are created: Aulavik,
Vuntut, Wapusk, Tuktut Nogait,
Saguenay-St. Lawrence, Sirmilik,
Gulf Islands, Ukkusiksalik, Torngat Mountains
and Lake Superior.
In a controversial decision,
the federal government approves plans
to arm park wardens in national parks.
Parks Canada embarks on a
year-long celebration of its centennial.