National historic sites are places of profound importance to Canada. They bear witness to this nation's defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each national historic site tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity, and place to our understanding of Canada as a whole.
National historic sites, located in all provinces and territories, can be found in almost any setting - from urban and rural locales, to wilderness environments. They may be sacred spaces, battlefields, archaeological sites, buildings or streetscapes. They can range in size from a single structure to linear canals spanning great distances. Many national historic sites are still used today for work and worship, commerce and industry, habitation and leisure.
Canada's family of national historic sites
Canada commemorates persons and events for their national historic significance as well as places. So far, over 1500 places, persons and events have been commemorated by the Government of Canada. And the list keeps growing as Canada's history unfolds.
Together, all these commemorations make up what is known as the system of National Historic Sites of Canada. In each generation the system has evolved with this nation's changing view of itself. Today there is a greater interest in social history reflecting the achievements and experiences of everyday Canadians.
Parks Canada monitors the system through a system plan and now its making special efforts to encourage participation and increase the representation of Aboriginal, women and ethnocultural communities' history.
The national historic sites system covers the entire range of Canadian human history under five broad themes:
- Peopling the land
- Governing Canada
- Developing economies
- Building social and community life
- Expressing intellectual and cultural life
Parks Canada supports the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC), the body which advises the Minister of Canadian Heritage on national historic significance. The agency is also responsible for protecting and operating over 140 national historic sites across the country for visitors to understand, appreciate, and enjoy.
National historic sites represent thousands of years of human history and hundreds of years of nation building. Yet centuries, and millennia, can take their toll - from erosion and decay, to lack of awareness, to abandonment - on diverse cultural resources that include shell middens, underwater shipwrecks, fort remains, historic buildings, industrial complexes, heritage canals, and more.
An important part of Parks Canada's mandate involves protecting the health and wholeness, or commemorative integrity, of the national historic sites it operates. This means preserving the site's cultural resources, communicating its heritage values and national significance, and kindling the respect of people whose decisions and actions affect the site.
Understanding and appreciating
Each national historic site is a distinct and vibrant symbol of Canadian identity. It is also a centre of learning, a wealth of information, a living history adventure, an experience of what Canada used to be and what it is today. Historic canals, part of the system, link cities and towns to connect visitors with further dynamic aspects of Canadian history.
At all these places, Parks Canada offers activities and learning experiences that stretch the imagination, tug at the heartstrings, and touch the soul. Where else can you
- ...walk on battlegrounds that changed the course of history
- ...view original writings of well-loved Canadian authors
- ...venture to the edge of a bison jump where for thousands of years Aboriginal people hunted
- ...witness the isolation and desolate conditions immigrants encountered when they came to the country
- ...travel the passes, trails, and waterways of those who came before
- ...dress in a period costume, join a class in a historic schoolhouse, sample heritage recipes, ride in a horse-drawn hay wagon, stroll through the moonlight in search of ghosts from the past?
Moving, memorable opportunities such as these, and many more, give visitors a feel for where Canada has come from, where it is today, where it is going in the future.