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Parks Canada is one of the principal cultural resource management organizations in Canada. It is responsible for a vast array of cultural resources in public settings at national parks (including national marine conservation areas), national historic sites and historic canals, as well as in collections and at other properties that it administers.
Cultural resource management is an integrated and holistic approach to the management of cultural resources. It applies to all activities that affect cultural resources administered by Parks Canada, whether those activities pertain primarily to the care of cultural resources or to the promotion of public understanding, enjoyment and appropriate use of them.
For purposes of this policy a cultural resource is a human work, or a place that gives evidence of human activity or has spiritual or cultural meaning, and that has been determined to be of historic value. Cultural resources are distinguished from other resources by virtue of their assigned historic value. This value derives from an association with an aspect or aspects of human history. Parks Canada may apply the term cultural resource to a wide range of resources in its custody, including, but not limited to, cultural landscapes and landscape features, archaeological sites, structures, engineering works, artifacts and associated records.
Frequently, cultural resources occur in complexes or assemblages. Such assemblages might include movable and immovable resources, resources that are above ground and below, on land and in water, and whose features are both natural and fabricated.
The term cultural resource embraces the whole as well as the parts that make up the whole. Because the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts, effective cultural resource management does not focus on the components - the discrete resources - at the expense of the overall place. Cultural resource management thus operates on two levels. It applies to the overall management of a national historic site or a historic canal (which can be considered as cultural resources), as well as to the individual cultural resources that are contained in a national historic site, national park, or historic canal.
The challenges of managing cultural resources for public benefit are considerable. By their very nature, the most significant cultural resources are those whose protection and public presentation are most desirable, although in the case of certain sacred sites located on lands administered by Parks Canada, broad public presentation may not be appropriate. In carrying out its commitment to responsible stewardship, Parks Canada must determine how best to promote visitation and public understanding of cultural resources, without diminishing the qualities and attributes that give those resources their value. It must respond to the desire for access while safeguarding the irreplaceable resources being visited, and the values that those resources represent. It must encourage appropriate contact with cultural resources while not consuming those resources. It must integrate the management of the cultural and the natural realms. Finally, it must determine the most effective means of protection and presentation within available financial and human resources. These challenges require a policy framework which is holistic, which deals with cultural resources as symbolic as well as physical entities, and which is motivated by a sense of responsibility to pass on the legacy entrusted to us.
Cultural resource management depends on a strong corporate or organizational ethic embodied in a set of principles. In its practice, cultural resource management integrates professional, technical and administrative activities to ensure that cultural resources are identified and evaluated, and that their historic value is duly considered in all actions that might affect them. In the case of cultural heritage sites, cultural resource management provides the means for ensuring their commemorative integrity.
Canadian efforts to protect and present cultural resources for public benefit are part of a world-wide endeavour to protect, understand and appreciate our human heritage. In its stewardship of treasures of national historic significance as well as of other valued cultural resources, Parks Canada acts within a national and international community of agencies that share the responsibility of managing our human heritage for public benefit. In so doing, Parks Canada both contributes to and benefits from the development of a national and international body of principles and practices of cultural resource management.
To promote awareness of cultural resource management, Parks Canada encourages all stewards of cultural resources to apply cultural resource management principles and practice. In addition to managing the cultural resources entrusted to it in accordance with the policy, Parks Canada will make this policy available to other trustees of cultural heritage, including the owners of national historic sites.