The Parks Canada Agency Act states that it is in the public interest to ensure the commemorative integrity of national historic sites. Knowing whether or not a site is in a state of commemorative integrity, and how particular a site falls short of this goal, aids in the decision-making process concerning priorities and investments, both at the site and at the national level.
The State of the Parks 1997 Report was the first time that commemorative integrity was used as a yardstick to report on the state of individual national historic sites. The state of eight national historic sites administered by Parks Canada was measured. These eight sites, plus four additional sites, were evaluated and reported on again in the State of Protected Heritage Areas 1999 Report. Beginning in 2001, Parks Canada has embarked on a project to evaluate systematically the state of commemorative integrity at all 145 sites that it administers.
Systematic evaluation of the state of commemorative integrity at the sites administered by Parks Canada will provide, for the first time, a comprehensive view of the condition of resources and effective communication of messages, and management practices across the country. The evaluations contribute to management planning, and make planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting part of a unified management strategy.
“Commemorative integrity assessments are a very good way of monitoring value-led planning in the long term, and of ensuring that we are sustaining sites effectively.”
– Kate Clark in ‘Preserving What Matters: Value Led Planning for Cultural Heritage Sites’, conservation: The Getty Institution Conservation Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 3, 2001, p. 12.
Measuring Commemorative Integrity
Commemorative integrity is defined by three elements: the resources directly related to the reasons for designation as a national historic site are not impaired or under threat; the reasons for designation are effectively communicated to the public; and, heritage values are respected in all decisions and actions affecting the site.
A commemorative integrity statement is a document which identifies what is meant by commemorative integrity at a particular national historic site. Taking as its starting point the designation of the site, it identifies the resources and their values, the reasons for significance, and outlines objectives for management of the site. The commemorative integrity statement is a critical instrument in values based planning and management.
Since they were developed in 1994, commemorative integrity statements have become a valuable planning and management tool for national historic sites. The commemorative integrity statement also lies at the heart of any evaluation of the state of commemorative integrity for the site. It sets out in a clear and logical manner what needs to be taken into consideration to answer the question, “Is this site in a state of commemorative integrity?”
The Evaluation Program
Beginning in 2001, Parks Canada committed itself to evaluate, over the next 10 years, the state of commemorative integrity of each of the 145 sites that it administers. This project will provide a clearer picture of the state of commemorative integrity at each site, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of the system as a whole.
At each site, evaluations will be undertaken by a multi-disciplinary team, which will include experts from the relevant cultural and natural resource management disciplines as well as those who are most familiar with the operations of the site, including key stakeholders. Team membership will vary from site to site, depending on the nature of the resources and the operations of the site.
The main evaluation tool is a questionnaire, composed of three sections which reflect the three elements in the definition of commemorative integrity. The first addresses the condition of resources and is accompanied by a “threats survey”. Together, they address the question of whether the resources are “not impaired” or are “under threat.” In addition to the site itself, the resources assessed may include buildings and structures, landscapes and landscape features, archaeological sites, or objects. The second addresses the effectiveness of communication, including the effectiveness of media and the range and complexity of perspectives presented. The third considers selected management practices. These focus on cultural resource management practices as established by Parks Canada’s Cultural Resource Management Policy (1994) including an inventory of resources; evaluation of resources to determine historic value; consideration of historic value in actions affecting resources; and, monitoring and review of on going activities.
At SGaang Gwaii (Nan Sdins NHSC), nature slowly reclaims the wooden remains of human activity. In response, Parks Canada staff and the Haida Gwaii watchmen annually prune back vegetation and remove deer to reduce their impact. Pole straightening has also slowed deterioration, while respecting the historic value of these extraordinary resources.
© Parks Canada / Barbara J. Wilson
The evaluation questionnaire draws its definition of resources, values, messages and objectives from the commemorative integrity statement for the site. These are complemented by more detailed evaluation criteria, drawn directly from the Cultural Resource Management Policy. The evaluation integrates information on its sites condition from existing asset and collection management tools. The questionnaire produces data according to the same reporting categories which have been used in previous State of Protected Heritage Areas Reports.
Evaluating the state of commemorative integrity of a national historic site involves the site’s planning and reporting cycle. It establishes the critical step between identifying resources, their value and messages in the commemorative integrity statement and the activities stipulated in management and business plans. It provides a clear picture of where the site is today relative to Parks Canada’s obligation to ensure commemorative integrity, within a framework that considers both past actions and future threats.
Monitoring Cultural Resources And Messages
An understanding of the condition of its resources is fundamental to determining whether a national historic site is in a state of commemorative integrity. Equally fundamental is the effective communication of the reasons for the site’s designation. National historic sites vary widely in the kinds of resources they possess, from buildings to archaeological sites and landscape features, to historic objects. The means for communicating why these places are nationally significant are equally varied and increasingly involve the media for reaching virtual visitors.
Monitoring how well the story is being told entails two key challenges. First, is the right story being told, and second, did the audiences understand it? Parks Canada has worked for more than half a decade toward ensuring that presentation focusses on the reasons each site is of national historic significance. Commemorative integrity statements have greatly improved the focus of heritage presentation programming at national historic sites.
However, telling the right story remains an on going challenge. New staff have to be trained each year and rigour, discipline and monitoring are required to ensure that programming remains focused.
At the same time, interpretation programs delivered by staff are only one means of telling a story. Many national historic sites also rely heavily on signage, exhibits, audio-visual programs and brochures to communicate national significance. The resources needed to update these various non-personal media are not always readily available when institutions face increased operating cost, or the deterioration of the very historic places they are trying to protect, and of the facilities needed to accommodate visitors safely. Parks Canada is currently able to replace less than one quarter of the exhibits, displays and other media needed to convey national significance.
Communicating reasons for designation at Dawson Historic Complex NHSC
© Parks Canada
The second challenge is to determine if audiences understand the significance of a national historic site. At the sites it administers, Parks Canada uses standardized “visitor survey cards” to gather feedback on the use of facilities, visitor satisfaction with the programs, and understanding. Each site is now to conduct an assessment every four years. In order to assess whether audiences have understood the national historic significance of a site, the card includes six true or false questions about the significance of the site. The questions are specific to each site.
In the year 2000, 18 national historic sites conducted visitors surveys. The number of visitors who could answer four or more of the six questions correctly varied from 43% to 92%, with a mean of 72%. Since the State of Protected Heritage Areas 1999 Report was published, this measurement tool has been refined, and there seems to be a trend toward greater understanding by site visitors. Future challenges, in terms of monitoring messages, include the need to set standards regarding the acceptable level of audience understanding, media effectiveness, and the need to measure the impact of heritage presentation programming delivered outside national historic sites.
Monitoring the condition of resources entails observing and recording change. Regular monitoring is critical to identify problems in their early stages, and to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Monitoring takes place on two levels. Cultural resources are systematically inspected on a regular basis for signs of deterioration of any of their components. This takes place for buildings and structures as part of a national asset review, in addition to the regular inspection schedules established by the sites for their various types of cultural resources. For example, many sites do an inventory and condition assessment of their object collections once a year.
On a second level, known problems with the condition of resources are precisely monitored. For example, at Prince of Wales Fort, near Churchill, Manitoba, the condition of the exterior walls has been subject to some form of monitoring since 1978. In August 1997, three sections of the exterior wall were identified as unstable and in October of that year a section of wall collapsed, requiring emergency stabilization. As a result, the monitoring strategy has been improved to track changes in the fort’s structure, changes in the status of threats (for example, moisture levels) and the effectiveness of interventions. The resulting moisture-and thermal-monitoring program collects information on the drainage characteristics of the fill in the rampart in order to design an appropriate drainage plan. The monitoring protocol provides a standardized procedure which is carried out consistently. This provides reliable information on which to base decisions about how to protect the fort.
Installing monitoring equipment in the ramparts at Prince of Wales Fort NHSC.
Monitoring programs have been developed to assess the rate and nature of the impacts of coastal erosion on archaeological features at several national historic sites, as well as at Ivvavik and Kouchibouguac National Parks. At Louisbourg NHSC, for example, the site includes 31 km of coastline, with sea level now 80 cm higher than in the 18th century. Due to a continual need to monitor and salvage threatened archaeological sites and cemeteries, Louisbourg initiated a geological study in 1995 to investigate coastline stability and geological evolution of the harbour shoreline.
Cultural Resources in national parks are among the most vulnerable. Parks Canada’s cultural resource specialists work with national parks to help identify and protect significant cultural remains. Here are some examples.
GIS and GPS are being used to do predictive modeling of early human history in national parks. Scientific analysis of stone tool raw material sources are helping to determine movements and trading patterns of earlier human populations at sites such as Tuktut Nogait National Park of Canada. Neutron activation analysis of pre- and post-contact ceramic fragments are being used to determine sources of clay at Saguenay-St. Lawrence National Marine Park.
At Pacific Rim National Park of Canada, Parks Canada and the Tseshaht First Nation are using a team approach to combat human and natural threats to burial places and sensitive village sites within the park. Since 1999, inspection teams have carried out condition reviews and assessments of 37 sacred sites. A joint working group is seeking to ensure long-term protection of these sites.
Cultural resource management techniques have also proven useful to solve ecological questions at national parks. For example, carbon isotopic analysis of archaeological samples of 3,000-to 4,000-year old bison bone from Waterton and Banff National Parks of Canada is used to reconstruct diet and migration patterns of bison. Analysis of a fragment of bearskin from a glacier in Kluane National Park of Canada provides evidence of the relationship of historic to modern grizzly populations. Pollen and ethnobotanical analysis are being used to reconstruct historic environments at several locations.
Examining shoreline erosion in front of a village midden at Pacific Rim National Park.
© Parks Canada / Ian Sumpter
Carbon isotopic analysis of bone reveals where this bison lived and what it ate thousands of years ago.
© Parks Canada / Jack Porter
The project, a collaboration between Parks Canada, the Canadian Hydrographic Service, and the Geological Survey of Canada, began by mapping the coastline in detail. Shoreline monitoring stations were established to record individual storm loss and develop a vulnerability map of potential shoreline change. A bathymetric swath survey combined with high resolution seismic-and magnetic-survey data provided the critical information needed to make a map of the harbour sea floor. The map identifies the best areas for sediment core collection and also illustrates cultural resources and activities that mark the submerged harbour landscape. In the final stage of this project, a coastal protection plan will identify current erosion areas and predict the impact and location of future wave and erosion activity, making it possible to salvage cultural resources before they are lost to the sea.
Monitoring facilitates good decision-making in cultural resource management. At Batoche National Historic Site of Canada, a monitoring program was established for the church structure in 1996. On going monitoring showed that movement was consistent with seasonal freeze-thaw cycle and that the foundation and wall movement had increased to the point that intervention was necessary. In 1998, it was determined that the structure could not be stabilized with a minor intervention. Beginning in the fall of 2000, a full basement was constructed under the church and the north and south walls were braced. The church will re-open to the public in the summer of 2002. Only with information from monitoring were managers able to make sound decisions about when and what changes needed to be made.
Cultural resources management in and around Louisbourg Harbour is supported by this map of the sea floor.