J.B. Harkin (1911-1936)1
Harkin, James B.
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-121371
“The Parks are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment and such Parks will be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” With this dedication clause found in the National Parks Act of 1930, Harkin summed up his vision of what the role of national parks was, a vision acquired over two decades of leading the world’s first parks service.
Fort Anne circa 1928
© Parks Canada
Harkin was named to the position of Commissioner of the Dominion Parks Branch after its creation in 1911. Over the next 25 years, Harkin was to take the world’s first park service and develop it into a model for conservation and public enjoyment that is still evident in the Parks Canada of a century later.
From these humble beginnings, he developed a wide framework that was to encompass the following themes: access to all, wildlife conservation, the need to promote the nation’s history, the inviolability of parks, and the benefits to the nation of tourism.
On the conservation front it was evident that those responsible for parks had a careful balancing act to follow between the importance of construction and development work and the conservation of “natural beauties and scenic wonders, to the forests, animal, fish and bird life.” He also encouraged science-based management of the parks, which he saw as necessary “if we are intelligently to administer the law and preserve our wild life.
Fort Beauséjour 1936
© National Film Board of Canada / 47273-8238C
In 1914, Fort Howe became Canada’s first national historical park, marking the start of conservation and educational activities centered on historic sites. The creation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919, which was to provide the government with expert advice as to which sites to designate due to their national historic significance, was yet another legacy left by Harkin. Eventually he saw that the nature of historic sites was fundamentally different from national parks, and so he advocated the legislative provisions to be developed so that this could be better reflected.
J.B. Harkin by Karsh 1937
© Library and Archives Canada / 3937279
Harkin was well aware of contribution that parks made to tourism and by consequence the benefit they had on the Canadian economy. With the rise in the popularity of the automobile, he saw the creation of roads, campgrounds and hotels in the national parks to provide visitors with accommodation while they enjoyed the natural wonders around them.
Harkin retired in 1936. In a letter he wrote “I am passing the torch on and my earnest prayer is that the work will continue to be based on idealism. If that is ever lost, Parks will lose their soul, will become like tens of thousands of ordinary resorts throughout the world.”
Source: J.B. Harkin by E.J. (Ted) Hart, University of Alberta Press, 2010.