This Week in History


Working together for big results:
Expanding the Nahanni National Park Reserve

For the week of Monday June 13, 2011

On June 18, 2009, then-Governor General Michaëlle Jean signed into law a bill that expanded Nahanni National Park Reserve—one of Canada’s most stunning natural treasures—to over 30,000 square kilometres. That is more than six times its original area! Located along the Yukon border in the Northwest Territories, Nahanni is a traditional homeland of the Dehcho Dene and Métis, and the park’s extraordinary expansion was the culmination of a multi-year process that involved close collaboration between the Dehcho First Nations and the Canadian government.

Aerial view of the Rabbitkettle River Valley and the mountains of the Ragged Range, Nahanni Expansion Area
© Parks Canada
Although interest in expansion was expressed as early as the 1980s, work began in earnest in 2004 with the creation of the Nahanni Expansion Working Group, composed of Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada representatives. This working group managed the research and consultation programs and recommended the new park boundary based on conservation and cultural criteria and public consultations. When the proposed expansion reached the House of Commons and Senate in 2009, it enjoyed enthusiastic all-party support.

After intense public debate and a personal visit to the area by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Parliament formally designated Nahanni a national park reserve in 1976. Initially encompassing about 4,800 square kilometres, the principal goal at that time was to protect the South Nahanni River and the spectacular Virginia Falls from hydroelectric power development. The 2009 expansion aimed to protect a much larger area, the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem, including the watershed of the South Nahanni River and the Nahanni North Karst area. The new park areas are home to grizzly bears, trumpeter swans and herds of woodland caribou, and they also include caves, canyons and the highest peaks of the Northwest Territories.

Young Dall's sheep rams look into the camera, Tlogotsho Plateau, Nahanni Expansion Area
© Parks Canada

The park won international attention when it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 on account of its striking natural features, including ancient canyons, caves, mountains, and waterways, which form outstanding examples of a range of geologic processes. Though a permanent arrangement has not yet been reached, the Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada are committed to co-operative park management that recognizes the connection between the Dehcho Dene and Métis and the park, and respects and supports their traditional practices and culture.

Nahanni National Park Reserve is but one of many National Parks in Canada. For more information on this and other natural, cultural, and historic treasures, visit the Nahanni National Park Reserve webpage and the National Parks of Canada section of our website. For information on other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, please follow the link.

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