"... deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all nations of the world."

(World Heritage Convention, UNESCO)

Canadian Identity and Heritage

As Canadians we appreciate the beauty of the natural environment and the richness of our history. These elements contribute to an understanding and collective sense of Canada's national identity as well as a shared sense of pride. They unify us as a people yet express our national diversity. Canadians share this heritage with each other and welcome others to value, respect and learn about it. We celebrate this rich heritage through national historic sites, national parks and park reserves, heritage railway stations, historic canals, marine conservation areas, heritage rivers, federal heritage buildings and historical markers.

These national symbols contribute to our Canadian identity in many ways. They depict a diversity of cultures and natural environments. They are national symbols, yet can be located in virtually any part of the country - urban, rural and remote. They are also tangible links not only with the past and the present but with the future. Heritage places provide a window to the world and showcase our global responsibilities in ensuring continued protection and presentation of a heritage that has both national and international significance.

Canada's environment encompasses a vast array of terrestrial and marine ecosystems - the Arctic tundra, the western mountains, the prairies, the Precambrian Shield, and the eastern uplands, including the off-shore areas of the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific coasts. The environment also includes places and landscapes associated with human heritage. These historic places - which represent thousands of years of human history and encompass places of work and worship, commerce and culture, law and leisure - evoke our past, our aspirations and our values.

Conservation Strategies and Sustainable Development

Heritage places must be managed in a manner that sustains them and respects their intrinsic values.

Heritage places contribute to broader sustainable development and conservation strategies by:

  • maintaining ecological integrity and biodiversity of natural areas;
  • preserving the commemorative integrity of historic places;
  • promoting a conservation ethic, citizenship values based on a respect for the environment and heritage, ecosystem and cultural resource management; and
  • generally demonstrating conservation principles and approaches set out in various relevant United Nations Reports.

The World Heritage Convention and Heritage Places

Canada played a major role in devising the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which has as its objectives the protection, conservation and presentation of cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value. Under the terms of the convention, Canada has committed itself to identify and to delineate sites associated with cultural and natural heritage within Canada; to adopt a general policy that aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community; to establish one or more services charged with the protection, conservation and presentation of this heritage; to take appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures, as well as to foster the establishment of training centres, to achieve the objectives of the Convention, and to avoid any deliberate measures that might damage cultural and natural heritage. The Convention also establishes a framework for international cooperation and assistance.

The Convention on Biological Diversity and Protected Heritage Areas

By administering protected heritage areas, Parks Canada plays a major role in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Protected areas such as national parks and reserves, marine conservation areas, and some national historic sites can contribute directly to the in-situ conservation of biological diversity and, therefore, to Canada's national strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

In fulfilling its mission in this regard, Parks Canada promotes the protection of ecosystems and natural habitats, the maintenance and recovery of viable wild populations of species in natural settings, as well as the environmentally sound management of surrounding or adjacent areas.

While the primary purpose of national historic sites and other cultural heritage sites is not to conserve biological diversity, a number of such sites may contribute to biological diversity because of their size and/or ecological features. Good environmental stewardship encompasses a concern for places that reflect the human as well as the biophysical heritage.

Early History

For more than a century, the Government of Canada has been involved in protecting outstanding natural areas and in commemorating significant aspects of Canadian history. This extensive experience has enabled Canada to be recognized, internationally, as a world leader in the management of heritage.

Canada's national parks system began in 1885 when 26 km2 around mineral hot springs near Banff Station, Alberta, were set aside for public use. The Rocky Mountains Park Act of 1887 defined the first parks as "public park and pleasure grounds for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of the people of Canada." The National Parks Act, originally enacted in 1930, dedicates the national parks to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment and makes provision to keep them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

The setting aside of historic Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1917, followed by the establishment of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919, laid the foundation for Canada's system of national historic sites. The 1930 National Parks Act also provided a legislative framework for the setting aside of federal lands for historical purposes. The Historic Sites and Monuments Act of 1953, reflecting the strong sense of national purpose that followed the Second World War, provided statutory authority for the designation of national historic sites - regardless of ownership - as well as a legislative basis for acquiring and for contributing directly to the care and preservation of these sites.

The Present

Parks Canada's protected heritage areas play a significant part in achieving Government of Canada goals of:

  • completing the parks systems and protecting Canada's natural heritage, including contributing towards the setting aside as protected space 12 per cent of the country; and
  • commemorating the historical heritage of importance to all Canadians.

The Future

Parks Canada is committed to establishing a comprehensive network of protected heritage areas representative of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. To achieve this goal, Parks Canada needs the cooperation and involvement of others.

Efforts will be made to manage natural protected areas on an ecosystem basis, while meeting compatible social and economic needs, and maintaining the areas in a natural state. Cultural heritage areas will be managed in accordance with cultural resource management principles and practice so that their commemorative integrity is ensured and that the fabric of the communities in which they are located is enhanced.

Protected heritage areas can demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the environment, and provide enhanced educational and interpretive opportunities. As a result, Canadian heritage values should increasingly be recognized as part of a nationally unifying ethic.

These are the challenges for the future.