Parks Canada's purpose is:

To fulfill national and international responsibilities in mandated areas of heritage recognition and conservation; and to commemorate, protect and present, both directly and indirectly, places which are significant examples of Canada's cultural and natural heritage in ways that encourage public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of this heritage, while ensuring long-term ecological and commemorative integrity.


Parks Canada operates within a broad and varied context, consistent with national and international commitments, to protect and present places that represent the world's natural and cultural heritage. These commitments recognize that people and the environment are inseparable and that survival is fundamentally linked to a healthy environment and respect for human heritage. It is important, therefore, to ensure that these policies anticipate and respond to challenges and opportunities as they arise.

Issues of international, national and regional scope affect heritage places. Canada must continue to respond positively to increasing international emphasis on the commemoration, protection and presentation of places representing the world's natural and cultural heritage. The goal of sustainable development must include the goal of maintaining the integrity of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. The global economy is changing, and the contribution of the tourism sector in the North American economy, including Canada, is expected to continue to increase. While Parks Canada does not have a direct mandate for tourism, it does have a part to play in recognizing and supporting tourism's place in presenting an image of Canada to visitors, in helping to maintain a sound and prosperous economy, and in fostering sustainable development that benefits local communities.

Parks, national historic sites and canals provide demonstration and communication opportunities for environmental and heritage citizenship initiatives, and various other departmental activities. In addition, the federal environmental assessment legislation is meticulously applied in heritage places administered by Parks Canada.

Parks Canada Mandate

Parks Canada plays a leading role in federal government activities related to recognizing places representative of Canada's natural heritage and places of national historic importance, and in protecting and presenting these places to the public. Parks Canada is also responsible for erecting and maintaining a variety of heritage markers.

The legislation mandating Parks Canada activities includes the National Parks Act, the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, and the Department of Transport Act. The Federal Heritage Buildings program and the Canadian Heritage Rivers program are operated under Cabinet authority and federal - provincial agreement between parks ministers respectively.

In some cases, Parks Canada's heritage activities entail direct responsibility for the management of federal lands and their associated resources. This is the case for national parks, aspects of marine conservation areas and a number of national historic sites, including historic canals. In other cases, activities are focused on formal designations by the Government of Canada and, where mandated, providing support for the preservation and interpretation of designated heritage properties that are managed by others. These include all heritage railway stations; most federal heritage buildings; most Canadian heritage rivers; and many national historic sites.

Shared Responsibility

Parks Canada contributes to an international heritage agenda through its leadership role in, participation in, or support for, international conventions, programs, agencies and agreements. These include, among others:

  • UNESCO's World Heritage Convention;
  • the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Significance;
  • the Convention on Biological Diversity;
  • UNESCO's Québec Declaration on World Heritage Towns;
  • the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites;
  • the International Charter for Archaeological Heritage Management;
  • the World Charter for Nature;
  • UNESCO's Biosphere Reserves Program;
  • the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS);
  • the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Properties (ICCROM); and
  • the World Conservation Union (also known as IUCN).

As well, many bilateral and multilateral initiatives between countries often involve heritage information exchanges and joint activities.

Canadians can take pride in their internationally recognized contribution to heritage conservation — as exemplified by the many World Heritage Sites found in Canada — and their emerging role in promoting responsible stewardship throughout the world.

Global environmental and heritage concerns are responded to through research and public presentation programs at protected heritage areas. These programs may encompass such themes as acid rain, climate change, biodiversity, endangered species and the impact of development, natural processes and disasters on heritage places. This contributes to forging the relationship between international commitments and national and local actions.

Because heritage areas and sites cannot be managed in isolation, cooperative working relationships and agreements are actively sought with agencies and individuals involved in the management of surrounding or adjacent landscapes, ecosystems and communities. This helps all parties achieve mutually supportive environmental, service, social, and cultural objectives for conservation and sustainability. The first priority in relationships is always to ensure long-term ecological and commemorative integrity of heritage areas. Therefore, it is important for Parks Canada to monitor and respond to existing or proposed activities external to heritage areas.

Parks Canada recognizes that while protected heritage areas often play a major role in local economies, sustainable tourism must be based upon:

  • maintaining and enhancing ecological and commemorative integrity;
  • respecting the intrinsic natural, cultural and scenic values of Canada's protected heritage areas; and
  • providing education and recreation opportunities which foster a sense of Canadian identity.

Based on these guidelines, Parks Canada will cooperate with other levels of government and tourism stakeholders to encourage a sustainable heritage tourism industry.

The Family of Heritage Places and Programs

The heritage areas and programs administered by Parks Canada are but a part of the nationwide family of parks, historic sites, protected areas, and heritage programs in Canada. Cooperation and coordination among heritage interests is not only desirable but essential to ensuring more effective conservation of significant heritage places and to minimizing any duplication of efforts.

Agreements with provincial and territorial governments, as well as with allied non-government organizations and Aboriginal peoples, can be significant means of ensuring recognition, establishment and protection of heritage places. The responsibilities and complementary roles of provincial, territorial and other governments, as well as national and local heritage and Aboriginal groups are valued.

Aboriginal Interests

Where Aboriginal interests have not been previously dealt with by treaty or other means, it is the Government of Canada's policy to negotiate comprehensive claims based on traditional and continuing use and occupancy of land. Claims settlements may include particular Aboriginal rights and benefits in relation to wildlife management and the use of water and land and may provide for these through participation on advisory or public government bodies. Such arrangements would recognize the government's responsibility to protect the interests of all users, including the general public and third parties, to ensure resource conservation, to respect international agreements, and to manage renewable resources within its jurisdiction. Where existing Aboriginal or treaty rights occur within protected heritage areas, the principles set out in court decisions, which may serve to clarify these rights, such as Regina v. Sparrow, will be respected.

When establishing new national parks or reserves and national marine conservation areas, or acquiring national historic sites, Parks Canada works within Canada's legal and policy framework regarding Aboriginal peoples' rights, as recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Accordingly, Parks Canada will consult with affected Aboriginal communities at the time of new park establishment and historic site acquisition, or as part of an Aboriginal land claim settlement.