Waterton Lakes National Park is a special place. It is a national park and biosphere reserve. Together with Glacier National Park in the United States, it is the world’s first international peace park, a world heritage site and the first trans-boundary IDA International Dark Sky Park.
Waterton-Glacier is part of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. It is a place with unusually diverse physical, biological and cultural resources, providing an outstanding opportunity for ecological management and research. These designations reflect that.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
In 1932, the United States of America and Canada created the world’s first International Peace Park: joining together Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (WGIPP).
At the time of inscription, the Peace Park commemorated the peace and goodwill our two nations share.
Today, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park use peace and goodwill to work towards shared management: protecting the water, plants and animals that are found in the WGIPP. You will find the Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park an oasis of solitude and tranquility, a powerful setting for personal reflection on peace.
People have always been at the forefront of the WGIPP. Beginning in 1911, Waterton’s first park official, John G. "Kootenai" Brown, forged a friendship with Henry "Death on the Trail" Reynolds, an American Ranger from Goat Haunt, MT. Upon meetings and visits with one another the two men discussed the idea of joining Waterton and Glacier. Both men felt that the upper Waterton valley, which is intersected by the Canada/U.S.A. border, could not and should not be divided.
"The unheralded line that separates Canada and the United States is the longest unfortified border in the world today, and perhaps in all of history. It says to mankind: Let not the cartographers rule, elevate nature and human friendship."
Brown and Reynolds recognized both parks share the same geology, climate, wildlife and ecology, and should be managed as one protected area. Reynolds had a memorable quote on the matter when he said: "The geology recognizes no boundaries, and as the lake lay... no man-made boundary could cleave the waters apart."
Although both men would pass away a few years later, their idea of joining Waterton Lakes and Glacier national parks would live on. The idea of an international peace park would eventually be re-ignited in the 1930s by the Alberta and Montana Rotary Clubs.
Some facts about the Waterton-Glacier IPP
- Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (IPP) is 4556 sq km (1,720 sq miles) in size.
- Canada and the U.S.A. have the longest undefended border in the world (5,525 miles/ 8,892 km.).
- On July 4th and 5th 1931, the first annual goodwill meeting of Alberta and Montana Rotarians was held at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton. It was organised by the Cardston Rotary Club and attended by almost 100 members of clubs in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana. It was at this meeting that members unanimously approved a resolution for the establishment of an International Peace Park (IPP).
- Reverend Samuel Middleton was one of the driving forces behind the Peace Park idea. He drafted the original Rotary resolution for creation of an International Peace Park, which was seconded by Harry Mitchell, president of the Great Falls Rotary Club (Montana).
- In 1932, American legislation approved a bill to create the IPP, and it was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover on May 2. On June 16, 1932, the Canadian bill was proclaimed. Prime Minister R. B. Bennett stated that the two parks are, "to be known as one international peace park for the purpose of indicating that a boundary line passes through the park and divides two great countries and two great peoples who have lived in peace for many years and who, we all hope, will continue ever to live in terms of amity, goodwill and peace."
- In 1947, two stone cairns, one on each side of the international boundary, were erected. They were funded by Rotarians in Alberta and Montana. A small tin container filled with mementos of the time was placed in the cement foundation of both cairns. The cairns were dedicated on August 2 with a "hands across the border" handshake ceremony that has become an enduring Waterton-Glacier IPP tradition (although carried out in various locations over the years).
- In 1978, the first International Peace Park Hike was held. It is led by a US Park Ranger and a Canadian Park Interpreter. Hikers begin in Waterton; follow the Lakeshore Trail; lunch at the international boundary where a 'hands-across-the-border' ceremony is held; continue along to Goat Haunt; then take the MV International back to the Waterton community.
- Waterton opened a Peace Park Pavilion on the lakeshore near the marina on June 18, 1982 (the 50th anniversary of the IPP). The Peace Park Pavilion foundation was removed in 2015 and plans for a new Peace Park Plaza were put in place. The Peace Park Plaza, with new pathways, exhibits and interpretive nodes, opened in 2018.
- Waterton-Glacier was the world's first peace park. There are now over 170 peace parks worldwide.
- There has been an Aboriginal presence in the region going back 12,000 years. Places in both parks hold deep significance for First Nations people.
World Heritage Site
UNESCO designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park as a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1995.
A World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building or city) of special cultural or physical significance to the world.
To be listed, sites must be of universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the sites are also an important consideration.
The Waterton Glacier International Peace Park was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee under the following criteria:
- Criterion (vii): Both national parks were originally designated by their respective nations because of their superlative mountain scenery, their high topographic relief, glacial landforms, and abundant diversity of wildlife and wildflowers.
- Criterion (ix): The property occupies a pivotal position in the Western Cordillera of North America resulting in the evolution of plant communities and ecological complexes that occur nowhere else in the world. Maritime weather systems unimpeded by mountain ranges to the north and south allow plants and animals characteristic of the Pacific Northwest to extend to and across the continental divide in the park. To the east, prairie communities nestle against the mountains with no intervening foothills, producing an interface of prairie, montane and alpine communities. The international peace park includes the headwaters of three major watersheds draining through significantly different biomes to different oceans. The biogeographical significance of this tri-ocean divide is increased by the many vegetated connections between the headwaters. The net effect is to create a unique assemblage and high diversity of flora and fauna concentrated in a small area.
The Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR), designated in 1979 by UNESCO, was Canada’s second biosphere reserve and is one of only 18 biosphere reserves in Canada.
The WBR is a special place where people are encouraged to demonstrate innovative approaches to conservation and sustainable use to achieve the goal of conserving biodiversity while ensuring the continued growth of the local economy in an ecologically sustainable way.
The Waterton Biosphere Reserve includes a core protected area, which is Waterton Lakes National Park, a broad buffer zone of surrounding private ranch and farm land, and a flexible area of cooperation beyond, where sustainable resource management practices are promoted and developed.
The Waterton Biosphere Reserve:
International Dark Sky Park
This is the first IDA designation in the world to cross an international border.
This joint effort recognizes the incredibly dark skies found at the two parks and makes a long-term commitment to protecting and preserving these high-quality conditions.
The designation requires the two parks to meet specific objectives. These include preservation or restoration of outstanding night skies, protection of nocturnal habitat, public enjoyment of the night sky and its heritage, and demonstrating environmental leadership on dark sky issues.