Water History Papers at the Canadian Parks for Tomorrow, 40th Anniversary Conference

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Event Date: May 8 2008 – May 12 2008
Event Website: –
City: Calgary, AB
Country: Canada

Although the Canadian Parks for Tomorrow Conference included a wide range of papers on different topics, only one session focussed specifically on water. This report provides a brief overview of that session for the interest of Canadian water historians.

The Canadian Water Environment: Marine Protected Areas, National Parks, and Wildlife session included presentations by members of conservation groups and natural and social scientists. Wendy Francis, the Senior Conservation Program Manager of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, presented highlights from the research of David Maywood on the fishes of the Yellowstone to Yukon Region in “The Upper Bow River Watershed: A Case Study In Impacts & Restoration.” The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative seeks to connect protected areas from Montana to Yukon Territory in order to provide habitat for wildlife and space for ecosystem processes to function. The study found that in the Upper Bow River there are a variety of barriers facing restoration efforts, including: large numbers of non-native fish species, habitat degradation from dams, railways and highways, climate change, water quantity and quality issues, and angling pressures. To mitigate these problems, the study calls for DNA testing of fish, work on highways to reduce impacts, and possibly the removal of non-essential dams.

Robert Sandford, the author of a recently published book Water, Weather, and the Mountain West (Rocky Mountain Books), presented “Diminishing Flow: The Growing Importance of Upland Parks as Watersheds.” Sandford provided a sweeping introduction to the history of humans and water – from rivers as highways and sources of life to the present condition of profound dependence on water coupled with a sense of human alienation from water. Although the functions of hydrological systems within national parks have been downplayed, they are, he suggested, vital. Sandford called for further aquatic research and modelling in two areas: 1) downstream water quality and human settlement, and 2) fire as a management tool for upland water systems.

Sabine Jessen, a representative of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) presented “Challenges & Innovations in Establishing Canada’s Marine Protected Areas Network.” Canada pledged to create a national Marine Protected Area (MPA) network by 2012 under the International Convention on Biological Diversity, but this does not seem to be occurring. Jessen described CPAWS’s history of involvement in the MPA issue and its current initiative to attract public support for MPAs. Canada has protected 33,000 km², which is a small percentage of coastal and other aquatic lands in the country. She explored the opportunities, challenges, and recommendations for MPA creation. Discussion during the question and answer portion focused around potential reasons for public and political lack of interest in MPAs, including the uncharismatic nature of marine as compared to terrestrial parks.

Harvey Lemelin (Lakehead University) presented “Foresight through Hindsight: The Establishment of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area in Northern Ontario, a Decade in Review.” The government of Ontario transferred some aquatic areas and islands to the federal government in 2007 to become part of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Since then Parks Canada has failed to work closely with the local community and First Nations groups to develop ecotourism possibilities, something that the local community was interested in pursuing. These conclusions were drawn from 100 interviews with local people.

William Montevecchi, a seabird biologist (Memorial University of Newfoundland), presented “Seabird Capitals: Marine Protected Areas in Newfoundland.” He described the seabirds of Newfoundland as fulfilling several important roles: as top predators in the ecosystem, sensitive indicators of ecosystem health and charismatic fauna for the public. He discussed the risks that oil tankers and fishing pose to seabirds and the need for MPAs to protect these animals. Montevecchi reported on the results of tracking experiments and identified areas he thought were key to protect, focusing particularly on Funk Island, a rocky island and an important site for murres off of the coast of Newfoundland.

The presentations focused on a wide variety of topics but all called for greater attention to aquatic areas, species, and peoples for the proper protection of habitats and culturally-rich places. The water environment was portrayed as a vastly important type of habitat that is being and has been taken for granted. One of the reasons mentioned for this neglect of marine areas is that it is difficult to get people excited about the water environment. Few people recreate there, and the fauna are generally not as charismatic as terrestrial species. There was a call for greater preservation and study of marine areas from the delegates of the water environment panel at the Canadian Parks for Tomorrow Conference.

Featured image: Goldstream Park, outside of Victoria, B.C. Photo by Brandon Godfrey on Wikimedia Commons.

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