Filming Parks

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Screen Shots from NFB film Kouchibouguac
Screen Shots from NFB film Kouchibouguac

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final article in a series on Ernest Reid’s 1963 film, Enduring Wilderness, written by contributors to the forthcoming A Century of Parks Canada, 1911-2011 (University of Calgary Press).

The opening frame of the 1963 NFB film, Enduring Wilderness, indicates that it was being brought to the public by the National Parks Branch of the Canadian government; and in a very real way the film reflected a view of Canadian parks that went back to the beginning of the park system in the late 19th century. Thanks to the efforts of the government, lands had been set aside in their “original state” so that people could reflect on nature, something that existed upon the arrival of Europeans (apparently First Nations people had left no mark), but was now under assault. Most of the film, in fact, shows Canada’s parks as free of people, so that humans only appear towards the end. There certainly is no impression that people ever lived on the lands that became parks.

Only sixteen years later, however, the NFB’s French-language production unit (Office national du film) released a film that indicated just how radically the long held notions about parks had been transformed. Kouchibouguac told the story of over 200 families that had been expropriated from their lands along the eastern coast of New Brunswick in the late 1960s and early 1970s to allow the creation of a national park of the same name. There was no “enduring wilderness” here as humans had to be sent packing to allow nature to reclaim the territory, albeit with the help of humans. The film gave voice to the people who had been displaced and were now being allowed (without the intervention of any narrator) to tell their story. By contrast, the 1963 film had the classic “Voice of God” narration.

In the years following the creation of Kouchibouguac National Park, most of the residents (the vast majority of whom were Acadians whose ancestors had already experienced displacement) moved to restart their lives in neighbouring communities, but some resisted the effort to move them aside so that tourists could enjoy nature. Protestors closed down the park on several occasions in the early 1970s, and in the process Jackie Vautour emerged as the public face of the protestors.

The film allowed a number of former residents to tell their stories, but special attention was given to Vautour who had only left his property when his house was bulldozed and who had returned to squat on his land in 1978, where he still lives to this day. By giving this attention to Vautour and his fellow expropriés, Kouchibouguac served as an advocacy film in the mould of other NFB/ONF productions of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed the film closes with a menacing view of an approaching storm and with words scrolled across the bottom of the screen announcing that Vautour was not alone in wanting to return, although he was the only one to do so.

Kouchibouguac could not have been more different from The Enduring Wilderness. The ONF production reflected a growing opposition to Parks Canada policy that was also in view in other cases where the government wanted to remove people to create nature. In response to such resistance, in 1979, the same year that Kouchibouguac was released, Parks Canada changed its policy so that resident populations would no longer be forced from their lands for the creation of new parks.

Feature image: Kouchibouguac National Park, 2017. Photo by jockrutherford on Wikimedia Commons.
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Ronald Rudin, author of seven books and and producer of eight documentary films, carries out research that touches upon the cultural and environmental history of Atlantic Canada.

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