Part B: The State of Canada’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Places Administered by Parks Canada

Cultural Resources


Parks Canada administers 171 national historic sites. As steward of these sites, the Agency ensures that cultural resources are conserved and that their heritage value is shared for the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of present and future generations. Such cultural resources are also found in national parks, national marine conservation areas, and Rouge National Urban Park. All of these cultural resources deepen a sense of connection to Canada and to our treasured heritage places and the stories they tell. They represent a significant inventory of the nation’s buildings and engineering works, archaeological sites, objects, and landscape features. Parks Canada further categorizes cultural resources according to their national historic significance or other heritage value they may possess.

The protection and conservation of cultural resources require constant vigilance because once lost, they are gone forever. In order to protect these cultural resources for Canadians, regular assessment and monitoring of their state are critical, particularly when natural processes or human actions could accelerate their deterioration.

The Government of Canada’s recent, significant investment in Parks Canada’s infrastructure will improve the condition of a wide range of built heritage (a type of cultural resources) at national historic sites, thereby contributing to maintain their heritage value, as well as strengthen their appeal as destinations to celebrate our Nation’s achievements. Investments in improving the condition of cultural resources that are in poor condition will ensure that heritage value is preserved for future generations. Annex 1 provides a detailed report of the condition of cultural resources of national significance and cultural resources of other heritage value at national historic sites administered by Parks Canada.

Parks Canada’s determines the condition of its cultural resources, which includes the consideration of heritage value, through the commemorative integrity assessment program. The assessment of condition or state of a site includes the extent to which the site retains the heritage value for which it was designated. National historic sites are subject to an assessment once every ten years, in line with the management planning cycle.

State of Cultural Resources in National Historic Sites

Based on the results of commemorative integrity assessments for 37 national historic sites conducted between 2011 and 2016 (where the heritage value was considered), the majority of cultural resources of national significance assessed at these sites (i.e. buildings and engineering works, archaeological sites, objects, and landscape features) was judged in fair condition or better. However, buildings and engineering works pose a greater conservation challenge than the three other cultural resource categories, because of their size, complexity and exposure to harsh weather and other natural threats such as ground erosion and water infiltration. Among the 37 sites assessed, 42 percent of Parks Canada’s buildings and engineering works of national significance were found in good condition while 38 percent were in poor condition (Figure 4).

The condition of historical and archaeological objects of national significance at these sites has improved since 2011. As a result of targeted conservation work by Parks Canada, the proportion of objects in good condition was reported at 67 percent while less than one percent was found in poor condition (Figure 5).

Figure 4: Condition of cultural resources of national historic significance, including heritage value for which they were designated (37 sites assessed between 2011 and 2016)
Figure 4: Condition of cultural resources of national historic significance, including heritage value for which they were designated (37 sites assessed between 2011 and 2016)

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Figure 5: Condition of objects of national historic significance
(37 sites assessed between 2011 and 2016)
Figure 5: Condition of objects of national historic significance (37 sites assessed between 2011 and 2016)

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Parks Canada has led significant conservation work on targeted national historic sites with a focus on improving the condition of cultural resources considered in poor condition. For example, Cave and Basin National Historic Site (Alberta), the birthplace of Canada’s national park system, underwent a site renewal where significant cultural resources such as the Bathing Pavilion were preserved. Point Clark Lighthouse National Historic Site (Ontario) was considered in poor condition due to damage to the exterior masonry of the 25-metre-high tower. Restoration work began in 2011 to replace stones, repair masonry, repaint the lantern and metal roof, apply exterior whitewash coating, and complete interior and below-ground repairs.

Significant investments in Province House National Historic Site (Prince Edward Island), the birthplace of Confederation, will address the preservation of the period masonry, structural upgrades, and measures to make the building weather-tight.

Since 2014 the Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site (Quebec) has seen conservation work on several sections of the fortification walls, including the King’s Bastion.

Parks Canada has implemented Cultural Resource Impact Analysis requirements to ensure that all potential impacts to cultural resources are identified and mitigated, if necessary, as part of all infrastructure projects. Conservation work is conducted in ways that respect the commemorative integrity.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Some cultural resources are becoming more vulnerable to the threats related to climate change. Parks Canada will continue planning and monitoring to identify threats to cultural resources, such as shoreline erosion, and develop best practices, along with mitigation and adaptation measures. The important investment in Parks Canada’s infrastructure will contribute to improve the condition of cultural resources of national significance. Parks Canada will develop a strategy to maintain cultural resources in good or fair condition in a systematic manner across the country.

Parks Canada continues to care for one of the largest collections of historical and archaeological objects in North America. The Agency is proceeding with the consolidation of a significant part of the collection into one purpose-built facility to have historical and archaeological objects, as tangible elements of Canada’s history, cared for and conserved in a sustainable manner. Consultations with Indigenous communities and other stakeholders will be held to ensure access to the collection.

Preserving information related to cultural resources under Parks Canada’s care is essential for the protection, presentation, and conservation of these valuable resources. The quality of the data related to cultural resources is not uniform across the Agency, nor is it contained in a single data system. Over the upcoming years, Parks Canada will bring together all critical information relating to cultural resources into one single database in order to facilitate evidence-based cultural resource management decision-making and reporting as well as the presentation of these treasured resources to Canadians. In addition, the Agency will update its suite of cultural heritage related program outcomes and associated performance indicators to strengthen planning, monitoring, and reporting.

Ecological Integrity


Nature is inspiring. We see growth, diversity and healing in ecosystems that are not under stress. The inherent ability of an ecosystem to maintain itself is protected as ecological integrity in national parks. Parks Canada has a legal obligation to maintain or improve ecological integrity while providing benefit and enjoyment to Canadians and international visitors. The Agency has successfully managed this balance for over 100 years.

Ecological integrity comprises not only native plants and animals (the right cast of characters) but also the ecological processes (the right script) for the action that takes place in an ecosystem. When native species decline, when invasive species take over or when ecological processes fail to occur with their normal frequency and intensity, then the maintenance of the entire ecosystem is at risk. Parks Canada regularly monitors the state of ecological integrity, and the results for each of the 46 national parks are summarized in Annex 2. This same data on the state of the parks also informs one of the indicators for the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators.

Parks Canada uses indicators to summarize and assess the ecological condition of the main ecosystems in each national park, i.e. forests, tundra, wetlands or freshwater.

State of Ecological Integrity

There is reason for optimism about the state of national parks. Of the 115 ecosystems that have been assessed, more than half (54 percent) are in good condition. That is an improvement from 42 percent in 2011. Only 10 percent of the ecosystems have declined since 2011, and they are outnumbered by the ecosystems that have improved since that time. The percentage of ecosystems in decline was estimated to be 31 percent in 2011, when Parks Canada did not have a defined time interval for comparing the condition of the parks.

Improvements in our monitoring system were triggered, in part, by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s 2013 report on ecological integrity. The monitoring program is now fully implemented with all national parks having a monitoring plan focused on key indicators and measures. All measures have protocols to generate useful information and thresholds. We now have 91 percent of indicator ecosystems assessed, as compared to 58 percent in 2011. Data management and the calculation of condition indices have been streamlined and standardized. The International Union for Conservation of Nature highlights Parks Canada’s ecological monitoring system as an inspiring solution, being the only such system to produce national reports that drive planning and investment decisions.

There is still much to be learned about the ecology of parks. Many thresholds are preliminary, and some indicators are assessed on the basis of only a couple of species or processes. Parks Canada is also striving to include the insights of Indigenous traditional knowledge in its assessments.

In general, freshwater ecosystems are most likely to be in good condition or to have shown improvement. In many cases, these improvements were the result of a more objective and quantitative assessment. As was also the case in 2011, forests continue to show a disproportionate number of indicators in poor condition. Here, the effects of fire suppression, invasive plants and hyperabundant moose and deer continue to be evident. Grasslands face stiffer challenges from these same pressures. None of the five grassland ecosystems are in good condition. Coastal and marine ecosystems are showing improvements, including the beginnings of a recovery of eelgrass beds in Kejimkujik following a successful reduction of the invasive green crab.


Parks Canada takes its mandate to maintain or improve ecological integrity very seriously and is working to support the effective and durable restoration of ecosystems, especially in a manner that engages and benefits Canadians. Dedicated funding for ecological restoration—totalling $84 million over five years—is helping sites across the Parks Canada network achieve measurable conservation gains. Completed projects include rat eradication in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, dune ecosystem restoration in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and reducing impacts on whales by mitigating human disturbance in Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park.

In 2015–16, 33 projects across 27 sites were underway, reducing threats to ecosystems, reintroducing species, reconnecting watersheds, and re-establishing processes. These projects also contributed to reconciliation with Indigenous partners through collaboration on shared goals. Conservation gains resulting from these projects will include the following:

  • minimizing wildlife mortality by constructing wildlife highway crossings in Kootenay National Park;
  • restoring clam garden eco-cultural landscapes using traditional and scientific knowledge in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve;
  • restoring fire-dependent ecosystems across the country through prescribed fires;
  • restoring the natural dynamics of the coastal/marine ecosystem in Forillon National Park;
  • reducing populations of overabundant species such as moose in Cape Breton Highlands, Gros Morne, and Terra Nova national parks; and
  • restoring the hydrological regime and aquatic connectivity in the lakes of La Mauricie National Park.

Parks Canada’s visitor experience and law enforcement programs make a significant contribution to the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity. Park wardens undertake prevention and law enforcement activities to protect wildlife and ecosystems and contribute to on-the-ground restoration efforts. They also work in partnership with communities, local organizations, and external law enforcement agencies to help ensure the success of conservation projects. For example, cross-boundary cooperation played a vital role in salmon recovery in Fundy National Park by preventing illegal salmon harvesting both inside and outside the park.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Three issues will be increasingly important in the years ahead: cumulative effects, climate change and connectivity.

Cumulative Effects

The first issue arises out of the difficulty in predicting the impacts of construction projects and land use strategies. Some impacts are relatively minor on a case-by-case basis and only become a problem when they accumulate in repeated projects across the landscape. This is particularly clear in assessing major infrastructure projects and on watershed impacts. With partners, Parks Canada will aim at increasing our ability to identify these “cumulative effects”, track their impact and use the best management practices to contain them.

Climate Change

Climate change will impact both species assemblages and ecosystem processes, threatening ecosystem integrity in vulnerable, less resilient ecosystems. We are assessing how monitoring approaches may be adjusted to accurately report on these impacts. More and more, Parks Canada will consider climate projections in its monitoring thresholds. This process has begun by examining the vulnerability of three Arctic national parks to climate change. In parallel, we have initiated a review of planning and management practices to integrate climate change considerations.


As part of a worldwide conservation effort under global targets developed by the Convention on Biological Diversity, Parks Canada will work in collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial government departments, Indigenous groups, communities, and organizations across Canada to better integrate and optimize protected areas in the wider ecological and cultural landscape. This approach will advance the concept of ecological networks and ecological connectivity, including connectivity required for migratory species and climate change adaptation. With a changing climate, both natural and accelerated movement of species to the habitat that best suits their survival will become critical for long-term conservation. Connectivity is already a core concept in measuring ecological integrity, and it will play a larger role in coming years.

Species at Risk


Parks Canada is committed to the protection and recovery of species at risk, many of which can be found within Parks Canada lands and waters. Parks Canada protects all of these species at risk, along with their residences and habitat, and also supports and undertakes recovery activities to maintain or improve their conservation status. In undertaking this important effort, Parks Canada will also enhance ecological integrity, promote public awareness and provide richer visitor experiences.

The first step in Parks Canada’s effort to identify priority actions that could lead to the best outcomes for species’ recovery in protected heritage places is to find out which species live in heritage places, and how they are doing. During the reporting period, Parks Canada completed assessments of the conservation status of species at risk found in all protected heritage places, using a standardized approach to collect, store and share species conservation data. The standards and tools were developed by NatureServe, an internationally-recognised not for profit organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation. The information on species found within protected heritage places is available to the public through Parks Canada’s website.

State of Species at Risk

The completion of the conservation status assessment has confirmed that there are approximately 200 species listed under the Species at Risk Act found in one or more of Parks Canada’s heritage places. Some of these species live year-round and breed in the parks or sites while others may only stay briefly during their migration. Parks Canada is using the information from the conservation status assessments to inform the development of action plans that identify objectives and priority actions for the recovery of species at risk within protected heritage places. These action plans are published in the Species at Risk Public Registry and fulfill a legal requirement under the Species at Risk Act.

As of 2016, Parks Canada has completed seven multi-species action plans that outline specific recovery measures associated with 71 specific population and distribution objectives for species at risk. Parks Canada measures progress towards these objectives, as well as advancement in implementing associated recovery measures for species at risk found in its sites.


Since 2011, Parks Canada has taken actions to restore important habitat for species at risk and improve their conservation status within heritage places. There are many reasons why species are at risk. Some are naturally rare and have specific needs that restrict them to a particular habitat. Others may become rare due to outside factors such as when invasive species are introduced into a new habitat. Such was the case on several islands in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve where introduced rats caused the decline of local populations of ancient murrelets, a seabird of cultural significance to the Haida people. Between 2011 and 2015, the eradication of these rats from selected islands has restored nesting habitat for globally significant populations of ancient murrelets and other seabirds. These coastal ecosystems are now showing evidence of ecological recovery. The introduction of non-native species is often accidental but may sometimes have been done for a purpose, such as the introduction of non-native fish species in lakes and rivers to encourage sports fishing. The westslope cutthroat trout is a good example of a native fish whose population has declined dramatically due to introduced non-native trout species. Removal of introduced species and the reintroduction of westslope cutthroat trout in Banff National Park are helping this rare species to recolonize its native habitat.

The loss of habitat constitutes another major factor in the decline of many species. To address the decline in monarch butterfly populations, for example, Point Pelee National Park entered into a multi-year collaboration with the Municipality of Leamington, Ontario, to engage the community in creating much-needed monarch butterfly habitat by planting native grasses and wildflowers, such as milkweed, along municipal walking trails. Projects to restore species at risk habitat are currently underway across many parks and sites. A major restoration project in Fundy National Park seeks to reintroduce the endangered Inner Bay of Fundy salmon. In collaboration with partners including the nearby Indigenous community, the project involves collecting, raising and releasing salmon into the rivers of the park. Additionally, conservation efforts to restore the endangered Deltoid Balsamroot, a native sunflower that once grew abundantly on the southeast side of Vancouver Island, are underway. Though currently restricted to eight small natural populations in Canada, between 2011 and 2015, Parks Canada staff at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site conducted a cross-pollination experiment to yield viable seeds that were replanted on the site. As well, the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site developed an innovative species at risk mapping system to facilitate Parks Canada’s review of permit applications for in-water and shoreline works within its jurisdictions. Through inter-agency coordination, the mapping system ensures, for example, that docks are placed away from sensitive areas such as nesting sites of the least bittern. Innovative tools such as these, support Parks Canada efforts in managing protected areas for the conservation of species at risk.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Some of the actions undertaken by Parks Canada to improve the conservation status of species at risk are starting to show positive effects, however, many species at risk continue to face several threats within and outside of protected heritage places. Habitats are disappearing at a rapid rate in almost all parts of Canada — wetlands are being filled in, forests fragmented, and grasslands ploughed and fenced. Exotic invasive species are another serious problem for naturally implanted wildlife species in Canada. Climate change can also affect biodiversity and the ability of species to adapt to variations in the ecosystem. Increasing severity and frequency of disturbances such as storms, floods and fire constitute another threat to the habitat and survival of many species. As a result of these factors and others, the number of species at risk in Canada is still growing.

Parks Canada continues to exercise leadership in balancing multiple land uses and conservation needs, and has proven that recovery and protection of species at risk can be accomplished through innovative and cost-effective means. Over 20 initiatives covering more than 60 species at risk will be conducted over the next several years to provide safe havens to species under a changing climate. These projects will help restore habitat, remove exotic species, and reintroduce lost species, among many other recovery activities, thereby increasing the species resilience to adapt to other pressure including climate change. These efforts will also enhance ecological integrity, promote public awareness and provide richer visitor experiences. In working to protect species’ at risk, Parks Canada is also committed to sharing best practices with partners and stakeholders, as it engages Canadians in recovery initiatives and continues to support volunteers.

Protection and Ecologically Sustainable Use of National Marine Conservation Areas


Parks Canada manages a growing system of national marine conservation areas (NMCAs), which is representative of Canada’s ocean and Great Lakes marine regions, and plays a leadership role in ensuring the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable use of these areas.

Canada’s NMCA system encompasses a variety of marine and Great Lakes ecosystems: from intertidal areas to abyssal depths; from coastal wetlands and estuaries to eelgrass and kelp beds; from banks, shoals and islands to deep-water channels and troughs. These ecologically diverse areas support a broad range of uses, including recreation, tourism, shipping, commercial and sports fishing, and other traditional and commercial harvest of renewable marine resources.

NMCAs are managed according to an ecosystem approach, providing models of harmonization between protection and human activities. This collaborative method brings together stakeholders to achieve common objectives that reflect the identified values of the area. This approach involves working closely with others to achieve common objectives that reflect the identified values of the place, including:

  • Those who have management responsibilities within the area, including other federal and provincial departments and Indigenous peoples under cooperative management arrangements; and
  • Those who use the coastal lands and the waters, including Indigenous peoples, or who have other interests in NMCAs and may help to protect and conserve them through stewardship initiatives and voluntary practices

State of NMCA Protection and Ecologically Sustainable Use

Parks Canada has recently developed a pilot suite of indicators to monitor the state of ecosystems and ecologically sustainable use of marine resources in NMCAs. Recognizing the unique challenges of managing these areas, these indicators provide an integrated picture of marine biodiversity and environmental quality, marine use, and governance. Protection and ecologically sustainable use of NMCAs is achieved by maintaining healthy and resilient ecosystems, ensuring that the use of marine resources does not compromise ecosystem structure and function, and upholding strong collaborative arrangements. Over the next five years, the suite of pilot indicators and associated measures will be tested and implemented to provide decision makers with a snapshot of the state of NMCAs.

Figure 6: Voluntary protection measures in Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park
Voluntary protection measures in Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park

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Over the past five years, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to enhance the protection of NMCAs and their ecologically sustainable use. For example:

  • Every year, thousands of commercial ships transit through the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. Because these ships traverse critical habitat and foraging grounds for several species of whales, including the beluga, there are concerns about potential impacts on these species. In 2011, a working group was formed with representatives from government, industry, academia and non-government organizations. Its task was to assess ways to reduce whale exposure to vessels and manage the risk of collisions. The group’s work led to recommendations in 2013 for a voluntary reduction in vessel speed and an area of vessel avoidance (Figure 6). Involving stakeholders from the beginning of the process has fostered strong support for these measures and ensured ready compliance, substantially reducing the risk of deadly collisions between ships and whales.
  • Another example of coastal conservation is from Fathom Five National Marine Park, where managers have implemented an efficient process to prevent the establishment of the invasive European common reed (Phragmites australis) within the coastal wetlands. Every year, marine park staff detect new colonization attempts by this invasive species and eradicate it before it gets established. These actions protect the biodiversity and resilience of the main coastal habitats, as the spread of the Phragmites has had severe adverse effects on biological diversity in coastal ecosystems throughout the Great Lakes.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Many environmental factors have an impact on the state of NMCAs, including climate change (global warming, sea level rise), changes to the physical environment (water quality and ocean acidification), loss of biodiversity (ecosystem processes, species at risk, and invasive species) and loss of habitat. A key issue for NMCA management is understanding how these complex marine and Great Lakes ecosystems function and adapt to environmental changes and the implications of these changes on the protection and ecologically sustainable use of NMCA resources.

As the pilot national monitoring program is implemented and tested over the next few years, Canadians will learn more about the state of the NMCA system. Adaptive management within NMCAs will be supported and informed by this responsive monitoring program. Parks Canada and other managers will have the knowledge and evidence required to effectively manage, protect and conserve national marine conservation areas, to work collaboratively with others to ensure the responsible use of marine resources, and to meet NMCA management objectives.

Asset Management


Parks Canada manages a complex portfolio of built assets valued at approximately $17.5 billion (in 2016 dollars). The Agency’s asset portfolio includes irreplaceable heritage structures, such as historic buildings, fortifications, historic canals, lighthouses, and Indigenous fish weirs, as well as contemporary buildings, highways, bridges, dams and other holdings. All of these assets support the delivery of the Agency’s mandate and serve the more than 20 million visitors to Parks Canada’s sites each year. Certain assets, such as through highways and through waterways, also serve as vital links for Canadian communities supporting both transportation and economic activity.

There are several challenges inherent in managing these assets. Many are located in remote areas across the country, including northern climates, adding to the cost and complexity of operating and maintaining them. In addition, the adverse effects of climate change such as permafrost thawing and the increased frequency of wildfires, floods and avalanches threaten the structural integrity of contemporary assets and cultural resources, resulting in increased rehabilitation costs and loss of built assets in affected regions.

Parks Canada is the custodian of many assets of historical significance that require specialized maintenance and management to ensure their protection and long-term preservation. In addition, the majority of our contemporary assets are aging and require significant ongoing investments.

In 2013, Parks Canada developed a suite of national indicators based on overall asset condition ratings to provide a consistent picture of the state of all of the Agency’s built assets.

State of Assets

In 2012, Parks Canada performed a National Asset Review focused on updating and confirming asset condition ratings, current replacement values and estimates of deferred work. The review and a subsequent third-party validation highlighted that over half of the Agency’s holdings were in poor or very poor condition and required investments in maintenance and rehabilitation.

As of March 31, 2016, 53 percent of the Agency’s assets were rated as being in good to fair condition and 47 percent in poor to very poor condition.

The infusion of nearly $3 billion of federal funding from 2015–16 through 2019–20 will help to address the backlog of deferred work and improve the overall condition of the Agency’s built asset portfolio while contributing to its ongoing sustainability.


Investments from 2011–12 to 2015–16

Over the past five years, Parks Canada has invested over $900 million to improve the condition of its asset portfolio. Examples of projects completed and/or underway include:

  • Conservation and rehabilitation of cultural resources of national significance:
    • restoration projects at national historic sites such as Cave and Basin, Fortifications of Québec, Province House—the birthplace of Confederation;
    • conservation work at Point Clark Lighthouse National Historic Site and Fort Henry National Historic Site;
    • stabilization work at Dredge No.4 National Historic Site;
    • rehabilitation of the Bolsover Dam at Lock #37 along the Trent-Severn Waterway—the largest dam project undertaken by the Agency in the last 25 years;
    • rehabilitation of Chaffey, Merrickville, and Smiths Falls swing bridges along the Rideau Canal; and
    • rehabilitation of Pont La feur along the Lachine Canal.
  • Rehabilitation and improvement of visitor infrastructure:
    • renewal of visitor facilities, such as visitor centres, campgrounds, multi-use trails, access roads and parking lots in national parks, such as Prince Edward Island and La Mauricie, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and national historic sites such as Lower Fort Garry, Fortress of Louisbourg and the Halifax Citadel; and
    • visitor infrastructure improvement projects at some national historic sites such as Batoche, Green Gables and Fort Chambly.
  • Rehabilitation and improvement of provincial and inter-provincial highways and associated bridges:
    • twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park;
    • rehabilitation of Trans-Canada Highway in Terra Nova, Jasper, Yoho and Glacier national parks;
    • rehabilitation of Highway 93S in Banff and Kootenay national parks; and
    • rehabilitation of Highway 117 in Kouchibouguac National Park.
  • Rehabilitation of roads and wastewater facilities in the townsites of Field in Yoho National Park, Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Wasagaming in Riding Mountain National Park, Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park, and Waterton in Waterton Lakes National Park.

These investments have enhanced the sustainability, safety and reliability of infrastructure at Park Canada’s heritage places, and contributed to quality experiences for Canadians and visitors.

Asset Information Management

The Agency invested $6 million to implement an improved national asset management information system to enhance the quality of asset information, reporting capabilities and the application of consistent asset management practices across the Agency. This new system actively maintains information for the Agency’s entire built-asset inventory and further improves the Agency’s ability to plan and prioritize capital work as well as corresponding operational and maintenance activities.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Natural Disasters

Over the past five years, the Agency has implemented measures, such as the use of more resilient designs and materials when replacing damaged assets, to safeguard its built assets against natural disasters. A recent example is the rebuilding of the Carrot Creek bridges located on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park following the June 2013 floods in Alberta. The Agency used more resistant bridge and channel technology when replacing these assets to improve their resilience against future floods, increase their service life, and reduce the severity and likelihood of road closures.

A Five-Year Program of Work

Parks Canada’s Investment Plan for 2015–16 to 2019–20 of nearly $3 billion represents an unprecedented program of work that addresses a backlog of deferred work that will improve the condition of Parks Canada’s built assets across the network of protected places, thus rehabilitating built heritage, visitor experience and townsite assets, and highway and canal infrastructure.

Upon completion of this program of work, parts of the Parks Canada built-asset portfolio currently rated in poor to very poor condition will have been restored to a fair or good condition. This infrastructure investment represents a bold commitment towards responsible stewardship of Parks Canada’s protected places. It will halt the loss of irreplaceable built heritage, renew visitor facilities, and rehabilitate the vast majority of Parks Canada’s assets that are aging or at the end of their life cycle.

In order to mitigate the risk associated with the delivery of an investment program of this magnitude, the Agency reorganized and strengthened its investment management along with its asset and project management functions to support the effective and prudent delivery of the investment program.

In addition, work is underway to develop a long-term sustainability plan based on current asset portfolio information and valuations. The long-term sustainability plan will explore options required to enable effective ongoing life cycle management of the entire built-asset portfolio.

Visitor Experience


The duty to protect and to present hold equal weight in Park’s Canada’s approach to the stewardship of Canada’s treasures. “Visitor experience” refers to a visitor’s interactions with Parks Canada places in the context of their visit to a national park, national historic site or national marine conservation area. It covers the whole visitor cycle from the initial inspiration to visit, to the planning of the trip, to the arrival and experiences during the visit, to the departure and fond reflection on the people met and the experience itself.

Memorable visitor experiences, based on quality services, activities and programs delivered by skilled, passionate and knowledgeable staff, help to strengthen the connection that Canadians and international visitors alike, feel toward Parks Canada places. These experiences can also lead to learning, personal growth and mental and physical health benefits. By strengthening the connection Canadians feel to their national heritage places, Parks Canada is helping to foster enthusiasm for Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and create a culture of stewardship and care for these places.

State of Visitor Experience

By encouraging Canadians to visit Parks Canada places, and by providing them with the information and means to enjoy them, Parks Canada empowers more Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about our heritage.

People visit Canada’s national heritage places for a variety of reasons. For some, these places offer a pleasant and engaging space for spending time with friends or family. For others, national parks and national historic sites open new avenues for adventure or learning. For still others, a visit to a national park or historic site is the trip of a lifetime and an important personal goal. Regardless of the motivation, Parks Canada’s focus has been to enable visitors to enjoy Canada’s national heritage places on their own terms. And, while visitation to Parks Canada places has never reached the peaks experienced at the turn of the 21st century, the Agency has made significant progress in reversing nearly a decade of decline that began in 2004. Beginning in 2012, person-visits to Parks Canada places have grown at a rate of 5 percent per year. In 2015–16, person-visits exceeded 23 million for the first time in over a decade. Overall visitation to heritage places has increased by 16 percent over the last five years reaching 23.3 million visits in 2015–16.

Parks Canada uses four indicators to measure the state of visitor experience: 1) visitation, 2) visitor enjoyment, 3) visitor satisfaction, 4) visitor learning.

During the last five years, average performance expectations for all heritage places have been above 81 percent with levels reaching 82 percent for meaningful connection, 95 percent for satisfaction, 96 percent for enjoyment and 81 percent for learning (72 percent for national parks and 87 percent for national historic sites). Visitor experience indicators are detailed in the Annexes.

Opportunities to relax and stimulate the senses with beautiful scenery, along with recreation, are the key drivers for enjoyment for visitors to national parks. People who come to national historic sites enjoy particularly the interaction with staff and the learning opportunities.

Visitor satisfaction, visitor enjoyment, and visitor learning are interrelated, and all help to connect people with heritage places and build support for heritage conservation, yet each of these indicators measures a different aspect of the visitor experience. Enjoyment is associated with whether a visitor feels they benefited (i.e. spiritually, physically, intellectually, and emotionally) from their experiences, while satisfaction is a subjective measure based on an individual’s personal assessment of how well their overall visit met their expectations. Learning is associated with whether a person feels they gained knowledge while visiting a heritage place


Parks Canada undertook a number of targeted initiatives to create interest in heritage places and nurture a sense of personal connection among visitors. Parks Canada employs social science research and a client-focused approach to better understand the needs of its visitors. This approach helps Parks Canada to design and develop visitor experiences that respond to the needs and interests of visitors. Here are two examples: Fort George hosted summer concerts in 2012, 2013 and 2015 that drew crowds of up to 27,000 people to this historic setting with many in attendance discovering Parks Canada and Fort George for the first time. Many of these visitors were from demographic groups that rarely visit natural or cultural heritage places. Cape Spear National Historic Site has introduced a unique culinary and cultural experience in the lighthouse on Sunday evenings throughout the summer. Every meal is catered by a different partner restaurant and sells out quickly which shows the demand for exciting alternative experiences in our historic sites). This initiative has helped to introduce a whole new audience to Parks Canada and Cape Spear and has also helped to make the site an even more valued part of the region and neighbouring communities.

Beginning in 2013, Parks Canada began the roll-out of important innovations in its campground and accommodation offer across Canada. The oTENTik is an accommodation product uniquely mixing the comforts of home and the adventure of the great outdoors. These accommodations offer a new way to experience camping. Many Canadians who might never have visited a national park or national historic site, or who may have never otherwise gone camping, have had these experiences thanks to the oTENTik initiative. Parks Canada has also introduced oTENTik on heritage canals, a very unique way of experiencing these places. New recreational activities (e.g. traction kiting, rock bouldering) were also introduced, along with equipped campsites for visitors who may not own camping equipment but may like to try camping. An expanded Learn to Camp Program pilot introduced more urban youth, families and new Canadians to nature and camping in a safe and friendly environment. Since 2011, about 7,000 persons have participated in Learn to Camp activities delivered in partnership with Mountain Equipment Co-op at locations across the country.

Parks Canada launched initiatives to connect with specific segments of the population. It introduced the Youth Ambassador Program to connect with young adults, expanded the on-site Xplorers Program now reaching youth and their families in 101 sites, and launched Club Parka, a program for children aged 3–5.

Developing new and innovative programs and services allows more Canadians, including youth and newcomers, to experience the outdoors and learn about our environment and history.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

Public opinion research demonstrates that when people visit a national park or historic site, they develop a connection to the place and to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. From 2003 to 2012, Parks Canada experienced nearly a decade of declining visitation and fewer and fewer Canadians felt connected to their national heritage places. The Agency has invested significant effort in reversing this trend and encouraging Canadians to experience and engage with Parks Canada places. An important part of this work has been to reach new audiences who might otherwise have never enjoyed a national park, national marine conservation area or national historic site. As visitation slowly returns to previous levels, an equally important part of this work must be to increase awareness of the experiences offered at all of Parks Canada’s many places. While there are some locations that experience consistently high visitation, there are nonetheless others that can welcome more visitors. Working to balance visitation across the Parks Canada network will help to ensure that more Canadians have memorable experiences at Parks Canada places while managing high rates of visitation at some places.

Parks Canada is responsible for the most extensive network of natural and cultural heritage sites in Canada. These iconic destinations attract visitors from across the country and around the world contributing to local, regional, and national tourism economies. As an important participant in local and regional tourism, Parks Canada has a responsibility to keep up with trends and changes in the tourism sector and advancements in service delivery. Parks Canada must continue to innovate in its offer to visitors, both on site and online. Moreover, Parks Canada must work to be an effective partner for local tourism providers and communities across the country.

In 2017, as part of celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, entry to all national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas will be free. This gift from the Government of Canada to all Canadians is an unparalleled opportunity for Parks Canada to reach more Canadians and help them enjoy their national heritage places. Canadians from across the country and visitors from around the world will visit Parks Canada places in 2017 and develop a stronger connection to their countries’ natural and cultural heritage. The Learn to Camp Program will also be enhanced to ensure that more Canadian families, urban Canadians, and youth can acquire the skills, knowledge, and confidence to experience Canada’s outdoors and develop personal connections with Canada’s natural heritage.

Beginning in 2018, entry to Parks Canada places will be free for all visitors under the age of 18. Interest and engagement with nature and culture begins when we are young. By providing free admission to Parks Canada places to youth, this Government is helping to create a future generation of stewards of our country’s greatest heritage treasures.

To further engage new Canadians, Parks Canada will continue its partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, whereby new Canadian citizens are offered complimentary admission to Parks Canada’s destinations for one year through the Institute’s Cultural Access Pass. This initiative will help to strengthen the connection of new citizens to their country’s natural and cultural heritage.

Public Appreciation, Support and Awareness of Heritage Places


Parks Canada builds public awareness of natural and cultural heritage places and connection to them by reaching Canadians where they live and work. By encouraging Canadians to visit these places, and in providing them with the information and means to enjoy them, Parks Canada allows more Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about our heritage. Engaging Canadian youth, urban Canadians, and new Canadians is a strategic priority for the Agency. Through proper and effective heritage place promotion and engagement initiatives, Parks Canada is working to strengthen Canadians’ awareness and appreciation of their national heritage places and Parks Canada’s important mandate to protect and present these places. By engaging in outreach and promotional activities, Parks Canada is developing a stronger connection between Canadians and their national heritage places.

State of Public Appreciation and Support

Canadians need to know and understand heritage places if they are to discover, appreciate and support these places. A large proportion of Canadians has heard of Parks Canada. Following several major promotional campaigns, enhanced multimedia, outreach initiatives, celebrations and proactive media relations, aided awareness increased from 79 percent in June 2011 to 86 percent in June 2015 (Figure 7).

Public appreciation and support are assessed through indices covering knowledge, behaviour and value. Over a five-year period, the results suggest that both recognition and support have remained stable. In 2009, it was determined that 53 percent of Canadians appreciated the significance of heritage places and that 67 percent supported their protection and presentation. According to 2014 figures, 52 percent of Canadians appreciate the significance of heritage places while 69 percent are in favour of protecting and presenting them.

Figure 7: Aided Awareness of Parks Canada, 2011–15
Figure 7: Aided Awareness of Parks Canada, 2011–15

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Parks Canada can boast several notable success stories from the last five years. The Agency has made great strides in growing and diversifying its base of support and leveraging partners’ expertise and resources. For example, through a partnership with Google, Canadians and people all over the world can now explore over 150 Parks Canada sites virtually through Street View on Google Maps.

Youth and engagement programs have been put in place to enhance the connection between young Canadians and Parks Canada heritage places. By working with partner organizations such as Students on Ice, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Geographic Education and Earth Rangers, and by establishing and supporting campus clubs at post-secondary institutions across the country, Parks Canada, has helped foster a greater appreciation of our nation’s natural spaces and cultural heritage among hundreds of thousands of young Canadians. In 2014 and 2015, Torngat Mountains National Park and Sirmilik National Park working in partnership with the Students on Ice Foundation, captivated youth audiences by welcoming the Students On Ice expedition and offering the participants inspiring and memorable experiences.

Since 2011, the Agency has implemented a strategy to identify events where a Parks Canada presence would be most effective in reaching audiences who are not traditionally interested in national parks and historic sites. Targeted outreach programs in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have allowed Parks Canada to broaden urban Canadians’ awareness of their national heritage places. In collaboration with partners such as the Toronto Zoo, Calgary Zoo, Vancouver Aquarium, Royal Ontario Museum and Vancouver Science World, Parks Canada outreach teams collectively engaged close to 460,000 people in 2015 alone. In partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, the Agency is hosting citizenship ceremonies for new Canadian citizens. Fort Langley National Historic Site, Riding Mountain National Park and many other Parks Canada places now welcome more new Canadian citizens each year.

Parks Canada offers volunteer activities at more than 70 parks and sites across the country, resulting in 648,002 volunteer hours. The National Volunteer Program takes people behind the scenes and allows them to participate in special events, historical re-enactments, conservation work, archaeological excavations, and species at risk monitoring among many others.

Meanwhile, the collaborative search involving more than thirty partners from the government, not-for-profit and private sectors and members from Inuit communities led to the discovery in 2014 of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, the HMS Erebus. The Agency participates in important festivals and events with an interactive Franklin exhibit, which was presented in major urban centres as well as northern communities of Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.

In 2013, Parks Canada implemented a national approach to promote its places and products and expand its reach with target audiences. Proactive and focused presence involved a mix of promotional platforms including a national advertising campaign (2015 and 2016), social media channels, travel media, and tourism industry relations. Since 2011, Parks Canada has built a strong social media presence by improving and increasing engagement with its followers, strengthening the Parks Canada brand and growing the number of subscribers to its various social media accounts across the country.

Key Issues and Focus for the Future

To capture the imagination of Canadians and create the spark of enthusiasm that connects Canadians to their national heritage places, Parks Canada must reach Canadians where they live, work or play. Canada is an increasingly urban nation and Parks Canada must continue to work to reach Canadians in urban centres through strategic partnering initiatives, special events, promotion and other targeted media activities. Parks Canada will also aim to increase its profile by leveraging event and promotion opportunities, such as anniversaries and celebrations, including celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation and the 100th anniversary of National Historic Sites.

Canada has become an increasingly diverse country, and changing demographics are transforming leisure and travel behaviours. One in five Canadians is foreign-born, and more than eighty percent of Canadians live in urban areas. Our population is growing older and, for the first time in our history, seniors outnumber youth under the age of fifteen. Canada’s young people are seeking experiences with information technologies that reflect a diverse array of backgrounds and interests. Parks Canada must therefore continually look for new and exciting ways to bring the stories of heritage places to Canadians.

Young people represent the future of Canada, and for them to value their heritage places, they must first experience them. Parks Canada places must be promoted in urban places and offer a diversity of visitor experiences that resonate with multiple audiences. These places are touchstones to our shared geography, history and culture. Ensuring that Canadians are aware of their heritage and continue to enjoy these places well into the future will help to inspire a new generation of stewards and champions of our country’s protected areas.

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