Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

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Century of Canada’s Beautiful National Parks

The Dominion Parks Branch was introduced May 19, 1911 under Parks Commissioner J.B. Harkin. Its aim was to preserve Canada’s natural and cultural heritage.

Nearly hidden treasures, Canada’s national parks are jewels of nature nestled into the background of a vast country. “National parks tell the stories of Canada’s natural beginnings – mountains forming, lakes emerging, rivers running, forests growing, glaciers moving, grasslands evolving,” said Parks Canada in “National Parks of Canada”. The parks “tell tales of human history too, from traditional Aboriginal activities, to early exploration, to European settlement, to modern use.” On the centennial of the Dominion Parks Branch, those precious gems have been uncovered to gleam like polished diamonds before our eyes.

Section of Banff National Park,

Section of Banff National Park,

The World’s First National Park Service

James Bernard Harkin was a member of the Parks Branch, a man of vision with an understanding of the value of Canada’s environment. A member of the Department of the Interior, he pushed for legislation to manage parks already organized – Banff National Park was the first national park, designated in 1886. Shortly thereafter, Glacier National Park and Jasper National Park were also managed regions. Twenty-five years after the Banff area was created, on May 19, 1911, Parliament passed the “Dominion Forest Reserves and parks Act,” creating the Dominion Parks Branch in the process. Harkin was appointed the first Commissioner of the world’s first national park service.

Encouraging the development of park accessibility and infrastructure, Harkin “oversaw the designation of Canada’s first national historic park, Fort Howe,” noted Parks Canada’s “Canada Creates World’s First National Parks Service.” (Fort Howe is located within the city limits of Saint John, New Brunswick.) Harkin “pushed for the 1919 creation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board… as well as the passage of the 1930 National parks Act,” to protect the priceless natural resources.

National Parks, Historic Parks and Marine Conservation Areas

The Dominion Parks Branch transformed into Parks Canada, and over the past century has grown to 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites and four national marine conservation areas. The parks range wildly in size, from the less than nine square kilometres of the St. Lawrence Islands National Park to the sprawling 45,000 square kilometres of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Gitwangak Battle Hill National HIstoric Site,

Gitwangak Battle Hill National HIstoric Site,

The Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic Park and Kitwanga Fort National Historic Park compose a small area of seven hectares in northwestern British Columbia. “According to Gitwangak legend, the warrior Nekt constructed the fort and surrounding palisades in the late 1700s,” stated Parks Canada. Renowned for his distinctive slate and bearskin armour and ‘strike-only-once’ club, Nekt fought to establish control of the network of lucrative trading trails in the Skeena, Kitimat and Nass region.”

Commemorating Canada’s National Parks Centennial

Canada Post celebrated the Parks Canada centennial with a classic stamp designed by Tim Nokes. The 59-cent stamp features a bold, colourful illustration reminiscent of the railway posters of the early 20th century, a poster-style montage of images displaying the diversity of mountain parks. (Nokes had a personal interest in the commission – he was raised in Banff, Alberta.) The Royal Canadian Mint also commemorated the historic anniversary with a beautiful silver dollar coin featuring engraved nature images by artist Luc Normandin.

Among its many objectives, one goal of Parks Canada is to “maintain or restore the ecological integrity of national parks, keeping ecosystems healthy and thriving. Canadians are encouraged to visit the country’s many magnificent national parks to enjoy the history and heritage, learn about the natural environment, and make cherished memories in the great outdoors that is Canada.


  • “National Parks of Canada,” Parks Canada Accessed May 21, 2011
  • “Canada Creates World’s First National Parks Service,” Parks Canada Accessed May 21, 2011
  • “Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic Park,” Parks Canada Accessed May 21, 2011
  • “Canada Post commemorates Parks Canada 100th Anniversary,” Canada Post Corporation Accessed May 21, 2011
  • “Proof Silver Dollar,” Royal Canadian Mint Accessed May 21, 2011

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