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Save Our Rideau
Heritage Interpretation

Graded D

Legislated requirement - Parks Canada Agency Act: “to present that heritage through interpretive and educational programs for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, both for international visitors and the Canadian public, thereby enhancing pride, encouraging stewardship and giving expression to our identity as Canadians.”

Clearly this is an area where Parks Canada falls woefully short. And it's a bit puzzling given Parks Canada's legislation, its mandate and its commemorative integrity policies - all of which clearly show a requirement for them to do heritage interpretation. The Government of Canada also has to shoulder much of the blame. The government in power from 2006 to 2015 directed Parks Canada away from heritage and towards revenue generation (which is being done at the expense of heritage). The new Government of Canada has apparently done nothing to change the former government's policies. Parks Canada's legislation, mandate and commemorative integrity policies haven't been changed, so why are they ignoring them?

There is no good answer to this, certainly not one that Parks Canada has ever provided. It's not for cost cutting, many examples can be cited of money being spent by Parks Canada that could be much better spent on heritage interpretation. Parks Canada's current revenue generation priorities have no basis in legislation or policy so it remain puzzling as to why the current government tolerates this.

Heritage interpretation is multi-layered. It incorporates the built heritage (the appearance and access to the public of heritage structures), the heritage landscapes (when properly maintained, the appearance of heritage landscapes tells a story) and the history of those structures and landscapes (which must be pro-actively communicated). Proper interpretation of the Rideau Canal requires many components.

Built heritage and heritage landscapes are part of the Commemorative Integrity of the site, much of that has been detailed on the Commemorative Integrity page. The history of the site, how and why those heritage structures were built, how and why the landscapes were chosen or created, the people involved in doing it, everything that has led to the National Historic Site designation, all have to be communicated. And there are may ways in which this can and should be done.

There is the static interpretation of the site in the form of signage and brochures, things every member of the visiting public can easily access (no need for a tool such as a smartphone). This is the base level of interpretation and on the Rideau while we have some signage, and that signage tends to be very good, it fall short of what is needed. The advantage of signage is that it is inexpensive and long lasting.

There is electronic interpretation, something not yet implemented on the Rideau Canal other than brief bits on the Parks Canada website. A word of caution is that it takes some thought and skill to do this properly. Parks Canada uses Facebook and Twitter, but not for heritage interpretation. There is one app that has been used with a canal (Explora app - Lachine Canal) - but the low uptake (and rating) of this app indicated that a major re-think needed before commissioning an app for the Rideau Canal.

There is live interpretation - interpretation done by people with an ability to engage the public and a sufficient knowledge base to fully answer any question they might have. This is the only form of interpretation that can actually answer real questions (as opposed to made up questions in something like a FAQ). This type of interpretation program got the axe in 2012 and has yet to be restored (Parks Canada doesn't currently have the management capacity to restore it - see Management).

As noted in the operations section, there is one type of interpretation that has continued through the ups and downs - boats going through locks - but Parks Canada doesn't seem to recognize the heritage value of this and build on it.

So all in all, a grade of D is being generous.

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© 2012- Ken W. Watson