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Save Our Rideau
Parks Canada

The De-Evolution of Parks Canada
A report all about how Parks Canada has abandoned their legislated heritage mandate for the Rideau Canal, a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a detailed look at how Parks Canada has gone from a shining example as the steward of our natural and cultural heritage sites to a tourism agency that has abandoned its legislated heritage mandate.

See "The De-Evolution of Parks Canada" (PDF)

The Parks Canada front line staff are excellent. Many of them care deeply about the heritage values of the Rideau Canal. So, two thumbs up for the men and women that you'll see at the lockstations.

My issue is with management, particularly the decision makers in Parks headquarters. The loss of heritage focus on the Rideau Canal is due to decisions they are making. This contravenes their own charter (see the Parks Canada Charter below). It also contravenes the reason Canada's historic canals were put in the care and control of Parks Canada (see Parks Canada's Responsibility below). Comments by upper management staff, such as those being made by Carol Sheedy, show that Parks Canada apparently has no concept of the heritage value of an operating canal (see bottom of page for a specific example).

Parks Canada is a schizophrenic organization, it is tasked, supposedly equally, with the care and control of our National Parks System, and so primarily concerned with environmental issues (as core values) and also with the care and control of several National Historic Sites, where the primary concern is supposed to be cultural heritage. These shouldn't be in competition, but apparently are, with the erosion over the last few years of the heritage side of Parks Canada (see the editorial on the dwindling support for our heritage canals).

This is clearly evident on the Rideau Canal, where there is no management position tasked with heritage in the Rideau Canal Office. That lack of heritage expertise and voice has led to some of the heritage issues I've outlined on this website. It also translates into a problem for someone like me - who can I talk to about the many heritage issues? My route to date has been to talk to the Superintendent of the Rideau Canal (replaced in 2012 by a "Director" in charge of both the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway). But the Superintendent/Director is pulled many different ways, and has to answer to the masters in HQ, and so to date she's refused to talk to me about heritage issues.

2016 Update: A new Associate Director is now making an effort to learn about the heritage issues affecting the Rideau and has met me with on a few occasions - so that's a new bright light in the organization.

2018 Update: The bright light is gone. We've lost our Associate Director (now 2020 and still not back).

It has also translated into moral problems for staff, particularly the front line staff who don't see the same passion for the Rideau Canal that they have reflected in the management levels above them. In fact, they often see the opposite given how politicized management has become.

Bottom line is that there is a major problem in the management setup and culture of Parks Canada when it comes to managing the Rideau Canal. So, when you see a reference to "Parks Canada" in a less than positive light on these pages - I'm not talking about the good eggs - it's those bad eggs who are making poor decisions.

The Heritage Management page details some of the erosion by Parks Canada in its ability and willingness to deliver its heritage mandate on the Rideau Canal. I've also added a page titled The Dumbing Down of Parks Canada about how they are cutting most of their skilled heritage positions.

The Parks Canada Charter

The following is the charter of the Parks Canada agency. As a reminder to Parks Canada, I've highlighted some of the items that should apply, as a first priority, to the Rideau Canal.

Our Mandate

On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations.

Our Role
  • We are guardians of the national parks, the national historic sites and the national marine conservation areas of Canada.
  • We are guides to visitors from around the world, opening doors to places of discovery and learning, reflection and recreation.
  • We are partners building on the rich traditions of our Aboriginal people, the strength of our diverse cultures and our commitments to the international community.
  • We are storytellers recounting the history of our land and our people - the stories of Canada.

Our Commitments
  • To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.
  • To present the beauty and significance of our natural world and to chronicle the human determination and ingenuity which have shaped our nation.
  • To celebrate the legacy of visionary Canadians whose passion and knowledge have inspired the character and values of our country.
  • To serve Canadians, working together to achieve excellence guided by values of competence, respect and fairness.

Parks Canada's Responsibility

When nine* historic canals were transferred from the Department of Transport to Parks Canada in 1972, the Government of Canada gave direction to Parks Canada stating that "Under the Conservation Program there should be a shift in emphasis in the management of the canal systems from "transportation" to historic restoration, preservation and interpretation; natural environmental preservation and interpretation and the optimum use of federal lands."

Parks Canada is therefore not only not following their own Charter to protect and present the natural and cultural heritage of these canals, they are going against their responsibility as an agent of the Government of Canada to restore, preserve and interpret these historic canals.

* the nine canals were: the Rideau, Trent-Severn Waterway and Sault Ste. Marie canals in Ontario; the Carillon, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Lachine, Chambly and St. Ours canals in Quebec; and St. Peters Canal in Nova Scotia. The Lachine Canal was transferred from Public Works in 1978 and the Sault Ste. Marie Canal was transferred from the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority in 1979.

Commemorative Integrity

Parks Canada has several commemorative integrity policies. These cover built heritage, heritage landscapes and public education, the latter is with regard to why the Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site of Canada. The Rideau Canal is currently not in a state of Commemorative Integrity due to issues with its heritage landscapes and the lack of public education (Parks Canada has very few public education programs for the Rideau Canal). For full details see the Commemorative Integrity page.

Heritage Value of an Operating Canal

Elsewhere on this website I've commented on the general public view of the Rideau operating simply to service rich people in large boats. This view is incorrect, the main reason to operate the canal and lock through boats is to present the Rideau as a heritage canal, operating much as it did when opened in 1832. You need boats to show how the locks work, to have land based visitors see the locks in operation. Boats being locked through is the most significant part of the heritage interpretation of the Rideau Canal.

Parks Canada should understand this concept. Their heritage people (what's left of them) presumably do. Their upper management clearly do not. A specific example is Carol Sheedy who apparently has had a hand in several of the bad decisions that Parks Canada is making. This is clear in August 9, 2012 article in the Ottawa Citizen by Don Butler where he reported that "In an interview with CBC Radio Thursday, Carol Sheedy, Parks Canada’s vice-president of operations for Eastern Canada, said Parks Canada spends $18 million a year to facilitate recreational boating on its canals, but brings in annual revenue of just $2.2 million from lockage and docking fees. That means taxpayers are subsidizing recreational boaters to the tune of more than $15 million a year, Sheedy said."

Ms. Sheedy clearly doesn't understand the heritage value of an operating canal or the economic value of having boats locking through. It's somewhat shocking to me that she doesn't, but it does explain many of things that have been happening on the Rideau. The main reason to operate the Rideau Canal and to lock through boats is to present the heritage of the Rideau Canal - to show the engineering used in the construction, to demonstrate how a 19th century canal works and to illustrate why canals were so important to the early development of Canada. This is why the historic canals were transferred to Parks Canada in 1972 (see Parks Canada's Responsibility above). To properly present the heritage of the Rideau Canal you need boats. If you didn't have recreational boats locking through, Parks Canada would have to operate their own boats (and that would be costly!).

Boats locking through have a huge impact on land based visitation. Visitors come to the Rideau to see an operating canal. As has been pointed out to Parks Canada (including their own internal studies), boats generate revenue when their economic impact to the surrounding economy is factored in. So there is both heritage value and economic value to Canada in locking through recreational boats. Ms. Sheedy and the rest of Parks Canada's upper management should understand this. The current decimation of the Rideau Canal by Parks Canada is clearly because they do not.

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