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UNESCO - World Heritage Site Requirements
In 2007, the Rideau Canal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first WHS in Ontario and the second canal in the world to receive that designation. A requirement of that designation is to follow the World Heritage Convention which Canada signed onto in 1976. That legally binding convention details Canada's requirements for its world heritage sites, but at its core is that it is Canada's "duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural
and natural heritage [of each of Canada's world heritage sites]"
World heritage sites are designated based on their "outstanding universal values", the values of the site that transcend its national significance, values that are univeral (world wide).
UNESCO Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the Rideau Canal:
The Rideau Canal is a large strategic canal constructed for military purposes which played a crucial contributory role in allowing British forces to defend the colony of Canada against the United States of America, leading to the development of two distinct political and cultural entities in the north of the American continent, which can be seen as a significant stage in human history.
Canada's requirements to the protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generals are not being met. All the issues on this website related to heritage interpretation, landscape protection, public education, built heritage protection, research, and public engagement are also UNESCO issues. If these requirements are not being met for the National Historic Site designation (and they are not), then World Heritage Site requirements are also not being met. The overall report card grade of D-, also applies to UNESCO requirements.
Criterion i: The Rideau Canal remains the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.
Criterion iv: The Rideau Canal is an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for a military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.
On the Rideau Canal, there is a very big in addition to the above. In addition to its basic requirements for any world heritage site (noted above), ICOMOS (the technical evaluation branch of UNESCO) in its 2006 evaluation of the Rideau’s nomination as a World Heritage Site, included a requirement to identify and protect the visual setting of the canal. “ICOMOS however considers that the visual setting of the canal needs clearer definition and appropriate protection to ensure the visual values of the setting are protected alongside the environmental values.” Of note, the word protection, in the context used by ICOMOS, means legal protection.
The above has not been achieved (see the Rideau Corridor Landscape Strategy Section) and in 2019, due to problems related to this, two inappropriate developments adjacent to the canal, with which Parks Canada only addressed the potential physical impact to the canal itself, not the impact on the visual setting of the canal, led to a severe rebuke from UNESCO. In a November 2019 letter concern to the Government of Canada, UNESCO stated that “the management system for the property does not currently provide adequate protection to the OUV or the setting thereof.” ICOMOS then made very specific requests, to quote:
ICOMOS therefore advises that the State Party:
- Institute a process of review of the management system, including management plan, and address the legislative position of the property custodian in the decision‐making processes regarding spatial planning in the setting of the property.
- The State Party proactively create a dynamic database of tangible and intangible attributes that contribute to the OUV of the Rideau Canal World Heritage property and ensure that the protection of these attributes are embedded in federal and municipal policies.
- Embed procedures in legislative, spatial planning and management systems that mandate full Heritage Impact Assessment following the best intercalation practice for World Heritage properties for all projects that may negatively affect the OUV of the Rideau Canal World Heritage property, considering that attributes may be located both within the property and its buffer zone and in its setting.
Parks Canada has no heritage staff for the Rideau Canal. It has no interpretation program. It has no public education program. It is not doing anything to promote World Heritage Site awareness or to meet the World Heritage Convention requirements for the presentation of the site and the transmission of the values of the site to future generations.
It is not protecting the Outstanding Universal Values of the site, a fact that resulted in a rare rebuke by UNESCO to the Government of Canada, noting in 2019 that “the management system for the property does not currently provide adequate protection to the OUV or the setting thereof.”. The new draft management plan, released in December 2020 and undergoing consultations in early 2021, is silent on this issue, it has no objective or targets related to meeting its World Heritage Site obligations. That alone is very troubling.
NEW MANAGEMENT PLAN
When Parks Canada released their new draft management plan for the Rideau Canal in December 2020, it was completely silent on the topic of UNESCO, even though the Director of Ontario Waterways confirmed that this management plan would replace the 2006 World Heritage Site management plan for the Rideau Canal. In my critique of the management plan, I wrote a section specifically dealing with UNESCO:
Draft Management Plan Critique, UNESCO
I used this critique as the backgrounder for my letter of concern to UNESCO:
Letter to UNESCO - April 6, 2021
Links & Documents of Interest
2005 Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan - the management plan submitted to UNESCO as part of the nomination process.
2006 ICOMOS Report on the Rideau Canal - ICOMOS is the technical evaluation branch of UNESCO - this is their evaluation of the Rideau Canal's nomination as a World Heritage Site.
1972 World Heritage Convention - this is the agreement that Canada signed in 1976.
2013 Periodic Report to UNESCO - this is the first periodic report (done on a 6 year cycle) to UNESCO on the state of the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site.
2019 Letter from UNESCO regarding inappropriate development A letter from UNESCO regarding problems with Parks Canada's management in protecting the World Heritage Site.
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