National Parks Introduction
"National Parks are maintained for all the people— for the ill, that they may be restored, for the well that they may be fortified and inspired by the sunshine, the fresh air, the beauty, and all the other healing, enobling and inspiring agencies of Nature. They exist in order that every Citizen of Canada may satisfy his craving for Nature and Nature’s beauty; that he may absorb the poise and restfulness of the forests; that he may steep his soul in the brilliance of the wild flowers and the sublimity of the mountain peaks; that he may develop in himself the buoyancy, the joy and the activity he sees in the wild animals; that he may stock his mind with the raw material of intelligent optimism, great thoughts, noble ideals; that he may be made better, happier, and healthier.”
J.B. Harkin, Canada's first Commissioner of National Parks, 1957
Alberta is home to five National Parks: Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Wood Buffalo and Elk Island. They include Canada’s first National Park (Banff, established in 1887), and also its largest (Wood Buffalo, at 44,807 km2). Together the five National Parks make up approximately 8.2 percent of Alberta's land mass.
The National Parks are all on federal land, administered by Parks Canada. According to Parks Canada’s website,
“Parks Canada is responsible for both protecting the ecosystems of these magnificent natural areas and managing them for visitors to understand, appreciate, and enjoy in a way that doesn't compromise their integrity.”Parks Canada identify two roles for National Parks:
“National parks are established to protect and present outstanding representative examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena that occur in Canada's 39 natural regions…National parks protect the habitats, wildlife and ecosystem diversity representative of - and sometime unique to - the natural regions.”
“National Parks are a country-wide system of representative natural areas of Canadian significance. By law, they are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, while being maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations.”
Parks Canada’s challenge is how to balance these two important, yet potentially conflicting elements of Park management – ecosystem protection and visitor enjoyment.
Four of Alberta's five National Parks are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Wood Buffalo was the first to be designated in 1983. In 1984, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, including Banff and Jasper in Alberta, received UNESCO World Heritage site designation, followed soon after in 1985 by Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.