The View From Here – Canada’s national parks should not be exclusive reserves for the rich Canadians

Tom Henihan

Canadian National Parks have two primary objectives: maintaining the ecology, the flora and fauna of these natural reserves and giving Canadians and visitors to Canada the opportunity to enjoy these pristine environments.

There are forty national parks in Canada, five of those are here in Alberta including two of the most famous and most frequently visited, Banff and Jasper. The other national parks here in the province are Elk Island, Waterton Lakes and Wood Buffalo.

Alberta also has the distinction of having Canada’s first National Park in Banff and Canada’s largest in Wood Buffalo, which straddles regions of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

These parks give sanctuary to millions of years of natural processes, historical and geological phenomena, spectacular untouched environments, rivers, lakes, and a myriad of exotic wildlife.

They are also environments for conducting important research and ensuring the protection of threatened species of plants and animals.

However, these national parks, especially Banff and Jasper, are also playgrounds for recreationists who engage in activities such as hiking, skiing, kayaking, mountain climbing etc.

While these activities are in themselves benign, when catered too on a large scale by building infrastructure: lodges, ski lifts, operating heavy equipment for grooming ski hills, putting in hotels, restaurants and opulent homes, they become a blithe on the very environment that attracted people to the region in the first place.

With the extremely lucrative, commercial enterprises anchored in the middle of those natural reserves what was supposed to be unspoiled environments become crass, commercial ghettos, manifestations of the extreme opposite of why these parks were established in the first instance.

This rampant commercialization of national parks overwhelms their original mission, a mission that takes a distant second place to profiteering and mercenary exploitation of what was, in the beginning, supposed to be for the benefit of the environment and all Canadians.

That the Trans-Canada cuts through the middle of Banff National Park makes it easily accessible to people while more remote National Parks have an easier time staying true to their mandate due to their isolated location.

But the Trans-Canada Highway is where access to these parks ends for most ordinary Canadians as the price of tourist accommodations and restaurants are prohibitive by most peoples’ standards.

It is an affront, that hotel chains and restaurants can colonize these parks and price them out of reach for the majority.

To visit the town sites of Banff or Jasper is not to visit communities at the trail head to a unspoiled environment or a natural wonder. It is more akin to setting foot on prime real estate, visiting a playground for the wealthy or a gated community for the elite where people of limited means can observe but cannot afford to partake.

Some years ago, there was discussion about National Parks being priced out of reach for most Canadians, but that conversation was ultimately ignored ignored.

Even communities outside park gates such as Canmore, that at one time offered a slightly cheaper alternative have now, with less restraints on development, surpassed the parks in becoming expensive, vulgar ghettos on the edge of idyll.


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