In less than a decade, Canada could have 15 more national parks — and for many Canadians, those parks will be where they live.
Parks Canada has begun discussions in Edmonton, Victoria, Saskatoon, Windsor, Winnipeg and Halifax as part of a federal government mandate to create a system of new national urban parks.
The hope is to have at least one in every province and territory by 2030, according to Miriam Padolsky, director of urban parks and ecological corridors at Parks Canada.
“It’s a chance for Canadians to connect more with nature, closer to home,” Padolsky said during a recent visit to Edmonton.
Active Radio8:06Exploring the idea of urban national parks
You can hear more at For the love of the parks Monday, May 23 at 4:05 p.m. on CBC Radio One and SiriusXM.
By announcing the National urban parks project last summer, the government cited numerous benefits, from conservation and recreation to physical and mental well-being.
Padolsky says more. “Protecting biodiversity, contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
She says the “ambitious” project will go through a flexible process, with park designs varying from city to city.
Last summer’s announcement called for $130 million to get the project off the ground. In Edmonton, no specific budget, park boundaries or timelines have yet been established.
Padolsky says public consultations will be part of the process following ongoing conversations with environmental groups, municipal leaders and Indigenous nations.
Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation says having a seat at the table early in the process says a lot about respect.
“Having an urban park in Treaty 6 territory is a step in the right direction towards reconciliation,” says Alexis.
“They came to us as land value experts to help create a national urban park.”
Alexis says Parks Canada has provided assurances that collaboration will continue once the park opens, “to showcase Indigenous stewardship and provide opportunities for connection to the land, based on Indigenous knowledge and values.”
There are currently 48 national parks in Canada. Only one – Rouge National Urban Park — is located in an urban setting, although about 80% of Canadians would identify as urban.
Rouge, a 78 square kilometer ribbon of green, is located in the country’s largest metropolitan area, straddling the Ontario cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering.
“It’s wild. It has over 1,700 species of plants and animals,” says Larry Noonan, a member of the Friends of Rouge National Urban Park, trail guide and keeper of much of the park’s history.
He says the Greater Toronto Area’s “concrete jungle” was closing in, worried citizens formed a group in the 1970s to save the Rouge.
What followed were decades of political wrangling, heated public meetings, and land travel and dealings.
La Rouge was officially established as a national park in May 2015.
“Let’s just say I hope it goes a lot better with Edmonton and Halifax and other places like that that have already shown interest,” Noonan said.
When creating rural parks, some of which were established more than 100 years ago, Parks Canada officials had to consult fewer people.
It’s a different story in today’s densely populated urban environments.
“There are literally thousands and thousands of people returning to the park and each of them has their own idea of what should happen,” Noonan said.
Marcia Scott lives in the Rouge neighborhood. She says the plan to develop more national urban parks like Rouge “is a great idea.”
“Being in the woods allows you to relax, to empty yourself of all the problems you have,” says Scott, a member of sistaz4PANa group of hikers formed during the pandemic.
PAN stands for Positive Attitude with Nourishment.
“We picked up on that and it became a daily thing for us,” Scott says. “It’s in our genes. We have to do this every day.”