Edmonton discussing possibilities to build a new national park located where people live

In less than a decade, Canada could have 15 more national parks — and for many Canadians, those parks will be located right where they live.

Parks Canada has started conversations in Edmonton, Victoria, Saskatoon, Windsor, Winnipeg and Halifax as part of a federal government mandate to create a network 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 park and ecological corridors at Parks Canada.

“It’s a chance for Canadians to connect more with nature, closer to where they live,” Padolsky said during a recent visit to Edmonton.

Radio Active8:06Exploring the idea of urban national parks

We find out what one national urban park could mean for similar parks here in other cities.

You can hear more on For the Love of Parks on Monday, May 23 at 4:05 p.m. on CBC Radio One and SiriusXM.

In announcing the National Urban Parks project last summer, the government cited numerous benefits, from conservation to recreation to physical and mental wellbeing.

Padolsky chimes in with more. “Protecting biodiversity, helping with climate change mitigation and adaptation, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” 

She says the “ambitious” project will unfold in a flexible process, with park models varying from city to city. 

Last summer’s announcement included $130 million to kick-start the project. In Edmonton, no specific budget, park boundaries or timelines have yet been set. 

Padolsky says public consultations will be part of the process following the ongoing conversations with environmental groups, municipal leaders and Indigenous nations. 

Audrey Poitras, the president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, and Chief Tony Alexis from the Alberta’s Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, were among speakers at a recent Parks Canada event in Edmonton. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Chief Tony Alexis, of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, says having a seat at the table from the beginning of 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 have come to us as experts on the land value to help create a national urban park.”

Alexis says Parks Canada has provided assurances that the collaboration will continue once the park opens, “to showcase Indigenous stewardship and provide opportunities for connections 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, even though about 80 per cent of Canadians would identify as urban dwellers.

Rouge, a 78-square-kilometre ribbon of green, is located in the country’s largest metropolitan area, overlapping the Ontario cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering.

Autumn colours of the Beare Wetlands, located in Ontario’s Rouge National Urban Park. (Submitted by Larry Noonan)

“It’s wild. It’s got over 1,700 species of plants and animals,” says Larry Noonan, a member of Friends of the Rouge National Urban Park, a trail guide and keeper of much of the park’s history. 

He says as the “concrete jungle” of the Greater Toronto Area was closing in, concerned citizens formed a group in the 1970s to save the Rouge. 

What followed was decades of political wrangling, heated public meetings and wheeling and dealing over the land. 

Rouge was officially established as a national park in May 2015. 

“Let’s say I hope that it goes a lot more smoothly with Edmonton and Halifax and other places like this that have already expressed an interest,” says Noonan. 

In creating the rural parks, some of which were established more than 100 years ago, Parks Canada officials had to consult with fewer people.

It’s a different story in the densely populated urban settings of today.

“There are literally thousands and thousands of people who back onto the park and all of them have their own ideas of what should be happening,” Noonan says. 

Marcia Scott lives in the neighbourhood of Rouge. She says the plan to develop more national urban parks like Rouge “a great idea.”

Some of the members of the Sistaz4PAN hiking group on fall outing in Rouge Urban National Park. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“Being in the woods allows you to relax, to empty yourself of any problems that you have,” says Scott, member of sistaz4PAN, a hiking group formed during the pandemic.

PAN stands for Positive Attitude with Nourishment. 

“We’ve taken this up and it’s become an everyday thing for us,” Scott says. “It’s in our genes. We have to do this every day.”

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