Canadian National Parks Act

The Canadian National Parks Act of 1930 removed the nation’s national parks from the authority of the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act and stated that the parks should be used but preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

Summary of Event

The National Parks Act of 1930 changed the purpose of Canada’s existing national parks. Previously, the parks had been areas in which resource exploitation was encouraged; after the act, the parks became places to be preserved for future generations. Between 1887 and the passage of the legislation in 1930, fourteen national parks had been established. In addition to removing the parks from the authority of the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act, the National Parks Act also stated that only an act of Parliament could establish a new park or change the boundaries of existing parks. [kw]Canadian National Parks Act (May 30, 1930)
[kw]National Parks Act, Canadian (May 30, 1930)
[kw]Parks Act, Canadian National (May 30, 1930)
[kw]Act, Canadian National Parks (May 30, 1930)
National Parks Act (Canada, 1930)
Wilderness preservation;Canada
[g]Canada;May 30, 1930: Canadian National Parks Act[07600]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;May 30, 1930: Canadian National Parks Act[07600]
[c]Environmental issues;May 30, 1930: Canadian National Parks Act[07600]
Harkin, James Bernard
Cory, William Wallace
Brownlee, John Edward
King, William Lyon Mackenzie
[p]King, William Lyon Mackenzie;National Parks Act (1930)

The act resulted from compromise among national ministries and the provinces. It was passed concurrently with the Manitoba Natural Resources Act, Manitoba Natural Resources Act (1930) the Saskatchewan National Resources Act, Saskatchewan National Resources Act (1930) the Alberta Natural Resources Act, Alberta Natural Resources Act (1930) and the Railway Belt and Peace River Block Act. Railway Belt and Peace River Block Act (1930) These acts transferred natural resources within the boundaries of their respective provinces from the national government to the provinces themselves. With this legislation, land, including valuable resources that had been contained within some already existing national parks, was given to the provinces, and new national park boundaries were drawn.

Canada’s first national park had been established in 1887 in Banff, Alberta, as Rocky Mountains Park. Rocky Mountains Park Act (1887) The park owed its origins to transcontinental railroad workers who discovered hot springs in the area in 1883. The area and the springs were recognized as a natural treasure, valuable for sanitary purposes (the mineral baths) and as a potential tourist attraction, and therefore worthy of protection for all Canadians. The Canadian government officially preserved the springs and the surrounding land in a series of steps that led to the Rocky Mountains Park Act of June 23, 1887, establishing this first national park.

Although the park’s primary purpose was to promote tourism and recreation, another major objective was to use the wilderness for economic development. Mining, grazing, and lumbering were allowed with permission from the minister of the interior, but preservation was encouraged by prohibiting activities that would inhibit public enjoyment and recreation. The establishment of Rocky Mountains Park encouraged members of Parliament and officials of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the builder of the transcontinental railroad, to act to preserve other lands of western Canada. The five preservations established from 1887 to 1895 would later become the national parks of Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, and Mount Revelstoke.

The development of these early reserves and parks was intertwined with legislation passed by the Canadian parliament, including the Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act of 1911. Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act (1911) This law provided for the administration of forest reserves and dominion (national) parks and allowed dominion parks to be established from forest reserves. The Dominion Parks Service, Dominion Parks Service created as a new branch in the Department of the Interior, became the first distinct bureau of national parks in the world. James Bernard Harkin served as the organization’s commissioner from its inception in 1911 until 1936.

Harkin worked not only to separate the administration of the parks from that of the forests but also to emphasize resource preservation. Deputy Minister of the Interior William Wallace Cory called for the drafting of legislation changing the administration of the parks. The legislation included giving the proposed new park branch exclusive control of all waters in the parks. The debate over water control continued through the 1920’s.

The proposed national parks bill required the permission of Parliament to dispose of any resources within the parks. Because the Canadian government was planning to transfer to the provinces natural resources found within the provinces but outside the national parks, the boundaries of the parks became critical. The premier of Alberta, John Edward Brownlee, suggested that the parks be surveyed to identify natural resources necessary for the industrial development of the province. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King agreed. In the summers of 1927 and 1928, Deputy Minister of the Interior R. W. Cautley Cautley, R. W. traveled through Rocky Mountains Park and Jasper Park, and he suggested removing valuable commercial areas from the parks and giving them to the province.

In its final form, the National Parks Act of 1930 dedicated the parks to the benefit, education, and enjoyment of the people of Canada and stated that the parks should be maintained to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. The act also changed the name of Rocky Mountains Park to Banff National Park. Banff National Park Its boundaries and those of Jasper National Park Jasper National Park were changed, removing economically valuable waterbeds, grazing lands, and other resources, including coal. The act stated that the lands and minerals within the boundaries of the parks belonged to and would be administered by the federal government. Animals, plants, and minerals were to be protected, and violators would be subject to legal action, but the rights of holders of existing mineral grants were not rescinded. Provincial taxes would apply within the parks.

The act permitted, under government regulation, the granting of leases in town sites for lots for residence and trade, as well as for the provision of public works and utilities. The national parks were to be places where plants and animals could be protected but also places where human beings could live and work.

The act expanded the role of the national parks by permitting the establishment of national historic parks to commemorate historic events and to preserve historic landmarks or any object deemed to be of national importance. The act also abolished three national parks—Fort Howe, Mennissawok, and Vidal’s Point—which were considered unworthy of national park status and were returned to their local governments.


The full impact of the National Parks Act of 1930 was limited until the 1960’s. Federal appropriations for the national parks declined sharply with the Great Depression and World War II. Federal funds were, however, used for unemployment relief projects, including highway, building, and campground construction in the western parks. From 1930 to 1969, four parks were established: Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia in 1936, Prince Edward Island in 1937, Fundy in New Brunswick in 1948, and Terra Nova in Newfoundland in 1957.

The legislation that had been passed concurrently with the National Parks Act allowing transfer of natural resource ownership to the provinces led to new policies in park formation in the western provinces. It slowed establishment of new national parks because the provincial governments had to agree to all transfers of control and administration to the federal government, and the provinces and the national government did not always have the same needs or goals. The change in transfer policy did, however, lead to the development of provincial park systems in the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Prior to passage of the act, only the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia had provincial parks.

With land set aside as national parks, natural resources outside the parks could be extracted, thus helping the economic development of the country. The resources inside the parks remained attractive, however, perpetuating decades of conflict over the relative values of preservation and exploitation of natural resources. Many of the national parks operated more as recreation areas than as areas of natural conservation, however, and the law was modified in later years to address the concerns of preservationists.

Since the act of 1930, Canada has formed more than twenty new national parks or national park reserves, spanning all ten provinces and the two northern territories. Conflicts in management and long-range planning remain. Although the lands within the parks are protected from development, many parks contain towns and the concomitant human activities and natural disruptions. Many parks have highways running through them. The highways bring visitors and serve as vital components of major transportation routes. In the northern parks, indigenous peoples are permitted to use resources as part of their traditional ways of life. Regardless of what activities are prohibited within the parks, the lands outside are sometimes areas of resource development. Activities such as logging and mining affect wildlife and contribute to air and water pollution within and around the parks.

Since its passage, the act has been responsible not only for the creation of more federal parks but also for the growth of provincial parks and preserves. National parks cover more than 220,000 square kilometers of Canada. The act’s emphasis on resource preservation over resource use continued and expanded after 1930. As wilderness in the parks became threatened, the act was amended to permit the designation of wilderness areas within national parks. Within these areas, visitor activities and facilities were designed to be compatible with wilderness and thus were fairly primitive. Motor access was not allowed. In reflection of the need to save wilderness, four mountain national parks—Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho—merged to compose the Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site, Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site one of several areas around the world affording special natural protection.

Without the National Parks Act, much of Canada’s natural beauty would not have been protected from development or preserved for future generations. Its influence continues, both in Canada and around the world. National Parks Act (Canada, 1930)
Wilderness preservation;Canada

Further Reading

  • Bella, Leslie. “John A. Macdonald’s Realism Saved Banff.” Canadian Geographic 97 (October, 1978): 20-27. Traces the history of Banff from its origins to the late 1970’s. Traces the effects of the National Parks Act of 1930 and of government actions during the 1960’s and 1970’s on the entire national park system. Discusses how the doctrine of usefulness has been involved in national park policy.
  • Eidsvik, Harold K., and William D. Henwood. “Canada.” In International Handbook of National Parks and Nature Preserves, edited by Craig W. Allin. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. An excellent review of the history of national parks in Canada. Discusses the impact of the National Parks Act of 1930 on the evolution of the park system and examines issues facing the parks.
  • Lothian, William Fergus. A Brief History of Canada’s National Parks. Ottawa, Ont.: Parks Canada, 1987. Provides fascinating details about the evolution and growth of the Canadian national parks. The book discusses the history of individual parks and contains tremendous amounts of information, including many noteworthy names and dates. Photographs illustrating the early days of the parks enhance the book.
  • _________. History of Canada’s National Parks. Vol. 2. Ottawa, Ont.: Parks Canada, 1977. One part of a four-volume series providing a detailed account of the history of Canadian national parks. Extremely useful in providing information not easily available elsewhere.
  • Nicol, John I. “The National Parks Movement in Canada.” In Canadian Parks in Perspective, edited by J. G. Nelson. Montreal: Harvest House, 1969. Provides a succinct history of the national parks movement and of national parks in Canada from 1867 to 1968. Discusses the situation and problems in the parks in the 1960’s and suggests new policy for Canadian parks and outdoor recreation as a whole.
  • Searle, Rick. Phantom Parks: The Struggle to Save Canada’s National Parks. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2000. Details the status of Canada’s national parks at the turn of the twenty-first century, including threats to the parks and measures designed to preserve them. Bibliographic references and index.

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