National Urban Park
Imagine: Meewasin National Urban Park
Last August, the former federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, chose Saskatoon as the site to launch an ambitious initiative—the creation of a network of National Urban Parks.
Why Saskatoon? For one thing, Wilkinson, who is the MP for North Vancouver, has a soft spot for this town since he grew up here and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. More to the point, however, Saskatoon was in the spotlight that day as one of the first places in the country to receive funding to explore this innovative new approach to celebrating and protecting Nature.
The Meewasin Valley Authority has been invited to develop a vision for a National Urban Park that is tailored to the specific needs and opportunities of our region. Similar proposals are being developed in Winnipeg, Windsor and Halifax, while preliminary discussions are underway in Edmonton, Quebec City and Colwood, B.C. Time will tell which of these plans ultimately gets the nod from the federal government and is legislated (and funded) into being.
Beaver Creek Conservation Area – Photo by Meghan Mickelson
So what is a “national urban park”? That is an excellent question! At present, the only Canadian precedent is Rouge National Urban Park, a sprawling, key-shaped corridor of land in the intensely urban context of the Greater Toronto Area. First imagined in the 1990s, Rouge was created by the Conservative government in 2015 and is currently being completed and enhanced by the Liberals. With support for all sides of the House of Commons, it seems everyone agrees that Nature and access to Nature matter!
According to Parks Canada, “Rouge National Urban Park is home to amazing biodiversity, some of the last remaining working farms in the GTA, Carolinian ecosystems, Toronto’s only campground, one of the region’s largest marshes, a beach at Lake Ontario, amazing hiking opportunities, and human history dating back over 10,000 years, including some of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites.” Sounds wonderful! When can we go for a visit?
Short-eared owl – Photo by Meghan Mickelson
Saskatoon’s National Urban Park will feature its own unique array of opportunities and attractions. In a region where more than 95% of the natural ecosystem has been destroyed or degraded—and where more is lost each year–the park will provide a game-changing opportunity to protect, restore and reconnect the surviving fragments of prairie, riparian woodlands and wetlands for the benefit of all creatures. Although much remains to be decided about what our park will include and how it will be managed, we know that protecting ecological integrity is a core value of our national park system and a standard that our proposal will have to meet.
Although Rouge National Urban Park opened the door for the proposed urban park network, it does not provide a template for its successors to follow. Each of the new parks will be designed from the ground up. How should our new park be governed and funded? What lands and waters should it include? What ecological and cultural treasures should it protect and interpret? How can we all share in the land’s teachings and gifts without loving it to death? How will the park acknowledge, support and restore Indigenous languages, economies and cultures?
According to Meewasin’s timelines, a draft proposal for our National Urban Park is expected to be ready for public discussion in the fall. But it’s not too early to start dreaming about what we want and need our park to be. Imagine having a national park in our own backyard. That will truly be mîwasin, beautiful.
— Candace Savage
“In Canada and around the world, there is growing awareness of the importance of urban parks as essential places for conservation, recreation, learning, and mental and physical wellbeing…. Expanding access to and protection of nature in urban centres pays real dividends. Nature-based climate solutions [including protected areas]… have the potential to provide up to 30 percent of global climate solutions.”
Saskatoon, August 4, 2021
Western Red Lily at Cranberry Flats
Bobolink at the Small Swale
Northern Leopard Frog at the Northeast Swale
Crocuses at Cranberry Flats
Canada Geese in the Meewasin Valley
Deer - Chappell Marsh Conservation Area
Cormorant nests at Porter Lake - Important Bird & Biodiversity Area
The Spirit of Place
[For Indigenous people] access to healthy landscapes and functioning ecosystems is foundational. The right to a healthy environment is a pillar right upon which the exercise of other Indigenous rights depends. If environmental degradation occurs, it threatens the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the well-being of nature and peoples…
“The beneficiaries of this work are our future generations, all living beings on Mother Earth, and the spirit of place found in every protected and conserved area. “
—Danika Littlechild and Eli Enns
We Rise Together
The Indigenous Circle of Experts’ Report and Recommendations