Parks Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

A History of Canada's National Parks
Volume II


This volume describes the establishment of the Department of the Interior, its decline and fall. It also recounts circumstances relating to the evolution and growth of one of its offspring, the Dominion Parks Branch, later to become almost as large and as prominent in the field of federal land administration as its illustrious progenitor. During its 63 years of existence, 'Interior' performed an almost heroic role in helping to change the face of western Canada from that of unbroken wilderness to a populated area. In turn, the western prairies generated employment, homes and comparative wealth for millions of new Canadians from far-away lands.

During its hey-day, the Department of the Interior administered not only lands that became farms and ranches, but also those set aside for the preservation of forests, the control of water power and the irrigation of dry areas. It operated Dominion astrophysical observatories, arranged for innumerable surveys, including those of the international boundary and developed the first national tourist bureau. It also administered, from their inception, our national parks.

The author of this history joined the Department of the Interior in 1918 as a junior clerk in the Dominion Lands Branch. By then, the tide of settlement in western Canada had subsided, but an extensive check of public land records was under way to permit the granting of homesteads to veterans of World War I. This action followed the enactment of the Soldier Settlement Act in 1917. This land settlement was to be the last made under federal government auspices. By the early 1920's, the four western provinces were clamouring for the return to provincial jurisdiction of their natural resources, withheld since the creation of Manitoba in 1870. With the passing of the Transfer of Natural Resources Acts in 1930, much of the work of the Department of the Interior disappeared, and in 1936 it was merged with three other departments to form a new department, Mines and Resources. Happily, the legislation transferring lands and other natural resources to the four western provinces withheld title to lands forming national parks. The author was fortunate in receiving an invitation to join the National Parks Branch in 1930, and by accepting, he escaped the debacle of 1931 when several hundred employees lost their jobs with the Department of the Interior. During the 38 years following, except for a war-time stint in Northwest Territories administration, he was privileged to assist in the development of the national park movement in Canada in successive roles of information officer, writer and administrator. These years witnessed the abolition of several parks, mainly preserves for endangered species since rehabilitated, and the establishment of many new parks, notably in the Atlantic provinces.

Chapter 4 in this volume provides an outline of the development of the National Parks Branch from a small segment of the Department of the Interior to the evolution of Parks Canada, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. This extensive organization now has the responsibility of preserving, for the use and enjoyment of Canadians, representative examples of the nation's outstanding scenery, its native wildlife and mementoes of its historic past. Chapter 5 recounts some of the problems encountered by park officers in the administration of park lands, especially those utilized in the provision of essential services to the millions who annually visit the national parks.

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance received from current and former members of the staff of Parks Canada, including those of park superintendents and regional directors; also from officers of the Departmental Library and the Public Archives of Canada. Suggestions made by Jim Shearon and James D. Georgiles of Parks Canada Information Division for the improvement of text matter also are most appreciated, as were those offered by R.S. Davies, concerning legal phraseology.

Staff of the Commissioner of Dominion Parks
Birks Building, Ottawa, March, 1913

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