Alberta's parks system is shaped by its past. The first
provincial park legislation was enacted in 1930. Early parks were
small recreation sites providing scenic spots for Albertans to
swim and picnic.
The main focus of Alberta's parks network continued to be
recreation throughout its formative years. Later, public interest
focused on preserving the province's natural heritage as a legacy
for future generations.
Alberta's parks system includes a spectrum of sites ranging from
intensively developed recreation areas to pristine wilderness.
These areas preserve natural landscapes, ecological processes and
biological diversity. They also provide opportunities for heritage
appreciation, outdoor recreation and heritage tourism. Parks are
special places where Albertans and visitors can experience, learn
about, understand and enjoy our natural heritage.
Birth of Alberta's Parks
- Creation of a parks system in Alberta was largely a result of
the efforts of Premier J. E. Brownlee in the late 1920s. In May
1929, Premier Brownlee appointed a special committee to investigate
possibilities for park development in Alberta.
- In November 1929, the committee submitted recommendations for
purchase of property and establishment of provincial parks at
several locations. These included Gooseberry Lake, Ghost River and
Aspen Beach on Gull Lake. The committee also submitted a list of
lands recommended to be purchased or reserved for future park
- The Provincial Parks and Protected Areas Act was
passed at the 1930 session of the Alberta legislature. In spring
1930, the Provincial Board of Management for parks was
- Establishment of Aspen Beach Provincial Park in 1932 signalled
the official beginning of Alberta's provincial park system.
Gooseberry Lake, Park Lake, Sylvan Lake and Saskatoon Island
provincial parks were also established at this time.
- During the Great Depression and World War II, resources for the
new provincial park system were very limited.
Growth of Alberta's Parks
- A period of great change began for Alberta's provincial parks
- A comprehensive new Parks Act was
- Administration of provincial parks was transferred to the
Department of Lands and Forests.
- A new three-member Parks Board was established.
- During the 1950s and 1960s, a large amount of land was reserved
for park purposes. In 1952-53, there was a substantial increase in
park expenditures. The first full-time parks personnel were hired
during this period.
- From 1951 to 1971, 46 new provincial parks were established,
most of them for outdoor recreation purposes. Development at
these parks focused on camping, picnicking, beaches, playgrounds,
boating and fishing.
- In the 1950s and 1960s, the Transportation Department
constructed highway wayside campsites to serve the motoring
- Beginning in the late 1950s, the Alberta Forest Service
constructed forest recreation areas to:
- localize environmental impacts; and
- minimize the risk of forest fires associated with random
Recreation to Preservation
- In 1959, Willmore Wilderness Park was established under its own
legislation. In 1995, this legislation was amended to preclude
industrial activity within the park.
- In 1964, the Parks Act was amended and the scope
of Alberta's provincial parks network was expanded to include
wilderness areas and natural areas. The first natural areas were
established under both the Public Lands Act and
the Parks Act during the mid-1960s.
- During the early 1960s White Goat, Ghost River and Siffleur
wilderness areas were established. In 1971, these wilderness areas
were placed under the newly proclaimed Wilderness Areas
Act. In 1980, this Act was revised to include natural
areas and to enable establishment of ecological reserves.
- In 1973, a major position paper was tabled in the Alberta
legislature by the minister responsible for parks, the Honourable
Allan Warrack, Minister of Lands and Forests. The paper stated
- the present park system was inadequate;
- more park lands were needed;
- existing parks were badly in need of upgrading;
- there were serious resource development conflicts in some
- Albertans in metropolitan centres (in particular seniors and
disadvantaged Albertans) lacked opportunities to visit parks.
- Over the next three years funding for parks increased
dramatically, resulting in a significant expansion of Alberta's
parks network. Parks were selected, planned and developed to
emphasize both outdoor recreation opportunities and preservation of
- In the 1980s the Environment Department began constructing
campgrounds and picnic areas on reservoirs, lakes and rivers to:
- provide recreational access to water bodies;
- localize impacts of recreational development; and
- control shoreline erosion.
- In the 1990s, responsibility for provincial parks and all of
the province's recreation areas and protected areas was
consolidated under a new parks and protected areas program.
Sites Designated Under Special Places Program
Map (with designation dates and Natural Regions)
- In 1995, the Alberta Government announced its commitment to
expanding Alberta's parks and protected areas network through a
strategic initiative called Special Places.
- This initiative provided a process for completing a network of
parks and protected areas that represents the province's
environmental diversity. Special Places focused on establishing new
protected areas in natural regions that were
under-represented in the province's parks and protected areas
- Twenty-nine new protected areas were designated in 1995.
- Albertans were invited to nominate additional parcels of
provincial Crown land. More than 400 nominations were submitted
over the course of the program.
- At the provincial level, a multi-stakeholder Special Places
Provincial Coordinating Committee was appointed by the provincial
- The role of the Provincial Coordinating Committee (PCC) was to:
review public nominations; provide overall direction for the
program; and submit candidate sites for detailed consideration
through the "local committee" process.
- The PCC represented the broad interests of Albertans. It
included representatives from more than 20 provincial stakeholder
groups including local governments, industry and environmental
- The PCC completed its mandate on March 26, 1999 after
identifying and recommending candidate sites for local committee
review in all six of Alberta's natural regions.
- At the local level, volunteer committees were asked to examine
candidate sites. They also provided advice on boundary
options, site-specific management guidelines and appropriate land
use activities. Local committees ensured community involvement by
gathering public input.
- Local input was combined with detailed site information to
prepare recommendations for the Minister.
- The Special Places program concluded in July 2001. A total of
81 new and 13 expanded sites added 2 million hectares to Alberta's
protected area land base.
Since 2001, we have continued to pursue establishment of new
parks through collaboration with local communities and
Alberta's Plan for Parks, a strategic blueprint
for managing Alberta's parks system over a 10-year period, was
released in 2009.