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 System
- 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 development.
- 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 established.
- 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 System
- A period of great change began for Alberta's provincial parks in 1951.
- A comprehensive new Parks Act was passed.
- 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 public.
- 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 camping.
Expanding from 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 that:
- 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 parks; and
- 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 natural features.
- 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 network.
- 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 government.
- 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 organizations.
- 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 partners.
Alberta's Plan for Parks, a strategic blueprint for managing Alberta's parks system over a 10-year period, was released in 2009.