Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area - Kananaskis Country
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World Heritage Sites in Alberta

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works with countries around the world to identify World Heritage sites. These are special places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa's Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America.

More than 900 cultural, natural and mixed sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. These sites have outstanding international significance. They enrich our lives and illustrate the diversity of our planet and its inhabitants. Inscription on the World Heritage List helps safeguard these sites for future generations.

In 1976, Parks Canada was designated the lead agency for implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Canada.

World Heritage Sites in Alberta

Canada's Tentative List

Canada's Tentative List identifies sites that:

There are eleven sites on Canada's Tentative List. There is one Alberta site on the list - Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park / Áísínai'pi National Historic Site, for which criteria i, iii, iv are being suggested.

Expansion of Existing World Heritage Sites 

Proposals for increasing the size of World Heritage sites are not included on Canada's Tentative List. These proposals are dealt with at annual meetings of the World Heritage Committee. For a proposed increase of more than 10%, the revised Operational Guidelines would require a renomination of the entire property.  

There are several cases where Canadian site expansion has been suggested.

World Heritage Site Questions & Answers

What are the benefits of World Heritage site inscription?

  • Having, recognizing and committing to protecting sites of global significance and outstanding universal value increases pride and status.
  • Inscription raises a site's international profile.
  • Inscription can provide regional tourism and economic benefits.
  • World Heritage site status provides opportunities for improved site management and protection.
  • The World Heritage concept is so well understood that sites on the List are a magnet for international cooperation. This can result in financial assistance for heritage conservation projects from a variety of sources.
  • Comprehensive management plans are elaborated and implemented. Plans set out adequate preservation measures and monitoring mechanisms. Experts offer technical training to local site management teams to support these measures and mechanisms.

How does an area's designation as a World Heritage site affect current activities and land-use?

World Heritage site designation is commemorative. It does not change recreational activities permitted on the land; however, the status of outstanding universal values recognized by the designation must be maintained. For example, if Willmore Wilderness Park were to receive World Heritage status hiking, horseback riding, backcountry camping, hunting and fishing would continue to be permitted. This would also be true of Willmore's trapping and commercial guiding/outfitting operations, as long as they continue to be properly managed.

How is the legal status of lands or rights of leaseholders and landowners affected?

Inscription as a World Heritage site does not change legal status, ownership or management of designated lands. UNESCO has no jurisdiction over the site. Neither provincial nor federal governments acquire any new level of jurisdiction.

What is the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage?

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is an international agreement adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. It was founded on the premise that certain places on Earth:

  • are of outstanding universal value; and
  • should form part of the common heritage of humankind.

As of 2011, 174 countries have ratified the Convention. Canada ratified the Convention in 1976.  
The Convention's definition of "heritage" includes nature conservation and preservation of cultural sites. Cultural heritage refers to:

  • monuments;
  • groups of buildings; and
  • sites with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value.

Natural heritage refers to:

  • outstanding physical, biological and geological formations;
  • habitats of threatened species of animals and plants; and
  • areas with scientific, conservation or aesthetic value.

What is the World Heritage Committee?

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is overseen by the World Heritage Committee. The Committee is composed of 21 countries elected by the States Parties. States Parties are those countries that have ratifed the Convention. The Committee is supported by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in Paris. The Centre:

  • advises States Parties on preparation of site nominations;
  • organizes technical assistance on request; and
  • coordinates reporting on the condition of sites.

The Committee also:

  • coordinates emergency action to protect threatened sites; and
  • administers the World Heritage Fund.

How do sites get on the World Heritage List?

There is a well-developed nomination process leading to inscription of a World Heritage site. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must:

How are World Heritage sites safeguarded?

World Heritage List inscripiton is only a step toward safeguarding a site for future generations. Ongoing management and preservation efforts involve local communities, site managers and national authorities. The characteristics for which a site was originally inscribed on the World Heritage List can be threatened by:

  • natural conditions; and
  • human activities such as armed conflict and war, pollution, poaching, and unplanned construction. 

In these cases, inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger can be a powerful tool for conservation. The "in danger" list calls the world's attention to endangered sites. It can mobilize international resources for emergency preservation measures.

Does World Heritage site inscription lead to increased visitation and greater impacts?

World Heritage site inscription may increase public awareness of the site and its outstanding values. This has the potential to increase tourist activities at the site. Increased tourism can bring important funds both to the site and to the local economy as long as these activities:

  • are well planned and organized; and
  • respect sustainable tourism principles.

Increased tourism always carries the risk of harming the very attributes that led to a site's inscription. Visitors to World Heritage sites can learn about natural, cultural and historical characteristics while respecting the environment and local culture. Sustainable tourism and a publicly-developed plan that identifies appropriate levels and types of use are necessary. Sustainable tourism can:

  • build environmental awareness;
  • conserve local ecosystems; and
  • generate income and employment for local communities.