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Save Our Rideau
Public Education

Graded F

In April 2017 Parks Canada launched a new website for the Rideau Canal (and all other sites) that contained no (zero) heritage information about the canal. It took them 687 days (to Feb. 15, 2019) before a little bit of history appeared, still far short of what they should be doing, presumably because they don't have any qualified heritage staff to develop proper public education content and management that does not include heritage as any sort of priority.

In addition to its legislative requirements under the Parks Canada Agency Act to "present" the Rideau Canal, they have a commemorative integrity requirements that include: "the reasons for designation as a national historic site are effectively communicated to the public." In the 21st century, a very important component of that communication is information on a website. Parks Canada doesn't appear to understand that.

Public education of the heritage values of the Rideau Canal and its place in Canadian history is a requirement of Parks Canada's legistation, a clearly defined part of its Commemorative Integrity requirements. It is also a requirement of its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, to educate the public on the reasons for the Rideau's designation as a World Heritage Site. Very little, in either regard, is being done by Parks Canada on the Rideau Canal today.

Parks Canada's commemorative integrity policies are quite clear - to ensure that visitors to the site have learned something about the cultural heritage of the Rideau Canal and gain an understanding about the contribution of the Rideau Canal to the history of Canada. To learn and understand why the Rideau Canal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Parks Canada started to move away from this requirement in the mid-2000s and then completely abandoned heritage as part of the budget cuts of 2012. Today we see significant sites such as Jones Falls almost completely uninterpreted (a few signs and 1 brochure - both containing errors of fact).

The Rideau Canal is a National Historic Site of Canada and the reasons for that designation, including the Rideau Canal's place in Canadian history, must be a prime focus of Parks Canada on the Rideau Canal. Unfortunately not only isn't it being done, the current management structure of the Rideau Canal doesn't have the skill sets or capacity to even begin to address this deficiency in a knowledgeable manner. It's part of a cultural shift in Parks Canada that started in the early 2000s away from heritage and their own mandate (i.e. to protect and present the cultural heritage of the site and to tell "the stories of Canada").

The same is true for the Rideau's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - visitors to most sites along the Rideau, such as Jones Falls, receive almost no information about its World Heritage Site designation - the universal values for the designation. That story should be told at every lockstation and communicated to the broader public - it's actually a requirement by UNESCO to communicate the reasons for the designation, to have the public understand why the site received the designation.

And most ignored, but potential most important, is to communicate the heritage values of the Rideau Canal to our youth. The Rideau Canal runs through 13 municipalities, yet most local youth don't know much, if anything (other than the skateway) about the Rideau Canal. Education programs, such as school tours of lockstations, must be a key component of Parks Canada's administration the Rideau Canal.

Bottom line is that Parks Canada is ignoring its own legislation, its own policy requirements and its international obligations as a World Heritage Site. There is no heritage manager in the Rideau Canal management structure, no heritage programming section, no public education section. This capability must be restored to the management of the Rideau Canal. Its not really a funding or staffing issue (they have lots of money for a gaggle of business development and PR people) - its a question of priorities, of Parks Canada getting back to what they are legislated, and morally responsible to do.

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© 2012- Ken W. Watson