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Save Our Rideau
Heritage Site Management

Graded D

January 2023 Update - we did end up with a new (acting) Associate Director in 2022, four years after the former one left (in February 2018). This time gap alone shows the disorganization of Parks Canada and its inability to provide proper management of a significant site such as the Rideau Canal. Parks Canada's management systems are deeply flawed. With the Rideau Canal, they seem to be making it up as they go.

There is no other Parks Canada site of the Rideau's magnitude that does not have a Field Unit Superintendent located on the site. The Rideau Canal has no Superintendent on site. It has a Director (for both the Rideau Canal and Trent-Severn Waterway), located in Peterborough and the new Associate Director (also for both the Rideau and Trent-Severn) located in Ottawa. The field unit headquarters is in Smiths Falls (the halfway point of the 202 km long canal).

The one bright light is that, in 2022, we did get a new permanent Manager of Operations who has years of experience with the Rideau Canal, which is a large and very complex operation, requiring experienced management.

A basic tenet of good management, which Parks Canada apparently isn't aware of, is that proximity counts. Effective management requires the managers to be on-site, to be talking to their staff, face to face, on a daily basis. That's not the case with Parks Canada's present management of the Rideau Canal. While the COVID pandemic did force a change to remote work-from-home, that came with costs, a site such as the Rideau Canal cannot be properly run that way.

In 2012, Parks Canada restructured the management of the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Canal into one field unit called the Ontario Waterways Unit. Among many other changes it replaced the two Superintendent positions with a single Director, making the superintending of the Rideau Canal quite literally a part-time job. As a former Superintendent of the Rideau Canal, John Bonser, pointed out in 2013, his job was 60 hours a week just looking after all the issues faced by the Rideau Canal. He quite correctly predicted that the Rideau Canal could not be properly managed by a single Superintendent (now called a "Director") whose responsibilities included both the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway, it's a job far too large for one person.

Up until 2012, the Rideau Canal was managed by two people located in the Rideau Canal Office in Smiths Falls, a Superintendent (mostly dealing with policy and related issues, including public engagement) and a Manager of Operations (dealing with the day to day operations of the Rideau Canal). In 2012, the restructuring into the Ontario Waterways Unit involved placing a Director (Superintendent) on the Trent-Severn Waterway and an Executive Director on the Rideau Canal (who left her Rideau office a little over a year later). The retiring Manager of Operations (who gave lots of notice of his retirement) was not replaced, rather it was made into an acting position with junior staff.

A common complaint in late 2000s from Rideau Canal management was that Parks' HQ "didn't understand canals" and this was made abundantly clear with the restructuring (see Alan Latourelle's, the CEO at the time, comments about the restructuring below). The restructuring also marked the complete abandonment of heritage (as then and still required by Parks Canada's own legislation and Commemorative Integrity protocols) and the full on press for revenue generation.

The present situation is that we have part-time management of the Rideau Canal, the Director of Ontario Waterways is based on the Trent-Severn and focuses most of his time on that system. After going through a rotating door of Manager of Operations, a new Associate Director position was placed on the Rideau in late fall 2015, but he left the Rideau in January 2018 and was not replaced. The Executive Director of Waterways, left the Rideau Canal office in 2015 then left the Executive Director position in 2017. The former Director was appointed as Executive Director in 2019 and a new Director was hired. Both those positions are located in Peterborough. We hope to see an Associate Director return to the Rideau Canal, but so far this hasn't happened.

Every other Parks Canada site of the Rideau's magnitude has a dedicated Superintendent and a dedicated Manager of Operation (or equivalent) located on site. Imagine combining Parks Canada's mountain parks (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho) into one operational unit with only one Superintendent and one manager of operations. Imagine Parks Canada having only one superintendent managing Banff from an office located in Jasper. That's what they did here with the Rideau and Trent-Severn.

The Ontario Waterways unit has lots of business development and "communications" (PR and such) staff - but there is still no management staffing on the Rideau Canal for heritage (no heritage manager or dedicated heritage staff) or for ecology. There are two managers in charge of "external relations", there is an "Issues Coordinator", there is a manager of Business Development, but the word "heritage" does not appear on the organizational chart. So not only is the Rideau under-managed, it's improperly staffed to meet their clear legislated requirements.

On the surface, the Rideau and Trent-Severn are similar, they are both operating canals and although the Trent is almost twice as long as the Rideau, they have a similar number of locks. But that's where the similarities end. The Rideau is an older canal, it was built for a much different reason than the Trent-Severn, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Trent-Severn is more modern than the Rideau (started in 1833 and completed in 1920) and has more boating traffic. Each region's culture is different, each region's community needs are different. Parks Canada's management of these canals has to take into account these and many other differences.

The primary mandate of Parks Canada on the Rideau Canal is supposed to be the protection and presentation of its heritage, the reasons it received the designation as a National Historic Site and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Parks Canada has been abdicating this responsibility for the last few years, the most notable changes taking place in 2007-2008. It was at that time when a Communications position was made a prominent management position (not to promote communications, but to "control the message"). Also at that time we also received a "Visitor Experiences Officer" whose first job was to implement the National Parks program, "Learn to Camp" on the Rideau. Parks Canada's Visitor Experience program has no heritage component (heritage programming is separate) and in three years in the position, the VE person never interacted with the heritage community along the Rideau.

Bottom line is that the management of the Rideau Canal is not properly structured to deliver the requirements of Parks Canada's legislation or its obligations to the World Heritage Convention as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This appears to be mainly due to a cultural shift in Parks Canada's HQ that happened in the 1990s and early 2000s - a shift to trying to become a simple tourism agency, to abandon heritage and ecology in a vain attempt to chase visitor numbers. In 2012, the Government of Canada made a 5% cut to the operating budget of Parks Canada. Parks Canada took that opportunity to get rid of much of their science and heritage staff, to remove the voice of heritage from the management planning table and to strip heritage interpretation from sites such as the Rideau Canal. It's a long and sorry tale, you can read all about it in my "de-evolution of Parks Canada"

The problem is actually quite easy to fix. While a qualified heritage manager needs to be hired for the Rideau Canal - in the short term some of the present surplus of business development and PR staff can be re-purposed into heritage programming, as long as it is being directed by a knowledgeable person (a heritage manager with a good understanding of heritage and someone who is willing to get out and engage the Rideau heritage community which has a deep knowledge base of Rideau heritage). In the long-run, unqualified staff has to be let go and qualified heritage staff hired. Site plans for the lockstations can be developed which include all the required heritage components (viewscapes, signage, etc.) to help guide operational staff.

All that is required is for Parks Canada senior management to return to delivering their own legislative requirements and Commemorative Integrity protocols.

    On a sad historical note, the 2012 change by Parks Canada broke a continuous run of 180 years of having a Superintendent of the Rideau Canal (the first Superintendent was Lt. Colonel John By). While that role, originally as the Superintending Engineer of the Rideau Canal, has changed over time, the Rideau has always had a direct manager in that position.
    The Rideau Canal is a highly complex system to operate and the management level of Superintendent is needed in the field unit on the canal. As predicted in 2012, the new Super Superintendent ("Director, Ontario Waterways Unit"), responsible for both the Rideau and Trent-Severn, has not been able to do a good job. To date we still don't have dedicated senior management for the Rideau Canal. This change shows how out of touch the Parks Canada HQ management is with the realities of properly operating, protecting and presenting the Rideau Canal National Historic Site.

Background Info - the communiqué from the head of Parks Canada just after the restructuring in 2012 clearly shows the new direction and a total abandonment of Parks Canada's mandate. Try to find any references to heritage or culture (hint, they aren't there). The new focus is to be only on "canal operations such as navigation services, water management and daily maintenance of assets."

Communiqué from Alan Latourelle, CEO of Parks Canada,
September 28, 2012:

Subject: Creation of a cohesive Historic Canals Program

The Historic Canals that we are entrusted to protect and present on behalf of all Canadians have a critical role to play in contributing to the Agency's objectives. However, they have challenges and opportunities that are unique as a result of their location, the nature of their assets, operation and clientele. To ensure that they meet their full potential based on their collective strengths, I am pleased to inform you that we are establishing a dedicated canals organizational structure within Parks Canada, one that will give Historic Canals a more prominent voice and coherent vision within the Parks Canada family.

The new dedicated waterway structure will include the office of the Executive Director and two units – one for Ontario Waterways and one for Quebec Waterways. The Executive Director will be responsible for establishing strong direction for the Historic Canals in order to heighten their profile externally, share highly professional asset management capacity and develop innovative approaches to address the unique challenges of our Historic Canals.

The Ontario and Quebec Waterways Units will be focused specifically on canal operations such as navigation services, water management and daily maintenance of assets.

Within the executive ranks of the Agency’s new organizational structure, I wish to announce that following a recent competitive process, Darlene Upton has accepted an appointment as the first Executive Director, Waterways; Luc-André Mercier has accepted an appointment as the first Director of the Quebec Waterways Unit following an expression of interest and Don Marrin has accepted an interim appointment as the first Director of the Ontario Waterways Unit, after which time he will assume his new duties as Executive Director, Northern Canada. Together, Darlene, Luc-André and Don bring a strong understanding of our mandate and values and great people leadership skills combined with a good understanding of day-to-day operations at all levels of the organization. Their biographical notes are attached. The competitive process to permanently staff the position of Director, Ontario Waterways Unit will be initiated shortly.

As a result of these changes, we have merged national historic sites and national parks from the former Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec Field Units to create two new Field Units: Georgian Bay and Eastern Ontario Field Unit under the leadership of Kim St. Claire; and the La Mauricie and Western Quebec Field Unit, under the leadership of Carole Loiselle. As we strive to protect these exceptional treasures and increase the level of activity on our waterways, I am confident that the strong leadership of Darlene, Luc-André, Don, Kim and Carole will allow Parks Canada to continue to operate effectively as we transition to our new, dedicated canals organizational structure. I remain convinced that, with your support and excellent work, we will continue to deliver the programs that Canadians value so highly.

- Alan Latourelle

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© 2012- Ken W. Watson