History of BC Parks

Very first provincial park

On July 29th, 1910 a party of the British Columbia Provincial Government Expedition led by the Chief Commissioner of Lands, the Honorable Price Ellison, reached the summit of Crown Mountain. The purpose of the expedition was to explore the surrounding region for the purposes of setting aside land to establish the very first Provincial Park. The view from Crown Mountain sealed for Price Ellison, that this land would be the ideal location to establish British Columbia’s first park.

Minister Ellison submitted his report on the expedition to provincial cabinet and on March 1st, 1911, Strathcona Park was officially legislated. Protecting 250,000 hectares of largely wilderness mountain terrain and deep forested valleys, home to a variety of wildlife, a temperate rainforest, rugged hillsides and valley floors from tide waters' edge to the alpine tundra zone thousands of feet, Strathcona provincial park is one of the richest eco-systems in the world and was the very first provincial park.

The legislation was called the Strathcona Park Act, and placed the park under the control and management of the Minister of Lands. The Act withdrew Strathcona lands from "sale, settlement or occupancy under the provisions of the Land Act or any other Act with respect to mining or any other matter," and, subject to regulations that might be made by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

While the original Act of 1911 seems clearly intended to protect the park from mining, logging and similar industrial development, both mining claims and timber holdings had been granted prior to the establishment of the park and existing rights and interests were exempted from the Act. In 1918, the Act was amended to open the park to the "location, acquisition and occupation of mineral claims under the Mineral Act."

More provincial parks added

In 1913, the Mount Robson Park Act established Mount Robson Provincial Park, but while many alienations existed within the park, nothing in the Act disturbed pre-existing rights and interests. By 1930, 13 Provincial Parks were set aside and at least another 50 areas were reserved for the pleasure and recreation of the public.

At the outset, the legal responsibility for parks fell to the Attorney General’s Ministry, and parks created by individual statutes could be assigned to various administrations. The Lands Service had responsibility for such parks as Strathcona and Mt. Robson, while for other parks, advisory boards were appointed to guide in their administration. This style of management continued essentially up to the beginning of the second World War in 1939.

Park use increases

Throughout this period, most visitation to the large wilderness parks was by the more affluent segment of society. The primary travel to most parks was by rail, access within the parks by horses or foot and accommodation provided by private lodges or cabins. At that time administrative capability of parks by provincial government agencies was for all practical purposes non-existent.

The Great Depression, starting in 1929, obliged governments to cope with the rising tide of unemployed people. Forest work camps were established throughout BC on diverse road and trail projects and also in lands set aside as parks where the demand for roads, trails and visitor facilities was evident. The Forest Service became the most capable agency at operating these camps under the Y.M.F.D.P., or Young Men Forest Development Program as it was called. Some of these camps even continued during the war accommodating alternate service worker (conscientious objectors). By the time the second World War broke out, the Forest Service was firmly identified with provincial parks and as a result, the concept of a system of provincial parks, rather than the piecemeal designation of parks by individual statutes, evolved.

Distinction between park and forest management

While the main purpose of the Forest Service was to grow, protect, and harvest timber, it continued to play a very active role in parks and recreation. They recognized that campgrounds in parks and provincial forests were a useful device in controlling forest fires by concentrating public use in specific or desired locations.

During the late forties and in to the early fifties, the provincial government staged a "Natural Resources Conference" to address the subjects of conflicting resource use in a fixed resource base. These conference contributed materially to the concept of establishing "parks" as a serious, necessary and wise use of resources.

The distinction between park management and forest management was finally recognized, and in 1957, the Department of Recreation and Conservation was created. It included a Parks Branch, independent of the Forest Service. The underlying philosophy of establishing, operating and managing provincial parks was established at that time and has persisted more or less unchanged to this day.

Park act established

In 1965, a revised Park Act was passed by the Legislature. This provided a more detailed classification of Provincial Parks, management guidelines and increased protection to the natural resource base within them. Conservation as well as recreation had become an important reason for the establishment of parks.

The current Park Act restricts alienation of interests for Class A or C parks (the majority classification for BC Parks): s.8.1(a) "No interest in land in a park of Class A or Class C shall be granted, sold, leased, pre-empted or otherwise alienated or obtained or made the subject of a licence except as authorized by a valid and subsisting park use permit, which shall not be authorized unless, in the opinion of the minister, issuance is necessary to the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved."

Similarly, resource extraction in these parks is restricted as follows: s.9.1 - "No natural resource except fish and wildlife taken, hunted or killed in accordance with the Wildlife Act and fish, game or wildlife stalked or pursued for observation or for photographic or study purposes, in a (a) park of Class A or Class C shall be granted, sold removed, destroyed, damaged, disturbed or exploited except as authorized by a valid and subsisting park use permit, which shall not be issued unless, in the opinion of the minister, issuance is necessary to the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved.

The Park Amendment Act, 1995 increased the total minimum area of the province to be designated as protected parks land from 2,550,000 hectares to 7,300,000 hectares, which is to be further increased to 10,000,000 hectares by January 1, 2000.

British Columbia now contains 13.5 million hectares of protected land, with more than 100 parks and protected areas created since 2001. Currently, parks and protected areas account for 14.26% of British Columbia’s land base.

Total visitation to BC Parks was over 19,000,000 visits in 2006. As of June 2007, there are 893 Provincial Parks and Protected Areas in the Province.