The making of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Parks Canada's Marc Johnson discusses the public call for world heritage site nominations and how sites receive the coveted global designation 
  • Feb 10, 2017
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  • 3 minutes
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Canada has 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the highest global recognition that a site of cultural or natural significance can receive — and it’s looking to Canadians for more. From Aug. 8, 2016 to Jan. 27, 2017, Parks Canada invited Canadians to submit applications for world heritage sites to add to its tentative list, the first time ever that nominations were open to the public. Here Marc Johnson, Parks Canada’s Manager of the Tentative List for World Heritage Sites, discusses the nominations process and how sites receive the UNESCO World Heritage designation.

On the public call for nominations

It’s what we’ve been most excited about: asking Canadians to identify sites that they felt should be considered for world heritage. Since nominations closed on January 27, there have been applications for 41 separate sites from across the country, touching on all aspects of Canada’s heritage and, most importantly, these applications have been prepared by many different types of organizations and interests. We’ve also had quite a number of applications from Indigenous governments, academia, a few from private companies and a number from private citizens. That, to me, demonstrates the strong interest that Canadians have for world heritage.

On why it is important for Canada to have world heritage designated sites

For a site to be inscribed as a world heritage site, it already needs to be legally protected. It’s inscription on the world heritage list, does not afford any additional legal protection for the site. But what world heritage status offers, and what the government of Canada commits to in submitting an application, is to ensure that the site will continue to be protected in perpetuity.

On the existing sites on Canada’s tentative list

The last time Canada updated its list was in 2004. Since that time, we’ve had five sites that have gone through the process of inscription onto the world heritage list (Rideau Canal, Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Landscape of Grand Pré, Red Bay Basque Whaling Station and Mistaken Point) and six that remain. Of those six, Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario and the Tr’ondëk Klondike in Yukon have had their nomination dossiers submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. They will review them over an 18-month period, conduct a site visit and make a final decision next year. The application for Writing-On-Stone (Áísínai’pi) in Alberta has seen a fair bit of work and the other three, Quttinirpaaq, Ivvavik/Vuntut/Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk) and Gwaii Haanas, are still very early in their development.

In our experience, it generally takes a minimum of four to five years of time and several hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a nomination.

On the next steps

Before we give the applications to the advisory committee, we’ll do an expert review of each application and provide that analysis to committee. We’ll also share the applications with the provincial and territorial parks and heritage departments and ask them if they have an information that they would like to make available to the committee for their consideration of the site. All of that will be completed by the end of April. Then the advisory committee will recommend to Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, up to 10 new sites to add to Canada’s tentative list. This is scheduled to happen by the end of November and we’re hoping for a final announcement by the minister in December 2017, as part of Canada’s 150th celebrations. 


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