J. B. Harkin: Father of Canada's National Parks

By Atkinson, Ken | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

J. B. Harkin: Father of Canada's National Parks


Atkinson, Ken, British Journal of Canadian Studies


E. J. (Ted) Hart, J. B. Harkin: Father of Canada's National Parks (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2010), 564 pp. Paper. £19.25. ISBN 978-0-88864-512-8.

This book focuses on the period 1911-36 when J. B. Harkin was Commissioner for Dominion (later National) Parks. As indicated by the sobriquet in the title, the author gives foremost rank to Harkin for the tremendous strides made in establishing and managing national parks under his supervision. He was appointed at a time when few Canadians knew of the existence of parks, other than in cities, and even fewer had ever visited one. He retired with parks being in the top ten of the public's national icons, esteemed by citizens and tourists alike. How was this turnaround achieved? The short answer lies in Harkin's character and experience; having worked as a political correspondent on an Ottawa newspaper, and then as a bureaucrat in the Department of the Interior, he was fully conversant with the value of publicity and the necessity for fostering political contacts to press forward policies that he deemed to be necessary for realising the conservational and recreational potential of the parks. He was clearly a dedicated, somewhat autocratic administrator, and yet a liberal thinker who believed that it was the inalienable right of all Canadians to enjoy the parks. The long answer lies within the pages of this book, and we are given a detailed account of the major policy and management issues with which he had to deal, including: the rise of the car and the need to provide roads and accommodation for tourists; construction projects for wartime internees; game preservation, especially with respect to bison, antelope and elk; threats to develop water and power resources; the Migratory Birds Treaty with the US; control of fire and predators; the fostering of Historic Parks and the Canadian National Parks Association.

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