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Uffish Thoughts: Parks Canada Needs Your Help November 25, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Uffish Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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Uffish Thoughts: Parks Canada Needs Your Help

By Dan Davidson

September 4, 2012

– 930 words –

The news that Parks Canada is concerned about the lack of visitors to Aulavik Park on Banks Island (70 in the last five years) and that they intend to do something to correct this terrible situation, to lure more tourists 1,800 km north of Yellowknife for a two week river trip that can cost $10,000 per person, strikes me as way beyond ironic given the recent round of cuts to the Parks system right across the nation.

One of the actions Parks intends to take, according to spokesperson Diane Wilson, is to perhaps cache canoes in the park so that people who arrive there by plane (the only way they can) won’t have to lug their own craft along, thus decreasing the cost of the plane trip to get there.

Gee –maybe they’ll double those numbers to 140 in the next five years.

I have nothing against promoting remote northern parks, but when you’ve just finished gutting the infrastructure that supports the parks the average person can get to without needing a free canoe subsidy, you have to wonder where some people have cached their brains. Clearly they’re not actually using them.

Parks employees who still have their jobs have been muzzled from talking about the situation, and even those who are departing with a payout seem to be on some sort of a leash, but I can tell you that Dawson has been having a series of private farewell dinners for downsized staff all summer and it’s been quite depressing.

When the Parks unit whose leader won a national award (the CEO’s Award of Excellence) for its stellar work on the Revival of the Discovery Claim attraction last summer (2011) is completely shut down and the employees released less than a year later, something is wrong.

When curatorial staff, historians, and maintenance personnel all across the country are let go and only the front of house staff that meet the public and sell the product remain at strength, something is wrong.

Parks has several themes in its mandate and providing a satisfactory visitor experience is only one of them. Preservation, conservation and interpretation are among the others.

Klondike National Historic Sites has about a quarter million artifacts and, thanks to decisions taken in Ottawa, no longer has the in-house capacity to look after them. That includes the other Parks artifacts in the territory, which were managed from here. Two specialists from Ottawa will be flown out from time to time to look things over.

Parks, it appears, will be concentrating on pleasing those visitors.

Not that they’re actually going to manage to do that, except in a reduced way. They will put their best public face forward on the sites that they are allowed to maintain, but the loss of tours on attractions such as the S.S. Klondike, the S.S. Keno and Dredge No. 4 cannot do anything but damage the overall Parks experience.

On top of budget slashing it turns out that the money to cover the payouts that go with the layoffs also have to come out of the local operating budgets. That’s a double shock to the system.

So Parks management is forced to go cap in hand to other levels of government to find ways to make ends meet, and by this means the public learns some details that we’re probably not supposed to know.

The gentleman whose comments I am summarizing here has a name, but I’m not using it in this article. While these comments were part of the council cable TV broadcast that evening, there’s nothing to be gained by using his name here.

In Dawson Parks is hooked up to a fire monitoring system for its two dozen or so buildings, insuring that the fire department knows if anything goes wrong in these nationally recognized sites. It costs a little over $11,000 annually to use this service. Parks is asking to be forgiven those costs for up to three years.

Parks hires a security firm to make the rounds and insure that no one is breaking into buildings and doing damage. That contract will probably not be renewed when the season runs down.

Parks has been spending about $6,000 a year on landscaping fees to maintain the splendid grounds at the Commissioner’s Residence. Council was informed that this won’t be happening next summer unless somehow the local community steps into the breach and arranges something.

The financial situation at Klondike National Historic Sites was characterized as being “broker than broke” as a combined result of the budget cuts and the cost of payouts. This goes to the extent of management needing to be concerned over whether it has the necessary funds to heat the buildings it is using this winter.

The local superintendent made the pitch that while these resources belong to the federal government they are really part of the community as well, and the community may have to take on some of the burden to keeping them going.

It’s no reflection on him that this is an absolutely pathetic way to try to run Parks Canada. The current federal government is not the first one of any political stripe to download its responsibilities to lower levels of government, but it is perhaps the most shameless.

-30-

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* The S.S. Keno is just one of the sites on which Parks Canada has spent many millions of dollars, only to close them to public tours at the end of the current season.

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