From March 9th to 13th, 2021, knowers, doers, and learners from across the country came together virtually at the inaugural Parks and Protected Areas Research Network Virtual Research Summit. This conference was made possible thanks to the collaborative partners of Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership, Mount Royal University, Parks Canada, Canadian Parks Council, and York University Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.
Nearly 200 registrants from British Columbia to Nunavut to Prince Edward Island were in attendance for various sessions throughout this pan-Canadian summit. All came with the common goal to learn, collaborate, and share knowledge about parks and protected areas. The summit opened with an introduction by Gùdia – Mary Jane Johnson, a Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder. Her words resonated with the audience, as she said:
“We pay our deepest respects and give our heartfelt thanks to those knowledge carriers, keepers, both past and present. For us to be good caretakers we must respect each other’s abilities to learn from the past. By being present, today. For a future where our strength will be each other. Our legacy will be communities where First Nations, Inuit, Metis and other world people can be curious, playful, intelligent, industrious, creative and respectfully strong. Where the winged, the finned, the four legged, the two legged, the rooted and the flowing all continue to thrive to be part of the next seven generations.”
At the start of the event, Dr. Don Carruthers Den Hoed mentioned that both the definition of parks and protected areas and park leaders is not static.
“Park leaders don’t just work for national, provincial, or territorial park agencies. They are also Indigenous knowledge holders and community partners, academics and students, municipal and private landholders, and more. And parks can be the entire continuum of protected areas from private conservancy to local greenspace to IPCAs to marine parks – as Bruce Downie of Yukon Parks once told me, ‘parks are wherever you learn to love life.’”
Though every presentation related to parks and protected areas, topics were incredibly diverse, ranging from knowledge mobilization to behavioural change in parks visitors, accessibility barriers to reconciliation in natural sciences. Presentations challenged common biases and assumptions and increased our awareness of issues, from Reconciliation to youth involvement in parks. To increase the accessibility of the information, presenters were invited to speak in their preferred national language (French or English), and almost all presentations offered a simultaneous live interpretation.
Keynote sessions included “The state of parks-related knowledge mobilization in Canada, cases from Alberta, BC, and Ontario”, presented by Dr. Elizabeth Halpenny with the University of Alberta; “Ecological corridors and networks: key ingredients for enduring conservation in Canada and Globally”, presented by Dr. Jodi Hilty with Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, David MacKinnon with Nova Scotia Environment, and Chris Lemieux with Wilfrid Laurier University; “Towards reconciliation: 10 Calls to Action to natural scientists working in Canadian protected areas” presented by Dr. Carmen Wong with Parks Canada and Gùdia – Mary Jane Johnson, Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder; and “Blurring the boundaries: a panel on understanding, valuing, and supporting the ocean and coastal community well-being”, presented by Noémie Roy, Munju Ravindra, Jessica Lambert, Garrett Mombourquette, Gabrielle Beaulieu, Meaghen McCord, and Hali Moreland with Parks Canada. A range of concurrent sessions were part of the conference, allowing attendees to pick from presentations most aligned with their personal interests, as well as several shorter rapid talk presentations. During each presentation, attendees were invited to continue on the conversation through forums and feedback forms exclusive to conference attendees.
The goals of the conference were first to help connect individuals and create an inclusive community of park leaders, and second, to share and gain knowledge. Based on the feedback received to date, we are confident that the Park Summit has made an impact in both these areas. One youth attendee remarked, “thank you for creating such a meaningful space for youth to voice our opinion — we often talk about youth engagement, but it is rarely done as well as today”, while another said, “since (the conference), I’ve had a couple of fruitful conversations with federal colleagues — I look forward to digesting the presentation a little bit more when they’re available online and to continue participating with the CPCIL”.
Although the reality of COVID-19 meant hosting this event online, many registrants expressed appreciation for this virtual format. It allowed them the opportunity to attend the conference when they otherwise would have been limited by travel or cost. But this conference wasn’t made up entirely of screen time. Attendees were encouraged to take a break from their desk and connect with nature throughout the conference. During these nature break sessions, all were encouraged to test the ParkSeek online GIS application by making observations about parks in their local areas. During other nature breaks, participants were encouraged to simply go out in nature and engage with their senses to reflect and connect with their local environments, sometimes involving prompts from mailed leaflets included in participant welcome packages.
The interactive component was also brought back online through breakout sessions and regional task groups. These groups were invited to collaborate on virtual murals with the goal to map the network of key players in the parks and protected areas field, make both personal and landscape level connections, and brainstorm and prioritize possible research projects.
Through these generative activities, real life connections were made, whether it be an individual with resources to support a project, or networking suggestions for potential contacts. Some attendees even met colleagues from within their own office or agency for the first time via the summit, an occurrence that is surely unique to our current reality!
Over 40 youth registrants were also in attendance, and this energized group gave accolades on their experience as individuals newer to the field of parks and protected areas research or practice. One of the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers, Ebany Carratt, shared her perspective on what it means to be a park leader, and that we are all park leaders regardless of our educational background or experience. This was echoed by more youth attendees touching on the role of youth and inclusivity, including Rhiannon Kramer, a member of the Canadian Black Scientists Network , and Peter Soroye, a PHD student at the University of Ottawa, both with the grassroots group Kaleidoscope Canada. Both highlighted that people who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of colour have had a big role in the outdoors in ways that are often not part of the narrative, and that it is common to not feel comfortable participating in these spaces. Going forward, they challenged Summit attendees to find the many areas in which we can improve this because we are all park people.
The conference ended with moving words from Gilles Seutin, Chief Scientist of Parks Canada and champion of the Pan Canadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network. Providing his perspective on contributing to the institution of knowledge and what is needed as a community of conservation-minded people to be able to deliver on living in harmony with nature, Seutin shared:
“It’s a growing ambition to have 30% of the planet’s waters and lands under a good form of protection,” he said. “To be successful, we’ll need to be better equipped than we are now. In Canada, there are currently about 10,000 people working full time at managing protected areas, from lock operators on historic canals to project managers in provincial parks, and Canada is committed to more than double the amount of land and water we want to protect. So we have a huge need for new people, new brains that need to enter the workforce.
“But in the long term it’s about not only creating those events and moments of individual training and capacity building, but also about institutional building. And that’s what this network is about to do. This week I’ve seen the growing recognition for the diversity of knowledge, and the diversity of knowledge systems, that need to inform protected areas management and, in future, establishment of more places and their management in a broader sense.”
Dawn Carr, Executive Director, Canadian Parks Council, echoed these sentiments, saying,
“Several years ago, there was a recognition that there needs to be better and stronger relationships between Park agencies and different knowledge holders, there was a very specific effort that was put in place to create CPCIL.
One of our priorities is to support the growth and development of an inclusive and connected network of professionals in the parks community, who engage, learn, and share expertise across boundaries. These past four days have been a testament to that priority. But it is also an absolute, and very clear expression of the fact that we’re really coming together to grow this community, which is extraordinary and amazing”
Feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and there is a lot of excitement and interest to keep the momentum going. Recordings of summit sessions are now available online under ‘CPCIL Virtual Research Summit Archive’ and can be publicly viewed and the Summit forums and other content are available on the 2021 Research Summit Legacy Page.
We thank all presenters, applicants, attendees, and team members who each played a part in the overall success of the event.