What I’ve Learned About Learning: University Degrees for Parks People

Close up of hands on laptop, woman sitting on park bench in nature.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

There are a lot of ways to come to Parks. People from all backgrounds end up working in Parks. Some actively chose this route — they worked in parks as teenagers, picked a green degree, interned in conservation fields, anything that would lead to a career in parks. Others, like myself, kind of just fell into it somewhere along the way. As one of my university professors, Joe Pavelka, likes to say, “There are a lot of ways to live a life, and most of them are good.” I believe this applies to Parks as well — there are a lot of ways to come to Parks, and most of them are good. 

That being said, the more I get to know park leaders, the less clear I am about what that actually entails. These wonderful people have opened my eyes to a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences, all of which make up the parks world beyond a singular definition. More and more, the parks field is becoming an interdisciplinary playground filled with jacks of all trades.

This fact is partially what made my task of curating a degree list so complicated. While I hope that this list is a meaningful resource for those looking to pursue or further a “green” type education specifically relating to Parks, this list was made through my own lens of what I’ve seen from current Park Leaders, what I understand to be the direction of Parks in general, and what I personally would like to see be a part of the future of Parks. 

Plenty of Paths in Parks Professions

Within that struggle to define a Park Professional also lies the question of the definition of Parks. There are National Parks, Provincial Parks, Municipal Parks, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Marine Protected Areas, and hundreds of other protected land designations across Canada, and they all need a variety of people to run the show. The breadth of knowledge and experience required by parks is vast, however, a list that includes every area of expertise would not have been that helpful of a resource. Applicable programs such as Human Resources, Organizational Management, and even Environmental Engineering were mostly left off of this list due to their non-specificity to Parks or environmental protection in general. Geology and Anthropology are also rarely found on the list as Geology often focused on resource extraction rather than land protection and Anthropology often lacked an environmental element. Some green sounding degrees were also left out because their focus was in agriculture and crop production. I am not perfect, however, and I am certain that some things have snuck in that shouldn’t have, and other things were left out that should have been included. 

While I aimed to be as unbiased as possible in my creation of this list, it is never possible to be truly neutral. Being a part of something, creating something, means it was created through your worldview, and that’s okay. I come from a humanities background, so you’ll definitely see my bias show up in this list. Because of this, I tended to give a little more wiggle room to degrees that involved community development, leadership, Indigenous studies, and the kind of social equity programs you might not typically associate with parks. I believe that diversity includes a diversity of educational backgrounds. By no means am I trying to overshadow some much more abhorrent inclusion issues that parks across the nation are tackling such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion, but some of these degrees reflect the knowledge and interests of the people often left out of the conversation.

I was also more likely to include the certificate or diploma in some topics rather than a full degree, as they made more sense as complementary knowledge rather than an educational focus for someone aiming to be a parks professional. Therefore, the following list will generally fall into one or more of these topics:

  • Environmental Sciences/Studies
  • Environmental Management
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Tourism/Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Guiding/Adventure Studies
  • Sustainability/Sustainable Development

If you are interested in a general cacophony of these niches, this list was made for you.

Canadian Parks Relevant Degrees List

British Columbia


Graduate Studies:












*Included more agricultural programs given the location and focus on agriculture in the province






Programmes de 1er Cycle: 

Études Supérieures:


Programmes de 1er cycle:

Etudes Supérieures:











Newfoundland and Labrador





Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit. Optio, neque qui velit. Magni dolorum quidem ipsam eligendi, totam, facilis laudantium cum accusamus ullam voluptatibus commodi numquam, error, est. Ea, consequatur.

Prince Edward Island

Method of auditing:

  • Degrees that resulted in careers linked to the Parks and Protected Areas field (environmental consultants, parks planners, etc) were normally included 
  • Reputable Indigenous Studies programs, particularly ones with environmental/planning links, were normally included
  • Programs with required courses that pertained to the interests of Parks and Protected areas were normally included
  • Major degree programs that are offered at most Universities such as Human Resources, Operations Management, Engineering, etc, were mostly excluded from this list as they are not directly linked to Parks and are readily available at many Universities. 
  • Specializations that were only offered as minors were also primarily excluded from this list. Exceptions were made in cases where outstanding or unique programs were found. 
  • Format for listing programs may vary slightly between schools depending on how the school presented information i.e some schools highlight exceptional minor programs and so more minors were included 

Which Universities made the list:

The list was determined using the Government of Canada’s List of Designated Educational Institutions and setting the filter to “University” for each province. An exception was made for Mount Royal University, which is designated as a Junior College on this list but has recently attained its University status. Vocational schools, technical colleges, and private institutions are not a part of this list.


Designation – Major: Specialization or Concentration


Bachelor of Arts – Geography: Human Geography (All Three Components)

Bachelor of Science – Environmental Science (Designation and Major)

Bachelor of Resource Management (Specialized Designation, no listed Major or Concentration)

Do you know of a really great program related to parks? Leave us a comment below, we would love to see what you are all learning! 

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall hiking in the Purcell mountains.

A recent graduate from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership program, Karly Upshall joined the Knowledge Gatherers team with previous valuable research experience to bring to her role. This included an immersive field school in Peru for research and a past position working for the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership as a Research Assistant. During this time, she contributed to the Accessibility Parks Leaders program and the creation of the Inclusion and Accessibility Community of Practice. As well, in 2020 she worked as a research assistant at Mount Royal University in a practicum role, analyzing and interpreting data around travel fears and aspirations throughout COVID-19. Karly’s strong work ethic and diligence have contributed immensely to the quality of her parks and protected areas content, where she has explored topics ranging from environmental podcasts to assessments of post-secondary environment programs to palliative care in natural spaces. 

Let’s get to know more about Karly’s experience with CPCIL. 

Photo of Karly Upshall in a tree.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

My dad was a pretty outdoorsy guy. So as a kid, he would take me hunting, which is a far cry from who I am now, but I remember as a kid I just wanted to be out there with him. We’d go camping every summer, but I also really love that mom’s not as much outdoorsy, but she’d be happy to join along with the trailer, as long as she had an indoor bathroom. But those were the big ones, hunting and fishing and camping with dad as a kid.

Did you always know you kind of wanted a career path in conservation?

No, I was fairly into English and literature and poetry growing up. On my first round through university I was working on an English degree and had started out with the intention of being an editor, and through that I found speech pathology and started to pursue that path but eventually I realized that I hated it. So I took some time off to finally travel and figure out what I wanted to do. When I did decide to come back to school, I didn’t actually get in right away. So instead of moping about it I decided to follow another dream to volunteer with elephants. I ended up in a sanctuary in Cambodia and fell in love, it was kind of the epitome of ecotourism and that’s how I chose Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership as my undergrad, expecting to pursue tourism as a career. I didn’t really come into the conservation side of things until meeting Don and participating in the CPCIL Accessibility Park Leaders program back in November 2019.

Has your experience with CPCIL shaped or altered this path in any way? If so, how?

It definitely has. I wouldn’t say I was very interested in working for parks originally. Where I grew up, there’s not really any provincial parks nearby and the nearest national park was four hours away, and it was considered a tourism destination. So that concept of being connected to nature through parks was not familiar to me. While I was at Mount Royal, I was starting to learn more about the darker history of parks. When I began the leadership programme I was anticipating some resistance around inclusion. But then you start talking to people, you start realizing, these are my people. These are weird, compassionate, funny, easy going people who love what they do. They know the things that are going on, they know what’s wrong and they know what needs to be improved and they care.

What are your main takeaways from your experience as a Knowledge Gatherer?

In terms of projects, it has been interesting to go more in depth on the topics that I’m covering, such as with the jurisdictional scans, and figuring out what’s important to park leaders. Figuring out how to take an idea and make it digestible to a reader, in the most effective way. And as much as I love writing and learning and figuring out how to do this work, the highlight is definitely our weekly meetings and getting to hear from different park leaders with all sorts of backgrounds, and even from the other knowledge gatherers. 


Read some of Karly’s articles here:

Webinar Summary – Outdoor Active Play in Parks

Outdoor Active Play in Parks Webinar

In Outdoor Active Play in Parks, the panelists discuss the advantages that youth benefit from by having outdoor experiences. The importance of connecting youth to nature at a young age is a highlighted theme, as it establishes a lifelong advocacy for nature. The panelists also explore opportunities for collaboration between park agencies, school, and Indigenous nations to support the growth of instilling a connection to the land in youth.


  • Chloe Dragon-Smith, BushKids
  • Dr. Louise DeLanoy, Outdoor Play Canada
  • Deanna Jacobs, Saskatchewan Parks

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatchewan Parks developed new and creative ways to continue connecting people with parks and nature This included offline programming, such as the creation of Park Activity Kits to encourage safe outdoor exploration. In-person or online programming were also utilized, including online-facilitated activities and nature-based collection crafts.
  2. Research shows that when children are outdoors, they learn to balance risk and reward, and identifies the physiological benefits of time outdoors such as increased resilience and self-regulation. 
  3. Outdoor Play Canada acts as a central Canadian voice to outdoor play in Canada. Their position statement frames access to outdoor play as essential for healthy child development, which has had far-reaching advancements, implications, and benefits. 
  4. Bush Kids is a land-based outdoor play school program, which means that all learning is led by the land and they acknowledge that land includes peoples, cultures, languages and knowledges. It embraces ethical space, balancing both Indigenous and western worldviews.
  5. Parks agencies can play a role in the cultural revolution of being more connected to land and to place for the betterment of all systems together. Park agencies, schools, and Indigenous nations can come together when thinking about the responsibility we have to our children and to land.

Webinar Summary – Black Experiences in Parks

Black Experiences in Parks Webinar

Co-hosted with Park People and BlackAFinSTEM

In the ‘Black Experiences in Parks in Canada’ webinar, the panelists explored the underrepresentation of the BIPOC community in Canadian parks and protected areas, including staffing. Frustrated with “business as usual” and the lack of government engagement and action, BIPOC grassroots organizations have taken matters into their own hands. As the Canadian population changes and minority groups become the new majority, parks agencies across the country will need to better accommodate and involve this growing demographic in order to survive. Attendees of the webinar had an opportunity to provide feedback and commit actions in order to make parks more inclusive for BIPOC individuals in their respective jurisdictions. Read their commitments and calls to action here.


  • Jacqueline L. Scott, University of Toronto (OISE)
  • Demiesha Dennis, BrownGirlOutdoorWorld
  • Judith Kasiama, ColourTheTrails
  • Rhiannon Kirton, Western University

5 Key Takeaways

  1. The impacts of colonialism can still be felt today, as many BIPOC individuals feel unwelcome or are seen as out of place in outdoor spaces. Systemic racism continues to be an issue in Canada’s parks, where managers and people in power are too uncomfortable to partake in discussions concerning race.
  2. Opportunities for grants and parks-related education are often “hidden in plain sight” for BIPOC peoples. Access to funding and career opportunities still remains more readily available to a majority white beneficiary audience.
  3. Financial barriers are one of the primary obstacles that impede greater inclusivity of BIPOC individuals in Canadian parks and contributes to their underrepresentation.
  4. Many of those involved in the Canadian outdoor industry come from a predominately white background and operate from a high place of power and privilege, and the lack of diversity in recreational marketing further attests this issue.
  5. Significant actions are required to facilitate greater involvement and representation of the BIPOC community in parks participation and employment. This includes creating trust and rapport with BIPOC communities, collecting race-based data to determine BIPOC needs and cater programs to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for involvement

Webinar Summary – Parks Day: Past, Present, Future

Parks Day CPCIL Webinar

The first Parks day, back in 1990, was based on a paper commissioned by the Canadian Parks council which provided an opportunity for all public parks to participate in the celebration of parks and their role in natural and cultural heritage conservation in Canada, and to increase public awareness and support for parks. From here, Parks day emerged, and has changed throughout the years and looks different for different jurisdictions. This webinar explores these different contexts and perspectives of these jurisdictions.


  • Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta
  • Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Nunavut Parks and Special Places, Qikiqtaaluk Region
  • Tobi Kiesewalter, Ontario Parks, Learning and Discovery Program
  • Michael Nadler, Parks Canada External Relations and Visitor Experience

5 Key Takeaways

  1. For Fish Creek Provincial Park, Parks Day is run by community volunteers so that it can involve a great number of people. Park isn’t merely a space, but rather becomes so because of the relationship people have with that place. 
  2. In Nunavut Parks, Parks Day is utilized as an opportunity to highlight the local cultures’ deep ties to the land and expand the outdoor classroom. For example, they showcase cultural activities like drum dancing, throat singing, tea and bannock, and fried fish.
  3. For Ontario Parks, the concept of Parks Day has melded with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement, however the spirit of Parks day is still present as a way to engage people with Parks who might have been otherwise uninterested
  4. Parks Days were collectively seen as an opportunity to host discussions about Reconciliation, equity, and how to keep these conversations and relationships going year round.
  5. All panelists connected with the element of human connection to the land. The future of Parks Day is seen as an opportunity for people to celebrate this connection and contribute to part of a broader national identity.

11 Anti-Racism Calls to Action Made by Parks Leaders

Black hiker walking across fallen tree in a forest.

Hameet Singh is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

In August 2020, Jacqueline L. Scott with University of Toronto, Demiesha Dennis with Brown Girl Outdoor World, Judith Kasiama with Colour The Trails and Rhiannon Kirton with Western University came together in a First Thursday webinar, hosted by CPCIL and co-hosted with Park People and BlackAFinSTEM. In Black Experiences in Parks in Canada, they explore the underrepresentation of the BIPOC community in Canadian parks and protected areas.

After participating in the webinar, attendees had an opportunity to provide feedback and commit actions in order to make parks more inclusive for BIPOC individuals in their respective jurisdictions. Here are their commitments and calls to action:

  1. Make parks welcoming to people of colour by including BIPOC photos in our organization’s webpages and increase representation on social media.

  2. Amplify and raise BIPOC voices to make parks more inclusive spaces.

  3. Make an active and concentrated effort to reach out to and invite Black, Indigenous and people of colour to engagement events.

  4. Look for and connect with local grassroots organizations and communities that are diversifying the outdoors.

  5. Create an anti-racism plan with diversity and inclusion branch of organization.

  6. Push for an internal committee that examines opportunities to learn and create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

  7. Encourage an inclusive mindset that our parks are welcome to all visitors and drill down on the barriers and systemic issues, which prevent visitors from having an exceptional experience.

  8. Create a space to host a campfire circle of BIPOC storytellers for youth to see and hear.

  9. Hire BIPOC individuals for speaker series and as leaders and equipment providers for the outdoor recreation trips and citizen science projects.

  10. Ensure that engagement initiatives intentionally reach out to BIPOC communities and to invite leaders of these communities to partake in Design Advisory Groups for park processes.

  11. Share this webinar and key points on Parks Canada social media.

If you’re a park leader who brought forth one of these commitments, what progress has been made on these actions? If you’re watching this webinar for the first time, what changes can you help make in your own networks or organizations to support inclusivity? Let us know in the comments below.


2020 Canadian Parks Council Awards

Each year the Canadian Parks Council (CPC) presents Agency and Individual Awards of Excellence to recognize and encourage extraordinary achievement, innovation, organizational leadership and the advancement of park and protected areas programs by Canada’s national, provincial and territorial park agencies. This year, this special awards ceremony will be delivered virtually and co-hosted with CPCIL on its 1st Thursday Webinar Series. Join the leadership of the CPC and CPCIL as we offer a virtual glimpse of the work of parks across Canada while we honour and acknowledge excellence within Canada’s extraordinary parks community.

Watch the recording (English)

Regarder l’enregistrement(Français)


Individual Awards of Excellence

Eddie Ramsay
Assistant Maintenance Foreman, Killbear Provincial Park
Ontario Parks
Derek Petersen
Ecological Integrity Monitoring Ecologist
Parks Canada

Agency Award of Excellence

BC Parks
Accessibility Guarantee
Parks Canada
Restoration of Cap-des-Rosiers Beach in Forillon National Park
Saskatchewan Parks
Program Innovation during COVID-19

Micah Messent Young Professional Award of Excellence

Kristen Bartmann and Logan MacDonald

Nova Scotia Parks

Unearthing Restorative Justice in a Parks Setting

By Capstone Team E – Travis Halliday, Maria O’Hearn, Kelly Stein, Jennifer Szakacs

This project was completed as part of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program, an applied leadership program exploring transformative leadership approaches to complex park issues and concepts.

Restorative justice is a criminal justice approach with the goal of healing both victim and offender.  It aims for participation with all involved while holding offenders responsible for their actions and encouraging introspection of the cause of their behaviour.

This approach is increasingly being applied across Canada leading to better outcomes for both victims and offenders. However, its application in a parks and protected areas context in Canada is unknown.

Our objective as a capstone team in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program was to pull the curtain back to find out if and how the process is used within our parks collective. This would result in a snapshot of the current state of restorative justice that others looking to venture down this road could access.

Photo by Ben den Engelsen / Unsplash

Our preliminary research of journals, news articles and other online resources turned up very little on the use of restorative justice within a parks context. So were we boldly going where no one has gone before? A bit more time plus a thorough jurisdictional review and numerous interviews would tell.

We set out to delve deeper into restorative justice application in a conservation context to get a baseline of usage from jurisdictions across Canada. Our online survey posed questions to the Canadian Parks Council network like:

  • Who is using restorative justice?
  • What cases are referred?
  • What training is used?
  • What challenges are faced?

So, did we boldly go into uncharted territory? Most certainly. We received six responses from across the country, five of which do not use restorative justice and one respondent applies restorative justice in a marine conservation context.  The responses received, along with the fairly low response rate, indicates that restorative justice is not widely used in parks and protected areas.

However, our interviews with subject matter experts show that restorative justice is applied in other contexts, such as offences involving wildlife and natural resource-related enforcement. This presents an opportunity to build a restorative justice program for parks and protected areas by basing it on these related programs.  There is more work that can be done to dig deeper.

Bull elk bugling in a grass field with elk herd.
Photo by Briana Touzour / Unsplash

Recommendations for further work to promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada include:

  1. Follow up with survey respondent from the jurisdiction currently applying restorative justice to build a case study.
  2. Develop case studies in related fields such as wildlife offences which could provide the groundwork for developing restorative justice programs in parks and protected areas.
  3. Promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada through the Canadian Parks Council network.
  4. Start a forum devoted to restorative justice on the CPCIL website to facilitate information exchange among interested practitioners.
  5. Consider revisiting this topic to explore how restorative justice is applied in 5-10 years.

The benefits of restorative justice are far-reaching yet underutilized in parks and protected areas. So we have a mission for a future capstone team: to go boldly into this new world of restorative justice in a parks and protected areas context. We are keen to see what the future holds.

What restorative justice programs or examples have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below.

Conservation Through Reconciliation Resources

Working Towards a Solutions Bundle

The Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership is working with its partners to create The Solutions Bundle, an interactive website designed in Ethical Space to help build knowledge, capacity, and relationships in support of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and Indigenous conservation leadership. The Solutions Bundle will combine the concepts of a western toolkit and an Indigenous medicine bundle and will serve as an example of Two-Eyed Seeing where Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems will be valued equally.  

The CRP is aiming to launch the Solutions Bundle in June 2021. In the meantime, we have created a temporary research engine to house resources and help share information.

Please visit https://conservation-reconciliation.ca/ipcaresources to learn more. To contribute resources or share ideas for improving the search function, please contact crpinfo@uoguelph.ca.