Launch of PanCanadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network

In October, 2019, a diverse group of parks and protected areas researchers, practitioners, students, community partners, and knowledge holders held a full-day workshop to ask “how can we work together to improve parks and protected areas research, knowledge mobilization, & the development of advice for evidence-based decision-making.” 

Despite the disruptions of recent months, CPCIL has made progress behind the scenes with support from Parks Canada, the Canadian Parks Council, and our collaborating universities of Mount Royal University, York Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, and Royal Roads University. We are pleased to announce the launch of the Pan-Canadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network as part of the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership (CPCIL). 

This will be a new network for scientists, researchers, Indigenous knowledge holders, and students to connect and collaborate with parks and protected areas leaders, specialists, practitioners, and managers. Over the next three years, we will work with the parks and protected areas community to:

  1. Connect a network of researchers and practitioners, focusing on landscape-level networks and links to other existing networks.
  2. Share existing knowledge by curating and presenting transdisciplinary research in inclusive ways, highlighting practitioners and areas of expertise, and identifying mutually beneficial research ideas.
  3. Support academics, practitioners, journalists, elected officials, and decision makers in understanding and applying evidence in parks and protected areas.
  4. Build an intergenerational, interdisciplinary, inter-industry, and intercultural conversation about the value of parks and protected areas research.

The platform includes space to search profiles and connect with others, a tool to crowdsource research ideas, and space to share resources and highlight research and scholarship publications and events. We are also teaming up with Parks Canada to launch a Parks and Protected Areas Horizon Scan through the research network.

We invite you and your associates to join us on virtually on November 10th at 1pm Eastern Time to hear about the network, explore the platform, and engage in dialogue with others interested in parks and protected areas research and knowledge. A recording will be made available in the future.

Register for the November 10, 1pm Eastern, Launch and Dialogues

English Language Registration

French Language Simulcast Inscrivez-vous

Visit the Research Network:


CPCIL Webinar: Starting a Conversation on Conservation Mental Health

March 5, 2020

1pm Eastern/10am Pacific

Register for Webinar

An emerging theme of recent CPCIL Park Leaders Development Programs is the need to support the mental health and wellbeing of people who work for park agencies, often on the front lines of climate change, natural disasters, and biodiversity loss and nearly always passionate professionals who feel deep personal commitment to the work of adaptation, recovery, protection and restoration. This webinar will showcase capstone team projects from the spring 2019 Park Leaders Development cohort on the topic of conservation mental health.

This webinar also features the author of the upcoming book

Taking a Break from Saving the World
A Conservation Activist’s Journey from Burnout to Balance
by Stephen Legault
(release date May 5, 2020)


Stephen Legault

Author, Photographer, Consultant

Members of the Spring 2019 Park Leaders Development Program

Parks Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Parks, BC Parks, Sépaq, and Nunavut Parks.

Playgrounds in Park Settings – Taking a Step Back on the Path Forward

This blog post was submitted as part of the 2019 Park Leaders Development Program.

When you think of playgrounds, what comes to mind?  

Photo Credit: Saskatchewan Parks

For many years, playgrounds in Saskatchewan Parks have meant the traditional steel structures with slides, climbers, monkey bars and swings.  And for many years we didn’t think much of it.  But what if we could use play spaces to further connect our youngest park visitors to the beautiful environments our parks exist within?  Over the past number of years, the idea of natural playgrounds has surfaced.  Natural playgrounds are just that – a play space designed to emphasize the natural environment, consisting of natural features such as boulders, logs, tree stumps, and other natural elements.  

Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Risso/Google– Westmoreland Park, Oregon

When the idea of natural playgrounds first arose at Saskatchewan Parks several years ago, it was met with concerns regarding how stringent playground safety standards could be achieved and the potential extra maintenance requirements to keep natural elements safe.  We continued on with replacing old, deteriorated play structures with new standard play structures which met all safety standards, were turn key products for supply and installation, and were cost effective and efficient to deliver.  

Recently though, continued thoughts from various park staff regarding the merits of natural play, coupled with advancements and research in this field, have prompted further consideration. We recognize the path forward may mean taking a step back.  We have an opportunity to utilize natural play spaces in our parks to emphasize connections to the natural environment for our next generation of park visitors.  There are some great ideas regarding how interpretive and education components could be incorporated into natural play spaces.

At the Spring 2019 CPCIL Park Leaders course I had the opportunity to share the challenges and considerations we are facing in our playground program with park leaders from across Canada.  It was inspiring because I could see the audience was intrigued by what I had to share.  It is clear other jurisdictions are faced with these same questions.

I was challenged to take the idea to a new audience to garner additional feedback – that audience being my nine-year old daughter!  I started by sharing my presentation, the concept of natural playgrounds versus traditional playgrounds.  I then asked questions about her ideal play space in a park.  While my daughter found the concept and photos of natural playgrounds “cool” she still gravitated towards traditional play elements like swings and monkey bars.  It’s not that she isn’t interested in the concept, but it’s just that – a concept.  It’s tough for anyone to imagine something aside from what they have always known.  And she has always known traditional playgrounds. 

However, an interesting thing happened on a recent camping trip with my family.  Late August weather in Saskatchewan was not conducive to a beach day and so my kids instead requested to go on a walk to the playground.  On our walk we took the scenic route, a wandering park trail, that leads to the beach, and eventually up another trail to the playground.  This is a ten-minute walk.  However, we arrived at the playground two hours later!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Szakacs

The kids were preoccupied with exploring along the trail, followed by the realization the beach was actually a fantastic spot we had all to ourselves on this cooler, close to fall day.  Even though the temperature was cool, the perfectly calm water and sun with no wind made for great weather to sit and enjoy skipping rocks.  Soon after the shovel and pail that were meant for the man-made sandbox at the playground were being used to build masterpieces on the beach.  And not long after that we sent for bathing suits for the kids so they could get out of their wet clothes and enjoy the water.  We did make a short stop at the playground afterwards, before heading back for a very late lunch, but it was the experience on the beach that stood out. We visit the beach at the park all the time, however I looked at this experience differently, as did my daughter with her knew found knowledge of nature based play experiences.  She realized that while the playground may have been our plan, our experience was elevated by our time connecting directly with nature.        

For me, this drives the point home that while traditional playgrounds may be an amenity our visitors have come to expect, it is the natural elements of our beautiful spaces which draws them to the park in the first place.  We have an opportunity to do more now that we know more.  Remaining open to thinking outside the box could allow us to incorporate the natural features of our parks into play-based educational and interpretive experiences for our youngest park visitors to enjoy.

Solo Tasks of the Spring 2019 Park Leaders Development Program

Each participant of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program is required to develop and deliver a solo presentation as part of the program residency. These presentations are designed to develop leadership communication skills, spark conversations, and may even be developed as capstone projects.

For the Spring 2019 program, presentations were required to explore a collaboration or leadership-related challenge or opportunity in their organization from their point of view. The presentation identified the situation, barriers and opportunities, and the participant’s role in addressing it.

The topics listed below were presented as part of the Spring 2019 residency and are exploratory in nature – they do not necessary represent an initiative of any specific park agency

 Collaboration for Experiences:

  • Adapting to multiple changing relationships on a changing landscape
  • Drawing on community relationships to support incident management
  • Working with non-profit partners and schools to create a centre of excellence in environmental education
  • Natural playgrounds and capital planning to build connection to nature

Uncommon Partners:

  • Working with tourism operators to improve conservation efforts
  • Collaborating with off highway vehicle communities
  • Collaboration approaches to address visitor behaviour and overcrowding
  • Marketing strategies to engage “reluctant” park visitors

Community Partners

  • Working with community groups to manage issues at heritage buildings
  • Creating capacity for working with Friends groups and community organizations
  • Successes and unintended consequences of working with community partners
  • Maintaining community relationships and personal well-being in the face of organizational change
  • Collaborating with local accommodation operators to increase compliance with permit rules

Indigenous and Cultural Collaboration:

  • Past and current work co-creating legislation with Indigenous communities
  • “What is a park?” through the eyes of different cultures, places, and people
  • The front-line, relationship building role of conservation enforcement in Reconciliation and collaboration
  • Creating a national community of practice focused on climate change threats to archaeological heritage

Internal Collaboration:

  • Building relationships that last
  • Articulating the role of heritage places within the overall environment we live in and the mandate of parks
  • The role of internal services: How to get the word out so all staff can better access organizational supports

For more information on any of these solo projects, contact: MANAGER@CPCIL.CA

Solo Tasks of the 2018 Park Leaders Development Program

Each participant of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program is required to develop and deliver a solo presentation as part of the program residency. These presentations are designed to develop leadership communication skills, spark conversations, and may even be developed as capstone projects.

For the Fall 2018 program, presentations were required to explore an economic or leadership-related challenge or opportunity in their organization from their point of view. The presentation identified the situation, barriers and opportunities, and the participant’s role in addressing it.

The topics listed below were presented as part of the Fall 2018 residency and are exploratory in nature – they do not necessary represent an initiative of any specific park agency

 Working with Indigenous Peoples:

  • Buying Local: Parks Canada Agency community procurement opportunities and benefits
  • Sustaining the next steps of the Indigenous Circle of Experts
  • Finding ways to align consultation and engagement activities with PCA financial procedures
  • How to bridge First Nations and Parks in knowledge and programming

Sustainability of specific sites:

  • Parkanomics in Pukaskwa National Park: selling ourselves without selling out
  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park sustaining visitor experience with multiple levels of service
  • Selfie-Logs and overcrowding: Joffre Lake visitor use management
  • Archipelago of dreams: Atlantic Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) protected areas.
  • Half the park is after dark: Re visioning Mont-Mégantic

Operational Sustainability:

  • Creating revenue by creating a Parks Canada Agency consultancy
  • A modest proposal for managing drone-use in parks.
  • Evaluating the park officer model, a pilot project
  • Seeking sustainability for the mountain rescue program in Kluane National Park

Valuing Parks:

  • Valuing Natural Capital in Parks Canada
  • Manitoba Park Infrastructure Challenges
  • Valuing parks as a source of revenue.
  • Financing Territorial Protected Areas in the NWT
  • Saskatchewan Building Opportunities Program
  • Sustaining and growing parks through partnerships

For more information on any of these solo projects, contact: MANAGER@CPCIL.CA

Service-learning during the Spring 2019 Park Leaders Development Program

The wind is whipping the branches of the white pine, there’s a loon calling from somewhere in the half-darkness, and a constant threat of a downpour in Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve.  Our group has just heard from staff of Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about the challenges faced in managing this Conservation Reserve.  We break into small groups to consider what we’ve heard – who’s involved, what’s happening, why, and what matters most.  We’re starting to form some recommendations based on our collective cross-Canada experience in parks and protected areas management.  All before 7:00 a.m.

This is service-learning.  We are 21 participants in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program. We come from 10 agencies and represent nearly all the regions of Canada.  The goal is for our group to make a meaningful contribution towards solving a real problem while having a learning experience.  Field trips are usually fun, but this is better.  This means something.  The Conservation Reserve managers are genuinely interested in our ideas on what ways there are to approach their challenges, or what next steps they can consider trying.  We are equally grateful for the opportunity to apply the techniques we’ve been learning in the classroom to something that hasn’t already been figured out, that doesn’t have an answer yet.

It’s fitting to arrive in Canada’s first Dark Sky Preserve before dawn.  The early morning start and accompanying sunrise ceremony led by an elder from Shawanaga First Nation help us focus.  We haven’t had to make any decisions yet today.  There haven’t been any conference calls, or emails marked as urgent to drain our brain power.  We need only to listen.

Everything we’ve heard from our hosts this morning and that we’ve learned from each other so far this week points to relationships as being the key.  We come back together and share our take on the situation. Every group recommends spending time investing in relationships and suggests opportunities for collaboration with community partners.  Nobody says it will be a fast process, or without conflict.  No doubt the Conservation Reserve managers already know this to be the right thing to do.  Sometimes, just the reminder that across the country we face similar challenges and work towards similar goals is enough to keep us moving forward.

It’s been refreshing to spend some time on a problem that isn’t ours.  That separation made constraints disappear and ideas flow. Equally refreshing was spending some time in a beautiful place. Thank you to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and to Ontario Parks for inviting us. 

Check out the Innovator’s Compass, the tool we used during this service-learning experience to analyze the situation and make recommendations, at

Leadership and Parkanomics: The Fall 2018 Park Leaders Development Program

After several weeks of pre-residency work–preparing solo presentations on economic challenges facing park agencies and posting reflections on a leadership article and a CPC financial sustainability video–21 Park Leaders from across Canada gathered in Canmore Alberta for the first residency of the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership.

Participants included managers, superintendents, planners, and programmers from regions across Canada. The majority came from Parks Canada–though several of these federal Park Leaders were meeting for the first time–as well as BC Parks, Alberta Parks, Saskatchewan Parks, Manitoba Parks, Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq), Northwest Territories Environment & Natural Resources, and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Hosted in the Alpine Club of Canada Clubhouse for the week, the group gave presentations, collaborated on capstone team projects, and built networks that will last beyond the program. Workshops throughout the residency included:

  • Dr. Joe Pavelka from Mount Royal University on valuing parks and the business of park visitation.
  • Dr. Connie Van der Byl from the Institute for Environmental Sustainability at Mount Royal University on strategic sustainability and the tensions of park revenue and conservation.
  • Dr. Andrew Bear Robe from Bear Robe Consulting and the Piikani Nation on economic development as an act of reconciliation.
  • Sylvie Plante, PhD (candidate) from Royal Roads University on Social Capital and Collaborative Innovation, and
  • Dr. Don Carruthers Den Hoed from Mount Royal University and the CPCIL project on leadership in parks and protected areas.
  • William Snow from the Stoney Nakoda First Nations on Indigenous ways of knowing and cultural monitoring.

While evenings were free for networking, there were two memorable events, including a fireside chat with CPC Park Leadership alumni Peter Swain, Nadine Spence, and Kathie Adare and an informal conversation with Acting Parks Canada General Director, Michael Nadler.

In addition, the group participated in two field experiences, the first focused on innovative approaches to economic sustainability, and the second built around the idea of contributing to the park community, as the CPCIL Park Leaders is tended to local challenges and provided feedback for park managers and programmers. The former included a trip to the Calgary Zoo to explore their visionary approach to becoming Canada’s leading wildlife conservation agency and a stop at Glenbow Ranch to explore private land conservation and other effective conservation mechanisms with Guy Greenaway from the Miistakis Institute. The latter included a site tour of the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, a visit to the Peter Lougheed Discovery Centre in Kananaskis Country, and a stop at the Morley Artisans Flea Market. In all cases, the hosts appreciated the conversations and ideas generated by the Park Leadership Development Development Program participants.

Having returned home from the Rocky Mountains and to the reality of daily work, all the participants are focused on their solo tasks–working with the program facilitator to create outreach projects to bring leadership learning back to their home agencies–and their capstone team projects. These projects reflect collaborative approaches to looking at parks in new ways and aim to do things such as

  • compile success stories of social capital and community relationships
  • build an initial database of Indigenous partnerships with park agencies
  • create a tool for valuing park agencies as partners–and for finding the right partners, and
  • reviewing a Visitor Use Management Framework BC Parks is developing and piloting its application to other jurisdictions.

Capstone projects are expected to be complete by mid April and will be posted on the park leaders development program page.