Veinotte new boss of new Ontario urban park
The boss of Canada’s first national park is heading to Ontario as the first superintendent of the new Rouge National Urban Park in Scarborough.
Presently the superintendent for Banff National Park, Pam Veinotte recently accepted the appointment to the new national urban park and will begin work part-time July 16.
She’ll be leaving mountain life in the Bow Valley for life in Canada’s biggest city, and while there are some challenges ahead in creating this new park, Veinotte says she’s looking forward to her new job.
“I am really looking forward to the opportunities, and having the ability to create something new for Parks Canada in my career is definitely something I am looking forward to,” she said.
“At the same time, I am really sad to be leaving here because I have thoroughly enjoyed my 13 years and this is a place we have called home for a long time,” she added.
“The combination of great friends we’ve made and the colleagues we’ve worked with so closely will make it hard to leave. We will miss the people and we will miss the landscape.”
As the current leader of Parks Canada’s flagship and most heavily visited national park, federal government officials say Veinotte’s appointment is a concrete step to carry the positive momentum built over the last decades through this transition of developing Canada’s first national urban park.
“As we break new ground, we must ensure we have strength in our leadership,” said Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent at an announcement Monday (June 25).
“It is fitting, and quite purposeful, to have this ‘Canadian first’ be led by the current superintendent of Parks Canada’s first national park.”
The Harper government is gutting national parks across the country. Close to $29 million in budget cuts has led to hundreds of lost jobs and critics say the cuts will undermine a decade of progress on protecting ecological integrity.
But as part of the 2012 federal budget, they announced spending $140 million over the next decade for the creation of the new national urban park in Scarborough, Ontario, already dubbed by Parks Canada as a “people’s park.”
Parks Canada is presently working with several landholders, including public landowners, and the Rouge Park Alliance, towards a land transfer agreement for next fall.
As it exists today, Rouge Park is one of North America’s largest urban parks, currently spanning 47-square kilometres in the eastern sector of the Greater Toronto Area.
Located within the heart of Canada’s largest and most diverse metropolitan area, it is an assembly of natural, cultural, agricultural and recreational lands within a boundary that overlaps private properties, and municipal and provincial infrastructure corridors, within the City of Toronto and the towns of Markham and Pickering.
The park has a rich diversity of natural and cultural heritage resources, including a rare Carolinian forest; numerous species at risk; a national historic site; geological outcrops from the interglacial age; and, in-situ evidence of human history dating back over 10,000 years, including some of Canada’s oldest known aboriginal historic sites and villages.
The new urban national park would extend from Lake Ontario in the south to the Oak Ridges Moraine in the north, including lands within the existing Rouge Park and additional federal lands west of the York-Durham town-line.
As of Monday (June 25), an on-line public consultation process is now open to get input from the public on the overall concept for Rouge National Urban Park concept.
The management approach has different objectives: there will be some areas managed for “protection and presentation” of the area’s natural and cultural heritage.
There will also be areas managed for sustainable farming, while other regions in the park will encompass transportation corridors, as well as commercial and residential properties.
Some activities, such as hunting, poaching or trafficking in cultural resources, mining and logging will be banned, though the plan allows selective logging in support of farming, or clearance for hydro corridors, may be allowed.
Veinotte said she’s up for the challenge of managing such a diverse area, particularly given the park is in easy access for 20 per cent of Canada’s entire population.
“I think it’s a very diverse and beautiful landscape, and I think the idea of being able to incorporate sustainable farming through the presentation of working farms is an interesting thing,” she said.
Veinotte’s career with Parks Canada began as a summer interpreter in 1977 at Port Royal National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, but her first full time job was as a guide and interpretive supervisor at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
She eventually made her way to the mountain national parks in 1998, where she worked as heritage tourism manager, client services manager and then later communications manager for Banff.
Her first superintendent’s position took her back out east as the field superintendent for southern New Brunswick in 2006, but by 2008 she was back here in the mountains as superintendent for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay. She became Banff’s superintendent a year ago when Kevin Van Tighem retired.
Her return to the Bow Valley coincided with a fundamental shift in Parks Canada’s management of national parks, including the controversial mandate to increase visitation by two per cent a year in Banff, a big push for special events to boost tourism and opening up national parks to new commercial recreational activities like via ferrata.
While critics, including some within her own organization, saw this philosophical shift as a dangerous move that would reverse some of the work done on ecological restoration, and protection of important sensitive species like grizzly bears, Veinotte maintains it is a great way to connect people to the country’s national parks.
“This idea of getting people to connect in different ways, through things like Performance in the Park, while helping people realize you can be respectful of the environment and its issues is something I am very proud of,” she said.
Veinotte said she is proud of her involvement in plans for caribou and bison reintroduction, and her work with both Banff’s tourism and environmental communities.
Perhaps one of the biggest – and most controversial – decisions she made while in Banff was the temporary, seasonal restriction of vehicles on the Bow Valley Parkway, beginning in the spring of next year, to protect wildlife.
“We’re trying to have an integrated action plan for the Bow Valley Parkway,” she said of the decision, one of the few Parks Canada decisions praised by environmental groups in recent years.
“When we look at the years that have gone by and the future ahead, I think it’s allowed us to take objectives of the management plan and apply it to an important area and make a difference for the future.”
Life in a big city will be a big change for Veinotte and her husband, John Allard, but she’s excited about the opportunity for more arts and culture and lively neighbourhoods.
“The traffic is worrying me a little bit, but other than that, I am looking forward to the joys of urban life,” she said. “I will miss Banff and the people very much, though.”
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