Wendy Elliott column: Go fly a kite

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on August 10, 2014

Three young girls enjoyed flying kites at Grand Pré Aug. 8 as part of a kite-flying afternoon held at the national historic site. – Wendy Elliott, www.kingscountynews.ca

Wendy Elliott

It did my heart good to head out to Grand Pré for a kite flying afternoon on Aug. 8. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a field full of children and parents out having fun there.

Years ago, my daughter belonged to Les Enfants de Grand Pré, a group that learned to dance and sing old Acadian songs in the memorial church. Visitors loved to see the kids prancing in patterns as they’d been taught by superintendant Barbara LeBlanc. I remember one elderly man from the United States who had studied Longfellow’s Evangeline in a school reader and had always wanted to come to Grand Pré.

The old park’s operation has changed a bit in recent years. There is no superintendant anymore. When I asked about the new management style, my questions were sent to Ottawa for answers. So I thought I’d share some of the responses.

Apparently, the manager for national historic sites for the Northern New Brunswick Field Unit is now responsible for the Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Brigitte Cooney has an office at Grand-Pré.

The Société Promotion Grand-Pré has been operating the historic site for the last 15 years. It currently has a service contract with Parks Canada for the delivery of special programming, such as the Acadian Days and the operation of the gift shop, but that is all.

Responsibility for Grand Pré was moved outside of Nova Scotia, I was told, in order to improve communications and relations with the Acadian community. When I asked if visitor numbers are dropping since the park is no longer getting much advertising in this province, the answer was, “Parks Canada works with its partners from the tourism industry to promote its national historic sites and national parks. Regional and national initiatives are ongoing. Previous promotional efforts, including the Acadian passport program and advertisement in the province's Doers and Dreamers publication, have been maintained.”

When I asked about overall cutbacks to Parks Canada, the response was ‘Harper-esque.’

“Since 2006, the government of Canada has added an area nearly twice the size of Vancouver Island to the network of federal protected areas. Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012 provided funding of $143.7 million over 10 years and $7.6 million annually thereafter, to support the creation and operation of the Canada’s first urban national park in the Rouge Valley. As part of the federal government's continuing investment in international leadership in conservation and protected areas, the base budget for Parks Canada increased by $113 million, a 23 per cent gain over 2005-2006. In addition to this, the government has invested an additional $391 million in parks infrastructure through Canada's Economic Action Plan 2014.

“Parks Canada will also be implementing the largest and most aggressive ecological restoration program in the history of the agency, with investments upwards of $15 million a year over the next five years, to attain tangible conservation gains in Canada’s national parks. These investments have allowed Parks Canada to conserve more of Canada's iconic natural spaces, undertake the largest restoration program in the history of Parks Canada and reverse the trend of decreasing visitation by connecting more Canadians to nature and history.”

That, of course, is all well and good. In addition, the folks in Ottawa reminded me that Parks Canada works with the Landscape of Grand Pré Society to ensure the promotion and presentation of the world heritage site. Certainly, Claude De Grace, himself a retired park superintendent, has a passion for the place. He serves as co-chair of the stewardship board, which will have its annual meeting in September.

According to the Toronto Star, Parks Canada, which operates more than 200 national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas, has been hit hard since 2012 with budget cuts. The agency lost some 587 staff in 2012-2013, for example, or about 13 per cent of its workforce. Yet at the same time, 20.6 million people visited its sites in 2012-2013, a three per cent increase and the first rise in visitor numbers in four years.

I’m not sure what John Frederic Herbin, who first set out to preserve the site at Grand Pré, would say were he here today, but I know the many who care about it as a place of pilgrimage will continue to follow the well-being of this special place.