Wellness, Culture and Sport

Feature article No. 8 / Heritage Week 2010 (10/02/08)

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Feb. 8, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is the final in a series of eight feature articles prepared for Heritage Week, Feb. 8 - 15. Entitled Spotlight on our Heritage, this series is a reflection on the people, places and collections of New Brunswick's past. This article was prepared by Parks Canada. For more information about Heritage Week, visit the Heritage Week 2010 website.

Communication technology shrinks distances between national parks

Across the vastness of the Canadian parks system, new technologies have furthered scientific collaboration and opened up new possibilities for visitors.

A researcher in Kouchibouguac National Park, for example, can share the results of his or her ecological monitoring program with a colleague in Pacific Rim National Park in British Columbia in the blink of a eye. Prospective visitors can now start their park experience from the moment they search the site on the Internet.

As Parks Canada celebrates its 125 anniversary this year, it is also marking the giant steps taken since its early years to reduce the distance among all of its national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas.

Who would have thought, 50 years ago, when Marshall McLuhan coined his expression, "the global village," that his vision would have been so close to reality today? His theory referred to the idea that ".... electric (or electronic) communications shrinks distances, while increasing opportunities for talk and cross cultural sharing."

While building one of the greatest national park and national historic site networks in the world, Parks Canada has embraced new technologies that make communicating among parks and sites faster, easier and more efficient. Parks have progressed from communicating by telephone and letter, as was the case when McLuhan first spoke of his theories in the early 1960s, to teleconferencing, videoconferencing, e-mails and instant messaging.

The arrival of information technologies, particularly the Internet, has opened endless possibilities among parks and sites. Scientific and educational techniques can be shared more easily within the system, and research data and results can be communicated almost instantly.

Twenty years ago, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which allows the analysis and management of large amounts of scientific data in a landscape context, was just becoming operational within the Parks Canada system thanks to the increasing capacities of personal computers. The systems in place today make it much easier for staff to generate, store, manage and analyze huge amounts of data. Parks Canada's extensive communication networks also make it possible for scientists to work within a virtual collegial environment by sharing information and ideas.

Things have also changed in the way visitors experience the parks and sites. In the past, visitors wanted to visit sites, be told a story, have a picnic, hike, and camp with their children and spouse. Now, although visitors want some of these same things, they actually start their visit experience from the moment they check their destination on the Internet. They start anticipating and asking for information; or chat with others that have visited before. Reservations may be done from home, and many sites even offer a virtual tour. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are a few examples of the way visitors exchange information on possible destinations. Parks Canada, working within the framework of federal government rules, is striving to keep up with the quickly evolving communication technology trends.

There are even technology changes affecting the actual visit to certain sites. Some sites offer public access to Internet, interactive digital programs and GPS handheld devices that walk visitors through an exhibit or a trail.

The global village concept is a real part of everyday operations in the Parks Canada Agency. It has brought sites and parks across the country, often in remote areas, closer together and allowed visitors to virtually visit some sites. Today, images, thoughts and experiences are only a click away, and Parks Canada is working to embrace these new technologies while respecting its mandate:

"On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations."

More information on Parks Canada is available online.


MEDIA CONTACTS: Elizabeth Joubert, communications, Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport, 506-457-6445; Géraldine Arsenault, Parks Canada, Kouchibouguac National Park, 506-876-1249, geraldine.arsenault@pc.gc.ca.