CPAWS Was Crucial for Establishing Grasslands National Park

by David Henry

The process to establish Grasslands National Park in southwestern Saskatchewan was a long one. Dr. George Ledingham in 1956 wrote an article expressing the value that a national park would have in protecting the native prairie, but a final agreement to establish Grasslands National Park was not signed until September 23, 1988 – 32 years later.

The Saskatchewan Chapter of NPPAC/CPAWS was established in February 1977, and the chapter became active in the GNP campaign right away. So many good people contributed to this effort. I think the chapter provided effective public support at crucial points during the three decades of this campaign. Let me give a few examples.

During the summer of 1980, Hon. John Roberts, Federal Minister of the Environment, publicly observed that negotiations on GNP had been lengthy, and he promised a decision by the end of June 1980. The Saskatchewan chapter launched a nation-wide petition for establishing the park. By mid-June more than 10,000 people had signed, and these petitions were mailed to Prime Minister Trudeau and John Roberts. Reg Gross, Saskatchewan Minister of Tourism and Renewable Resources, and John Roberts discussed the park proposal at length but no agreement was forthcoming.

Negotiations dragged on for another eight months, and Reg Gross seemed to be the problem, demanding that the federal government pay 100% of the costs of acquiring all leases and private lands to establish the park. During spring, 1981, the chapter conducted a questionnaire about support for the park in Morse, one of the towns in Reg Gross’s riding. We seemed to strike a nerve. Mr. Gross communicated to us that “there was no need for such an action.” However, negotiations began to move again, and on June 19, 1981, we witnessed the signing of an agreement between Canada and Saskatchewan to establish the park.

But our problems were not over, not by a long shot. This agreement called for a seven-year period to explore for oil and gas reserves. When Grant Devine’s government took office in May 1982, new problems arose. They adopted the legal position that it would be illegal for the Province to transfer rivers or streams that flowed through the park to ownership by Canada. This problem dragged on until September 1987, when CPAWS organized a coalition of five national conservation groups who put forward a unified position that the Province should retain ownership of major watercourses within the park and that regulations for managing these water bodies would be part of the agreement to establish the park.