Canada’s Premier Conservation Prize Relaunched in the Spirit of Reconciliation

Prestigious award gets revamp to celebrate 60th anniversary of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

May 15, 2023, traditional unceded Algonquin Territory/Ottawa, Ontario – After a five-year hiatus, Canada’s premier conservation prize—known for honouring leaders in Canada who have made significant and lasting contributions to the protection of nature—is being relaunched today as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

The biennial and newly renamed CPAWS Conservation Award has been revamped for the first time since it was introduced more than 50 years ago. Among these updates are revised criteria reflecting important transformations to the way the conservation and protection of nature is achieved; this includes greater recognition of Indigenous Peoples as nature’s first stewards and as critical leaders in protecting wildlife and natural landscapes and seascapes across the country.

“As biodiversity loss grows as an existential crisis, this revered prize is more important than ever,” said Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS National Executive Director. “We need to call attention to the pressing need to protect the land and waters all living things depend on and to celebrate the conservation efforts that are putting nature first.”

The award’s previous winners include many well-known Canadians, such as Elizabeth May, Jean Chrétien, and Mike Harcourt, as well as dozens of dedicated conservationists, such as Jim Thorsell, John Theberge, and Monte Hummel. All of these award recipients have helped to make nature a priority for Canadians across the country.

“The CPAWS Conservation Award is intended to reflect our mission as Canada’s leading conservation organization to protect public land, freshwater, and ocean while working in a way that respects the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous nations,” adds Schwartz.

Previously known as the J.B. Harkin Medal (named after the father of Canada’s national parks system), the prize’s new moniker is intended to reflect an expansive and inclusive vision of new conservation initiatives across Canada, including those led by Indigenous Peoples.

The official relaunch of the award is being marked by an immediate call for the nomination of deserving conservation leaders in Canada who exemplify the country’s best champions for nature. Following the close of nominations on August 15, nominees will be assessed by a committee before a winner is announced in November 2023. More information about the nomination process, criteria, eligibility, and deadlines can be found on the CPAWS website.

CPAWS is currently celebrating 60 years as Canada’s leading national and regional voice for the protection of public land, freshwater, and ocean. Over the past six decades, CPAWS has played a significant role in establishing protection for more than half a million square kilometres.

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For more information, please contact:

Jenn Brown
Senior Communications Coordinator, Ocean Program, CPAWS
[email protected]


The relaunched CPAWS Conservation Award—formerly known as the J.B. Harkin Medal—will be awarded once every two years to a Canadian residing in Canada who has “made a significant life-long contribution through words and deeds to the conservation of land, freshwater, ocean, and wildlife across Canada or in any of its regions, or has made a significant one-time contribution to conservation in Canada.” The 2023 CPAWS Conservation Award will be presented at CPAWS’ 60th anniversary event in Ottawa, Ontario on November 21, 2023.

Nominations of deserving Canadians should be submitted to CPAWS by July, 31, 2023. Those interested in nominating a candidate should visit All nominations must include a completed nomination form and a letter of reference from a second person supporting the nomination. Questions about the process and the award can be sent to [email protected].

Following the last presentation of the award in 2018, the 2020 start to the COVID-19 pandemic put plans for the prize on hold. This year—2023—marks the renewal of the award’s cycle and the first call for nominations in five years.

In 1972, the award was presented for the first time to Hon. Jean Chrétien, then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, for his work establishing several new national parks throughout Canada. For a list of previous recipients please visit

The award was previously named after J.B. Harkin, Commissioner of the Dominion Parks Branch between 1911-36. Harkin is often remembered as a passionate conservationist and the “Father of Canada’s National Parks”.

Harkin led efforts to create Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, which involved removing local Dené people from the land and denying their Treaty rights. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is seeking a formal apology for the episode from the Government of Canada.

In acknowledgement of the history tied to the original name of its conservation award, CPAWS decided it is time to rename it. The relaunching of the CPAWS Conservation Award reflects CPAWS’ longstanding commitment to reconciliation as the organization works with Indigenous partners to fulfill a shared mission to protect land and water.

CPAWS announced its decision to rename the award in December, ahead of its 60th anniversary celebrations. The revamped award spotlights honourable and dedicated conservation work that respects the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous nations.


The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only charity dedicated to the protection of public land, freshwater and ocean with a strong national and regional presence across the country. Working in a way that respects the sovereignty and leadership of Indigenous nations, we are focused on conserving nature to respond to the dual crises of accelerated biodiversity loss and climate change. Our vision is that at least half of land, freshwater and ocean in Canada is permanently protected to sustain nature and people for current and future generations. For more information about CPAWS and the work we do to safeguard Canada’s natural heritage, visit Join our community on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedInDonate today. Take action.