The Rotting Heart of Gatineau Park
On Monday, May 15, scholar Michael Lait will defend his PhD thesis titled “The Rotting Heart of Gatineau Park” at Carleton University, 617, Southam Hall, 2:00 p.m.
The document paints a vivid portrait of the park from its creation in 1938, to its piecemeal expansion over the decades, to the serious issues that continue to hold back its development and undermine its integrity.
The backbone of Mr. Lait’s thesis is that Gatineau Park is a failed national park, both as a result of choices Mackenzie King made in the 1930s, and continued efforts by park residents to protect their “Kingsmere-Meech Lake Privatopia.” He concludes with a four-point plan highlighting the need for legislated boundaries, a consolidated land mass, as well as provincial and aboriginal co-operation.
At 350 pages, with over a thousand footnotes, the thesis completely redefines the scholarship on the issue. Historically, it delves into the park’s foundation, highlighting the leading role of Percy Sparks and the Federal Woodlands Preservation League. A role the NCC has never been able to admit… Like a historical novel, it showcases the interaction between Sparks and Mackenzie King, how Sparks laid the groundwork and how he had to twist King’s arm to get action…
Of note, it underlines how former NCC chair Douglas Fullerton wasn’t afraid to rock the boat and challenge the park’s status quo by opening beaches at Meech Lake in 1970—42 years after the park was created. And how the minister then responsible for Gatineau Park, Jean Marchand, wasn’t afraid of telling park residents that NCC policy was to eventually eliminate all private lands in the park.
I can hardly imagine today’s minister responsible, Mélanie Joly, doing the same… I’ll bet she doesn’t even know the NCC is reversing its long-standing policy on the acquisition of all private park lands in the Plan for Canada’s Capital: 2017-2017, set to be approved on May 9. As for the NCC’s hapless CEO, Mark Kristmanson, let’s just say he’s shown his true colours by approving NCC press releases that are completely divorced from reality... on orders from the Meech Lake Association, as Mr. Lait demonstrates in the first pages of his thesis.
Among other things, Mr. Lait’s thesis raises serious questions about the NCC’s management of the park’s boundaries, land mass, and ecological mandate. Questions such as: does the 1960 boundary remain its only legal technical description; why does the NCC continue to deny the validity of the largest land acquisition in the park’s history (12,500 acres in the Lake La Pêche sector); why does it vastly inflate the acquisition cost of all remaining private park lands by allowing construction on vacant lands, which it has been directed to acquire?
Mr. Lait’s research flags several instances of large subdivisions inside the park that the NCC had to expropriate as a result of its failed land management program. To name a few: Sully-Woods, Bourque Brothers, Dunne-Woodhouse, McInnis, etc. Expropriations that ended up costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and inflated property values.
His research also points to the troubling issue of the park’s hazy boundaries, which were set by order in council. He demonstrates that the Meech Creek Valley, which the NCC claims is in Gatineau Park, actually lies outside its legal boundary, because the NCC never got a new order in council to change them. A requirement highlighted in every NCC document on the subject.
“The Rotting Heart of Gatineau Park” opens a window on the continuing train wreck that is NCC management of the park, its boundaries, land mass, history, vocation, status, etc. It exposes the quasi-colonial collusion and administrative incompetence that maintain the privileges of park residents, who, day in and day out, continue to pressure the NCC to close boat launches and public facilities, such as Blanchet Beach and the Booth Picnic.
In my view, this is a document for the ages that will either lay the foundation for future Gatineau Park management, or stand as an indictment of the NCC’s continued betrayal of a public trust.
For more details regarding the defence of Mr. Lait’s thesis, “The Rotting Heart of Gatineau Park: How the Kingsmere-Meech Lake Privatopia Prevented a National Park Near the Nation’s Capital, ” please click on the link provided below.