Soft power refers to a nation’s appeal and attraction to the rest of the world due to its culture, broadly defined. In my view, Parks Canada is an essential component of Canadian soft power.
I was recently at the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve, on the west coast of Vancouver Island between the fishing villages of Ucluelet to the south and Tofino to the north. Many tourists go to Pacific Rim for surfing or sunning. I went primarily because I had been there forty years ago in the “hippies camping on the beach” era and I wanted to see how things have changed. People don’t camp on the beach any more, overnight accommodations are much more expensive, and Tofino has a California-north vibe.
I was also interested in what the National Park Preserve has to offer, and it met and exceeded my expectations. In a narrow strip along the coast, the park combines rain forest, beach, and an intertidal zone, with a great variety of plants and wildlife. I was amazed at the Schooner Cove and Rain Forest trails – lattices of boardwalks and stairs that carry you through the rainforest without disrupting the fragile floor.
The Kwisitis visitor centre has an excellent display about the topography, wildlife, and Nuuchahnulth indigenous people, who continue to live there. I took two guided walks. Ian (“tracking the wild”) showed us paw-prints and scat evidence of the bears, wolves, and other wildlife inhabiting the park. Diana (“coastal creatures”) showed us some creatures (slugs, shellfish) and evidence of others (“bear highways”) and spoke about the Nuuchahnulth’s philosophy of life and connection to the land. My photo for this post is Diana interpreting the totem pole they donated to the park. Both Ian and Diana are excellent interpreters: enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and capable of improvising about the particular day’s environment and evidence.
Here is a link to the page outlining Parks Canada’s interpretive programs at Pacific Rim.
Parks Canada is a national treasure, telling Canadian stories to Canadians and visitors alike. And excellent interpreters like Ian and Diana play a key role in personalizing those stories.
At a time when the US is trying to push Canada into spending more on hard power (which of course means buying American armaments), it’s important not to overlook our soft power. Last year, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, entry was free to all national parks. Pacific Rim and all our other should always be free, with support coming from the government budget. It would be an invaluable investment in our soft power.
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