THE NATIONAL TRUST IN CANADA
Although there are currently two Canadian members of INTO – The Land Conservancy of British Columbia and the Heritage Canada Foundation – neither of them, nor any other organization in Canada currently meets, or is likely to meet, all of the National Trust principles. Canada is notable among Commonwealth nations, and among most developed nations, in not having a well-established National Trust as a key player and a focal point for people to be able to engage directly in the protection and care of their national heritage.
There has been recognition of this gap for some time. In 2000, when the Government of Canada launched its Historic Places Initiative, consideration of a National Trust was included. “Such a trust”, it was said, “could help strengthen a culture of conservation protection and promotion in Canada,” and went on to conclude that it should be further explored. In the 2007 Federal Budget, funds were allocated for this purpose. A number of heritage organizations and advocates were consulted (predominantly those focused on built heritage), but unfortunately the initiative was abandoned without conclusion, due to intervening elections and changing government priorities.
As time passes, however, our irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage continues to be lost. We cannot wait any longer – the time has come to establish a National Trust for Canada.
THE CONSERVATION CONTEXT
While there is no fully-developed National Trust in Canada at this time, there are currently many organizations and land trusts in most parts of the country that participate in the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage. However, with the exception of a couple of environmental land trusts and a few more advocacy and policy-based organizations, this conservation field is predominantly characterized by small organizations with relatively specific mandates, focused at the local level. They do good and important work, and many are effective at what they do – but they are invariably in a constant struggle to survive, and what they are currently able to achieve is not adequate to meet public expectations or desires.
The National Trust is not intended to supplant or compete with these organizations. Rather, it would embrace, enhance and support their work and, potentially, provide them with a greater range of options to meet their objectives. It would be expected to transcend the constraints encountered by local organizations, and would play a leadership role in creating a culture of conservation among Canadians. It would lead by example and by providing new opportunities for participation and public engagement, and would work to help build the scope and capacity of the entire sector.