A look at the Creation of a Geopark in Canada

Lynsey Kitching


The term Geopark is one that is still new to many people, especially in Canada. Essentially it is an international network which exists to protect and draw attention to areas of geological significance. Geoparks aren’t just about geology, they also look at interesting archaeology, wildlife and natural landscapes that are beautiful.

The first Global Geopark in Canada and actually in North America received its designation in October of 2010 in Greece. This Geopark located in New Brunswick, close to Saint John is called Stonehammer.

Representative from Stonehammer, Bill Merrifield was present at the symposium here in town to talk a little bit about Stonehammer and how the creation of the park has created a sustainable tourism avenue for the province of New Brunswick.

The main attraction for Stonehammer is the geological treasures from one billion years ago to present day. And there is representation for every significant age in the earth’s history. There is even visible evidence of where continents collided.

Stonehammer has a very different appeal than the dinosaurs and waterfall here in Tumbler Ridge and Merrifield explains this is just what Canada needs. “I’m blown away by what you have to offer,” he says, “It is very different from what we have to offer. If we all had the same thing to offer, there would only be one Geopark in the world.”

And there are more and more Geoparks to come.

Stonehammer consists of a 2,500 sq. km footprint and offers visitors unique experiences such as kayaking through Ice Age waters, touching the first documented Precambrian fossils, ziplining over some of the highest ocean tides in the world, taking a jetboat on the Bay of Fundy and checking out the reversing falls, just to name a few of the attractions.

So how did this all come together?

Godfrey Nowlan, representative for the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks and the Global Geoparks Network explains it takes tourism operators, private investment and different levels of government support to make a Geopark come to fruition. He says, “All of these different interests combine to make the Geopark. This is a very important aspect. What is Canada’s Geopark potential? Canada is a big country with some fantastic geology.”

In 2011,  Stonehammer was awarded Innovator of the year presented by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada for delivering an innovative new tourism product, which has impacted Canadian tourism as a whole. Merrifield says, “We try to make it fun, when it’s fun they retain things and want to come back.”

UNESCO, (The United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has played a big role in drawing more attention to Geoparks, though as of now, mostly on a monetary level. But, as Nowlan explains, efforts are being made to make Geoparks a formal UNESCO program.

This alone would draw much more attention to the parks on a global scale.

Merrifield says, “We are progressing towards a more definitive relationship by setting up an initiative of UNESCO, therefore more access to the logo. This is important for you to know because one of the things I learned in the process of putting our application together, is we worked very closely with the curator of the world heritage site, across the Bay of Fundy. Before they received their world heritage designation they were already a tourism destination. They went from 200 to 2,000 hits on their website a day after they received the UNESCO connection.”

So even without the official backing of UNESCO, Stonehammer was able to get off the ground thanks in much part to what it calls “legacy sponsors” who each donated $10,000 to the pot to get the process going.

Stonehammer has also received $319,500 in federal funding; $730,000 in provincial funding; $75,000 in other corporate funding and tens of thousands in funding from grants, bequests, and operators.

This illustrates how important provincial backing of a Geopark is to get it up and running.

Merrifield adds, “The province of New Brunswick has been extremely helpful, we’ve had help in term of identifying legislation to protect our assets through various levels of government and also the Ministry of Tourism,” he continues, “They have writers who write pieces for foreign magazines or newspapers for domestic and national consumption, all of this stuff you just can’t buy. When government gets involved they are inviting people to see what you have, and expand the awareness not only nationally but internationally. At the end of the day it’s the international tourist we want to attract. When a government gets behind you, it’s not just money, it’s visibility they can create.”

So why has Tumbler Ridge applied for a Geopark?

Nowlan explains, “We need more remote places of interest that lack tourism. This is one of the priorities we place on trying to find places in Canada interested in a Geopark. Tumbler Ridge falls very squarely in that category. There are communities like this looking for tourism opportunities and sustainable economic development.”

He explains people in Canada are becoming increasingly interested in geo-heritage. And Tumbler Ridge is only one of about 11 places interested in becoming a Geopark in Canada.

Other interested areas include the Bonavista Peninsula, Gros Morne National Park and the International Appalachian Trail in Newfoundland (likely the third applicant to submit letter of intent); three areas in Quebec including Charlevoix Craters and Mont-Saint-Pierre; Sudbury and the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario; Fort McMurray in Alberta, Dawson City in the Yukon; and possibly Wells Gray in BC (but Nowlan says not likely).

Merrifield says he is hopeful for the designation for Tumbler Ridge, “The things you bring to the table are amazing and hopefully you are successful in the application you are about to engage in.”