Historic site will have a shorter season

Fort St. James National Historic Site will be shortening their operating season.

Fort St. James National Historic Site will be shortening their operating season.

As a result of recent budget announcements, Parks Canada is being cut back significantly, and the local National Historic Site will be trimmed as well.

Canada Parks will be cut back to the tune of $29.2 million, and 638 employees across Canada have been laid off, deemed “surplus” by the organization.

Locally, at the historic site, no one will lose their job, but there will be cutbacks.

Instead of laying off employees, the same number of staff will be hired, but they will simply be offered a shorter term of hire for the seasonal employees, and the one full-time position currently occupied by Kevin Gedling, product development officer for the site, will have his position reduced from full-time to a 0.75, shortening his term by a number of months.

The seasonal interpreters will be offered one month shorter positions, and this will be in line with a shorter season for the site as well, which will open two weeks later next year (June 1) and close two weeks earlier (second week of September).

The idea is to try and align programs to the “times of greatest visitor use” according to Greg Fenton, Field Unit Superintendent in Jasper who helps oversea the site’s administration.

The shortened season is a concern for the Fort St. James Chamber of Commerce, due to it’s potential impact on the entire community.

“It shortens the season for the park and for the town as well,” said Miguel Romero, chamber manager. “Overall, it’s not good.”

In the open council meeting last week, Emily Colombo, economic development officer for the District of Fort St. James said “this is a bit of painful news for the community.”

Councillors and staff expressed some feeling the news was especially a hard hit after staff had worked so hard at getting visitor numbers up in the past few years, with significant increases.

Staff are being given time to consider their options and accept the new hire agreements.

“It is a change and it will impact them and we want them time to think about what their options are,” said Fenton.

The park will still offer the same services, according to Fenton, with special events and opening up outside the regular season for special community events.

Though the local site is currently undergoing a review of their management plan and has drafted up a new one to set priorities for a number of years, Fenton said the cutbacks should not impact the management plan.

“Management plans give the policy direction for Fort St. James on how we are going to protect the attributes of the cultural resource of the heritage buildings and how we are going to present that to the public, and that won’t change,” said Fenton.

While Fenton did say the full range of activities and special events will be maintained, the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, an annual event for the opening weekend in previous years, would have to take place outside of the park’s season.

Fenton also does not see there being major concerns regarding infrastructure maintenance at the local site.

“Under Bob (Grill’s) guidance and investment from our field unit … we’ve been able to do an awful lot of restoration and stabilization of the structures at the site and as a result we don’t anticipate they will need a significant amount of new money,” he said.

Project to upgrade and enhance the displays in the visitor’s centre will be continued as planned.

Some sites in other parts of the country will be going from guided interpretive programs will now go to self-guided interpretation.

There are 31sites across the country Parks Canada has identified for these changes to their interpretive programs. Some sites will go to new technology instead of employees in traditional costume and some will go to interpretive signs for self-guided walks.

“There will still be employees at these sites, but not the guided interpretive walks,” said Fenton.