The Rotting Heart of Gatineau Park: How and Why the Kingsmere-Meech Lake Privatopia Prevented a National Park Near Canada’s Capital

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Lait, Michael




First proposed in 1913, Gatineau Park could have been the first national park east of the Rocky Mountains, the first in Quebec, and the first near-urban national park in Canada. Ultimately, the Quebec government proved unwilling to cede territory to the federal government, and the park proposal was shelved. In 1938, the Mackenzie King government responded to a public campaign organized by local cottagers and the Ottawa Ski Club by establishing the “Gatineau Park.” Newspapers announced the creation of a national park, and the first expropriations were carried out under this pretense.

This study shows that federal authorities not only proceeded to establish a park without the consent of the Quebec government, they also failed to consolidate territorial control. My analysis addresses the question of how and why this national park failed, and documents the influence of the Meech Lake Association and Kingsmere Property Owners’ Association on the park’s creation, development, and management. I argue that the park’s status as a “mixed-use/ownership area” represents a provisional achievement of these property owners’ associations. Further, I argue that the park is a key component of the Kingsmere-Meech Lake privatopia, with the MLA and KPOA exercising territoriality over adjacent park areas.

This study also explores the implications of the lack of legal status for the park’s management by the National Capital Commission (NCC). It documents several examples where this fragmented territory seriously hindered NCC park management. It reveals that NCC officials encountered considerable resistance from property owner associations when opening Meech Lake to public use (and Kingsmere Lake remains off-limits). The NCC has also had to expropriate, at great expense, several residential subdivisions and commercial developments.

I offer four recommendations to bring the park’s administration closer in line with Canada’s national parks: 1) legislated boundaries; 2) consultations with, and consent of the Algonquin; 3) consultations between provincial and federal governments; and, 4) consolidated control of the park’s territory. The NCC should exercise zoning powers, impose a moratorium on new development, and have right of first refusal over all property sales within park boundaries.


Canadian History
Urban and Regional Planning




Carleton University

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