National Treasure #83: National Historic Sites

Yikes. It all seemed so simple, looking at the Parks Canada site home page. There are national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas (about more, later).

It turns out it’s a little more complicated than I thought. Try to stay with me on this.

What they are

National historic sites are places of profound importance to Canada. They bear witness to this nation’s defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each national historic site tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity, and place to our understanding of Canada as a whole. – Parks Canada website

How many there are

As of 2016, there were 976 national historic sites – not to be confused with persons or events of national historic significance or with Canada’s Register of Historic Places which latter contains more than 12,000 entries – and Parks Canada looks after 171 of them (or “more than 140” per another page on their website). Other governments (I think) own and look after all the others.

How they’re chosen and organized

This being government, there is, of course, a National Historic Sites System Plan, in much the same way that there is a system plan for national parks. (This 1997 document is not current, as noted on the website. Really? It’s less trouble to annotate than just to update?)

National historic sites are identified in five themes that encompass Canada’s human history:

  • Peopling the Land
  • Governing Canada
  • Developing Economies
  • Building Social and Community Life
  • Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life

If I were a site, I’m pretty sure I would qualify in all five areas (I’ve peopled Canada with two children and, indirectly, two grandchildren; applied to be appointed to the Senate of Canada; contributed to economic activities of several companies; participated in social and community life in three provinces; and written 604 intellectual and/or cultural blogs. So far.). But I digress.

Where they are

The earliest sites were designated in Ontario and Quebec in 1919 (partly a response to the emerging national parks movement, while recognizing that much of the land in central and eastern Canada was already spoken for). Today there are national historic sites in all provinces and territories, and two in France: the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Sites I’d never heard of

Well, quite a few, to be honest:

Sites I’ve actually seen but didn’t know were national historic sites because I’d never thought about it much

Well, quite a few, to be honest:


Individually, each of these 976 national historic sites has a decent claim to be included in this list of national treasures.

Collectively – you know, as a system with their own plan, and all – they kick ass.

If you want to look for more sites, try this directory portal.

If you want to do a “top 10” list, check this out.

West Block reflection in office building across the street.

Parliament Hill, National Historic Site


View of Chateau Frontenac and Old Quebec City from the water.

Chateau Frontenac, National Historic Site


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2 Responses to National Treasure #83: National Historic Sites

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Is it permissible to write to “Dear National Historic site”?
    Ahem…. The difference between you and all the other national historic somethings is that you’re still alive.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Ah. Good point. I’ll add a codicil (not sure what that is, but it sounds important) to my will, instructing my heirs to apply to the Register on my behalf.

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