The Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) and its partners are entering the first step in a multi-year process that may result in a national urban park for Saskatoon.
Between now and March, the conservation organization will run a series of focus groups, interviews, meetings and surveys about its jurisdiction and governance model. Currently, the MVA is responsible for maintaining Canada’s largest urban conservation zone, which includes more than 90 km of trails.
“We’ll also be engaging folks to look at vision, so what is possible if we were to work towards achieving a national urban park designation,” said Andrea Lafond, the MVA’s CEO.
It’s the first step for Meewasin as part of a nationwide initiative announced in August, dedicating up to $130 million for a network of urban parks in Canada. The program is designed to support access to nature within cities, while protecting biodiversity.
The organization has created a steering committee including its funding partners: the City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan government and the University of Saskatchewan. The Saskatoon Tribal Council, Métis Nation–Saskatchewan, Wanuskewin, RM of Corman Park and the federal government are also involved.
The region has outpaced growth projections set out when Meewasin was created in 1978, according to Lafond.
“Today we’re sitting at 327,000 folks within a 15-kilometre radius of the Meewasin Valley,” Lafond said. “So it is time to take a look at jurisdiction as well as governance structure and funding models.
The organization faced financial hardship in 2017 when Saskatchewan slashed its funding by $409,000 — almost half of what the authority received the year before.
Designation as a national urban park could lead to new funding from the federal government.
During a news conference in August, the minister responsible for Parks Canada Jonathan Wilkinson said “the federal government is willing to do its part with respect to financial contributions.”
Funding considerations would take place during the second phase of the process, which hasn’t been scheduled.
In an interview, Mayor Charlie Clark said having the federal government on board “would be huge” for Meewasin.
As a non-profit, the MVA can raise money, use student internships and create partnerships in a way that is less expensive than the city of private sector, Clark said.
“Saskatoon is really at the forefront of creating these kinds of partnerships,” Clark said.
Other cities that have signed national urban park agreements with the federal government, including Winnipeg, Halifax, Windsor and Colwood, B.C.