Environmental Movement

The environmental movement seeks to protect the natural world and promote sustainable living. It had its beginnings in the conservation efforts of the early 1900s, when conservationists aimed to slow the rapid depletion of Canadian resources in favour of more regulated management.

Western Hemlock

May 22, 1868

Dory Fishing

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Act for the regulation of Fishing and protection of Fisheries

The Act was a general policy statement for all of the Dominion of Canada’s ocean and inland waters that included an environment management plan, anti-pollution regulations, a hatchery program, and closed fishing seasons. The Act appointed fisheries officers to enforce it, and set fines and prison terms for violators. The Act defined fishery policy in Canada for most of the late 1800s.

November 25, 1885

Banff National Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Canada's First Park Reserve

The federal government set aside 26 sq km around the Banff hot springs as Canada's first National Park.

December 14, 1886

Yoho National Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Yoho Established

Yoho National Park in BC was established.

June 08, 1887

Snipe, Common

National and Provincial Parks 

First Bird Sanctuary Established

The first bird sanctuary in North America was created at Last Mountain Lake in the Northwest Territories (present-day Saskatchewan). It was created thanks to the efforts of Edgar Dewdney, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territories. Dewdney worried that settlement would destroy the breeding grounds of waterfowl such as the snipe and rare pelicans, and asked the federal government to protect the area. The Minister of the Interior agreed, and the lake’s islands and some shoreline were withdrawn from settlement.

May 27, 1893

Algonquin Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Algonquin Park Created

The Ontario government created Algonquin Park, Canada's first provincial park.

March 08, 1900

Forest, Old Growth


Canadian Forestry Association Founded

The Canadian Forestry Association promoted timber conservation measures and the creation of a forestry school. Six years after its founding, it held a forestry convention that led to more interest in forest conservation. The recommendations put forward at the convention were adopted by federal and provincial governments, including a Forest Reserves Act to maintain the supply of timber and conserve water through forest conservation.

January 01, 1904

Wild Goose Jack


Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary Founded

Conservationist Jack Miner founded the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, one of the first bird sanctuaries in North America, in 1904. Centred around a pond in Miner’s backyard, the sanctuary was meant as a place migratory Canada geese and ducks could return to each spring.

September 14, 1907

Angel Glacier Jasper National Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Jasper National Park Established

Jasper Forest Reserve, later Jasper National Park, was established as the most northerly of the Rocky Mountain parks. It was named for Jasper Hawes, a fur trader.

January 11, 1909

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Boundary Waters Treaty Signed

The Boundary Waters Treaty was signed by the United States and Canada. Each country pledged that the boundary waters between them would not be polluted to the detriment of the health or property of the other. The treaty also created the International Joint Commission, which controlled water disputes between the signatories and prepared reports on environmental issues relevant to them. The treaty was one of the most significant international agreements of the time, and was a model for environmental dispute resolution.

May 19, 1909


Commission of Conservation Established

The Commission was set up as a non-partisan, independent government agency to promote the efficient use of natural resources and to make recommendations. It was made up of provincial and federal government representatives with the involvement of experts from universities. It completed over 150 studies on a variety of conservation issues, and made recommendations smokestack filters, large-scale composting, and overcutting of forests. It was abolished by the Conservative government in 1921.

May 19, 1911

Hot Springs Pool

National and Provincial Parks 

National Parks Service Created

The world's first national parks service, the Dominion Parks Branch, was established. It is now known as Parks Canada.

August 16, 1916

Canada Goose

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Migratory Bird Convention Signed

The Migratory Bird Convention (later the Migratory Bird Treaty) was signed by the United States and Canada to protect bird species threatened by the plumage trade, farmers who saw them as a threat to their crops, and shrinking habitats. The Convention bound the signatories to protect migratory birds from uncontrolled harvesting and destruction. It did not take into account traditional harvesting by Indigenous peoples, and in 1999 the Convention was amended to allow them to subsistence hunt.

January 01, 1928



Beaver People Released

The National Film Board of Canada released a film called Beaver People in 1928. The film features conservationists Archibald Belaney and his wife, Anahareo, and their efforts to protect dwindling beaver populations.

January 01, 1930

Beaver Habitat


​Hudson’s Bay Company Beaver Management Program

During the Depression, the HBC saw decreased demand for beaver furs, and realized that to keep the price competitive the number of furs taken in Northern Québec would have to be limited. The company’s main suppliers in the area, the Cree, were also suffering because the beaver had been over-trapped. The company embarked on a conservation program that put the Cree in charge of a sanctuary system, a program that was successful and lasted into the 1950s.

May 30, 1930

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, 2012

Acts, Agreements and Treaties  National and Provincial Parks 

Canadian National Parks Act

The National Parks Act excluded industrial activities from the parks, made their boundaries permanent, and formally recognized a category of Historical Parks. The Act also entrenched the philosophy that continues to inform Canada’s parks management. It stated that parks were provided for the “benefit, education and enjoyment” of visitors and put forward a mandate to maintain them “so as to leave them unimpaired for future generations.”

January 01, 1931

Grey Owl


The Men of the Last Frontier Published

Archibald Belaney, also known as Grey Owl, published his first book, The Men of the Last Frontier, in 1931. Belaney was a well-known writer and conservationist in the 1930s. Though British, throughout much of his life Belaney claimed he was of Scottish and Indigenous descent.

January 31, 1936

National and Provincial Parks 

Mount Seymour Provincial Park Opens

BC's Mount Seymour Provincial Park, then only 274 hectares, was opened.

January 01, 1948


Audubon Society of Canada Formed

The Society was a branch of the Audubon Society that was organized in New York in 1886 to stop the poaching and commercial hunting of fish and wildlife. In 1948, the Canadian Society purchased Canadian Nature, a magazine launched in the memory of naturalist Mabel Frances Whittemore. The magazine was very successful and was sponsored by education departments across Canada. It was renamed Canadian Audubon in 1958 and included a strong policy of advocacy.

January 01, 1963

Auyuittuq National Park

National and Provincial Parks  Organizations 

Formation of the National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada

The association (later the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) was an influential environmental lobby group that advocated for more parliamentary support for national parks and encouraged expanding the national park system.

November 16, 1963


Recycled Paper

Cascades Inc. began producing the first recycled paper in Québec.

January 01, 1967



World Wildlife Fund Canada Founded

The World Wildlife Fund was founded in 1961, and the Canadian branch in 1967. The organization promotes the preservation of habitat and biodiversity, ecologically responsible development, conservation projects, and scientific research. In Canada it has advocated for the expansion of protected habitats, with the goal of protecting 12 per cent of the country’s land area. Between 1989 and 2000 its Endangered Species Campaign completed a network of protected areas that more than doubled Canada’s protected land.

January 01, 1969

Shoreline of Lake Superior


Pollution Probe Established

Pollution Probe began as a professor and student action group at the University of Toronto that focussed on the issue of pollution in the Great Lakes. The group campaigned against the widespread use of phosphates, which are harmful to the Great Lakes’ ecosystems. It remained based in Toronto, and by 1970 had over 1,000 members. The organization conducted research on many pollution issues, and successfully fought to have most uses of the harmful pesticide DDT phased out by the mid-1970s.

March 01, 1969


Formation of the Society for Promoting of Environmental Conservation

SPEC was founded in Burnaby, British Columbia. It was created in response to concerns about a worsening quality of life in urban areas due to traffic congestion, declines in air and water quality, and poor sewage treatment. From this beginning the organization’s focus quickly widened, and it campaigned on a range of environmental issues.

January 01, 1971


​Canadian Nature Federation Established

The Canadian Nature Federation grew out of the Audubon Society of Canada. The new organization had an expanded mandate, including protecting the Canadian landscape, maintaining ecosystems, and promoting education and enjoyment of nature through the publication of Nature Canada. It helped prevent the slaughter of Buffalo in Wood Buffalo National Park, created plans for the recovery of endangered species such as the Beluga whale, and advocated for the protection of wilderness areas.

September 15, 1971



The Greenpeace Sets Sail

In 1971, members of Greenpeace’s precursor, the Don’t Make the Wave Committee, attempted to sail a fishing boat from Vancouver into a United States nuclear testing site at Amchitka, Alaska. Although the voyage was not successful, it generated public interest in the group. Greenpeace linked peace with environmental issues and campaigned against nuclear testing in the Pacific, the seal hunt, whaling, and clear-cut logging.

September 30, 1971


Crew of the Greenpeace Arrested

The crew of the Greenpeace was arrested by the US Coast Guard at Akutan Island, Alaska.

August 02, 1972

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Pollution Prevention Act

The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act came into force, prohibiting the deposit of “waste” in Arctic waters. It extended a pollution enforcement zone 100 nautical miles from the low-water mark near the Arctic Islands to the east and to the 141st Meridian in the west. The US government disliked the enforcement zone, arguing it was illegal under international law.

April 09, 1976

Auyuittuq National Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Auyuittuq National Park Reserve Established

Although the lands for Auyuittuq National Park Reserve were set aside in 1972, it was formally established 4 years later.

January 01, 1981

Acid Rain


Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain Formed

The Coalition was formed in 1981 and lobbied the Canadian and American governments for emissions controls to stop acid rain. Its high-profile campaign in Washington, D.C. was unprecedented for a Canadian organization at that time. It became Canada’s largest environmental organization and helped to keep acid rain Canada’s top environmental priority throughout the 1980s.

September 01, 1981

Organizations  Resources 

Blue Box Pilot Program Launches in Kitchener

A project to examine the efficiency of various  collection methods for recyclable materials was launched with the participation of 1,000 households in Kitchener, Ontario. Organizers noted particularly high participation rates from homes that were given a blue box bearing the message “WE RECYCLE.” Originally scheduled for six months, the project continued uninterrupted and went citywide in 1983. Blue box recycling programs were adopted in other provinces in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989, the United Nations recognized Ontario’s blue box initiative with an environmental award of merit.

January 01, 1983

Green Party

Organizations  People 

Green Party of Canada Founded

The Green Party of Canada was founded in 1983 at a conference at Ottawa’s Carleton University. It sought to focus politics on the environment and the need for sustainability. The party’s founder and first leader was Trevor Hancock, and the party ran 60 candidates in the 1984 federal election.

September 16, 1987

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Signing of The Montreal Protocol

Canada signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international environmental agreement. An active treaty that regulates the production and consumption of man-made ozone depleting substances (ODS), it is the only United Nations treaty to have been ratified by every country in the world.

January 30, 1993

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

The Gwaii Haanas Agreement Was Signed

The Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, which designated Gwaii Haanas, the southernmost Haida Gwaii island, a National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Clear-cut logging threatened the island, its peoples and their cultural heritage in the late 1970s through 1985. Haida protests stopped the logging, leading to this agreement.

July 05, 1993


Clayoquot Sound Blockade

Protestors began blocking roads in Clayoquot Sound to protest logging there. Over the next few weeks more than 900 people were arrested in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.

June 14, 1994

Acid Rain

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Sulphur Protocols

Canada and 25 nations signed a United Nations protocol in Oslo, Norway, on reducing sulphur emissions, a major cause of acid rain.

October 24, 1995

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

New Emission Standards

The federal government and the provinces agreed that by the year 2001 all new cars sold in Canada must meet strict air pollution emission standards.

December 08, 1995

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Tougher Emissions Standards

British Columbia announced new vehicle emissions standards - the toughest in Canada. As of 1998, all new cars sold in the province would have to meet tougher emission standards.

December 11, 1997

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Adoption of Kyoto Protocol

Linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol was the first international agreement that set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It committed signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2012 by setting internationally binding emissions reduction targets. Thirty-seven industrialized countries signed the accord, and Canada was one of the first countries to do so.

November 13, 1999


Death of Gwen Mallard

Environmental activist Gwen Mallard, who led campaigns against strip mining, oil tanker traffic and the use of herbicides, died at East Sooke, BC.

November 30, 1999

Lake Superior


Freshwater Protest

BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Québec rejected a national accord that would have prohibited the export of fresh water.

December 12, 2000

Atlantic puffins  in Newfoundland, 2013.

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act, new legislation aimed at protecting Canada's endangered wildlife, received Royal Assent. The Act listed 233 species in four risk categories extirpated, endangered, threatened and species of special concern.

January 01, 2001

Auyuittuq National Park

National and Provincial Parks 

Auyuittuq National Park Established

Auyuittuq National Park was established. It was Canada's first national park located north of the Arctic Circle. It was first set up as a national park reserve in 1976 and established as a national park through the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

December 17, 2002

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Ratification of Kyoto Protocol

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien officially ratified the Kyoto Protocol, despite the opposition of both the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.

June 28, 2004


Green Party and the 2004 Election

During the 2004 federal election, the Green Party ran candidates in all federal ridings for the first time in its history.

January 01, 2006

Spirit Bear Documentary

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

​Great Bear Rainforest Agreement Announced

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement was a result of a campaign started in 1994 by environmentalists who wanted a moratorium on logging and grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. These environmentalists enlisted the help of companies such as Home Depot and Ikea, which put pressure on logging companies by threatening to withdraw their contracts. The agreement, first announced in 2006 but not fully negotiated until 2016, put forward a long-term plan to maintain the ecosystem through sustainable logging and providing alternative employment to loggers.

February 03, 2006



Suzuki named Companion of the Order of Canada

Geneticist and broadcaster David Suzuki was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada. He was named an Officer of the Order in 1977. Suzuki has won multiple awards for his work in both science and broadcasting, where he has raised public awareness on important environmental issues.

December 23, 2007


Death of Donald Chant

Donald Chant was a scientist, professor and prominent environmental leader and advocate. He raised awareness about pesticidespollution, wildlife preservation and arctic ecosystems. He also co-founded Pollution Probe at the University of Toronto in 1969.

January 01, 2008

Maude Barlow


Maude Barlow Appointed UN Water Advisor

In 2008, activist Maude Barlow was appointed Senior Advisor on Water to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, where her work was instrumental in the UN’s 2010 resolution that water and sanitation are basic human rights.

September 28, 2010

 James Cameron


Cameron Tours Alberta Oilsands

Canadian-born film director James Cameron toured the industrial development near Fort McMurray, speaking with First Nations representatives and oil industry officials and ultimately concluding that the issue of environmental stewardship in the area is complex and far-reaching.

May 02, 2011

Elizabeth May


Elizabeth May Elected

During the 2011 federal election, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was elected in British Columbia’s Saanich - Gulf Islands riding. May was the first ever Green Party member to win a seat in the House of Commons.

January 01, 2012

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Withdrawal from Kyoto Protocol

In December 2011, Canada became the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, a move that took effect on 15 December 2012. The Conservative government under Stephen Harper argued that meeting the protocol’s targets would hurt the economy, and that it would not work without the participation of the United States and China.

December 12, 2015

Global Temperature: 2000 to 2009

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Paris Climate Change Agreement Adopted

One hundred and ninety-five nations adopted a global plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels scientists say are necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The agreement's ultimate aim is to keep global average temperatures well below a 2°C increase from pre-industrial levels. Hailed by many as a historic step forward in global efforts to curb climate change, the agreement has also been widely criticized for not imposing sanctions on countries that fail to reduce emissions. Liberal Environment and Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna, who acted as one of 14 facilitators at the Paris conference, supported the addition of text in the agreement that further aims to keep global temperatures within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels.

February 01, 2016

Spirit Bear Documentary

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Great Bear Rainforest Agreement Finalized

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement was a result of a campaign started in 1994 by environmentalists who wanted a moratorium on logging and grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. These environmentalists enlisted the help of companies such as Home Depot and Ikea, which put pressure on logging companies by threatening to withdraw their contracts. The agreement, first announced in 2006 but only finalized after another decade of negotiations, put forward a long-term plan to maintain the ecosystem through sustainable logging and providing alternative employment to loggers.

December 06, 2016

Autumn Peltier


Autumn Peltier Meets Trudeau

In 2016, then 12-year-old Autumn Peltier attended the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. Peltier is a water rights advocate and member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation. At the meeting, Peltier confronted Prime Minister Trudeau on his government’s environmental policies. In particular, she drew attention to Trudeau’s support of pipelines and the risk they pose to local waterways.

January 31, 2017


Death of Rob Stewart

Filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, known for his fight to save sharks from extinction, died at the age of 37 while filming a sequel to his 2006 documentary Sharkwater.

June 22, 2017


Death of Gwen Barlee

Gwen Barlee, British Columbia environmental activist, died of cancer at the age of 54. As part of her work with the Wilderness Committee Barlee helped persuade the federal government to pass the Species at Risk Act in 2002. (See Endangered Animals and Endangered Plants.)

July 26, 2017

Gas pipeline construction

Acts, Agreements and Treaties 

Supreme Court Rules on Pipeline Projects

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Indigenous peoples do not have the power to veto resource development projects such as pipelines. It stated that while the government has a duty to consult with Indigenous communities, the National Energy Board (NEB) is the “final decision maker.” The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation had appealed the NEB’s approval of a modification to Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, which runs through traditional Chippewa territory near London, Ontario.

October 05, 2017

Gas pipeline construction


Energy East Pipeline Project Cancelled

TransCanada announced that it had cancelled plans to build the Energy East pipeline, which would have carried crude oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Québec and New Brunswick. From there, oil would have been exported to other countries. The company cited changing market conditions and delays in assessments carried out by the National Energy Board as reasons for its decision. The project’s supporters, including premiers Rachel Notley and Brad Wall, expressed disappointment and criticized the federal government’s approach to the review process. Energy East’s opponents, including municipalities in Québec and Indigenous communities along the proposed path of the pipeline, hailed it as a victory.

January 01, 2018

Map of Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Site

National and Provincial Parks 

Pimachiowin Aki Designated a World Heritage Site

Pimachiowin Aki was designated as Canada’s 19th World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2018. Pimachiowin Aki means “the land that gives life” in Anishinaabemowin, a local Ojibwe language. It was recognized as an exceptional example of the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land.”

January 08, 2019

Trans Mountain pipeline protest


RCMP Arrest 14 People at BC Pipeline Protest

Enforcing a BC Supreme Court injunction that was passed in December, RCMP officers entered a roadblock south of Houston, BC, and arrested 14 members of the Wet'suwet'en Nation. The protestors had been preventing workers from Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp., from entering the area on the grounds that they did not have the consent of hereditary leaders to build a pipeline carrying natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. The following day, protests were held in cities across Canada in a show of support for the Wet'suwet'en Nation. 

February 22, 2019

Josephine Mandamin


Death of Josephine Mandamin

Josephine Mandamin was known as “Grandmother Water Walker” and Biidaasige-ba (“the one who comes with the light”). She was a world-renowned water-rights activist. Mandamin walked around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017 to bring awareness to the problems of water pollution and environmental degradation on the Great Lakes and on Indigenous reserves in Canada. Her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, followed in Mandamin’s footsteps, becoming the next generation’s “water warrior.”

January 15, 2020

Trans Mountain pipeline protest


Wet'suwet'en First Nation Protests Against Trans Mountain Pipeline

Environmental activists held protests on Vancouver Island and at the Toronto office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, calling for the federal government to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through the Wet'suwet'en First Nation territory in British Columbia. Coastal GasLink had obtained approval from the elected councils of 20 First Nations, but hereditary clan leaders refused to consent to the pipeline and demanded that it not proceed.

October 03, 2020

Annamie Paul


Annamie Paul Elected Leader of the Green Party

Annamie Paul, a human rights lawyer from Toronto, was elected leader of the Green Party over seven other candidates on the eighth ballot. A child of immigrants from the Caribbean, the fluently bilingual Paul became the first Black Canadian and the second Jewish Canadian to permanently lead a federal political party.

August 31, 2021

North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)


Right Whales Could Be Extinct by 2100, Study Finds

A study published in the journal Oceanography concluded that right whales could be extinct by the end of the 21st century. Since 2015, warming waters had forced the whales into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they faced increased danger from shipping routes and fishing gear. The total population of North Atlantic right whales was estimated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be 368, including fewer than 100 breeding females.

October 14, 2021


State of Emergency Declared in Iqaluit Due to Tainted Water Supply

Two days after discovering petroleum hydrocarbons in Iqaluit’s water supply, the Government of Nunavut declared a state of emergency in the city. (See also Water Treatment; Water Pollution.) The first of at least five shipments of potable water arrived in Iaqluit by airplane. The water was distributed in rations of 16 litres per household. Officials believed the contamination was caused by the effects of melting permafrost on underground pipes.