Parks Canada staffing cuts hit Fort Walsh, hours reduced PDF Print
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Written by Marcia Love   
Monday, 07 May 2012 22:18

Staff at Fort Walsh National Historic Site are taking a hit after the federal government revealed plans to cut jobs at a number of parks across the country last week.
In Saskatchewan, 22 national park jobs have been cut, and 20 more employees could face work reductions. Prince Albert National Park will suffer the most job losses with six eliminated, while Fort Walsh will see four positions affected.
Katherine Patterson, Parks Canada’s superintendent for parks in southern Saskatchewan, said the reduction will result in one position lost at the fort and another three positions reinstated with shorter terms.
"There is one net loss of a job, and that's a financial administration and clerical position that will... not be replaced," she explained. "All of the other positions that will be impacted... will be reinstated in some fashion."
In addition to the four jobs affected, two other staff members voluntarily left their positions because they faced a reduction in work hours.
According to Patterson, the changes at the fort were brought about after a review of its year-round functions.
"We have people running around trying to manage all of the interpretive staff and do special events, and they're almost too busy in the summer," she said. "Then we had a number of people in the past that were on strength in the town of Maple Creek just for the winter when the site was closed all together, so the agency decided that model didn't really make sense. It made sense to have more resources available in the actual season when we're delivering programs and experiences to Canadians."
As a result, Fort Walsh's four full-time employee positions will be converted to 10-month positions.
Patterson would not specify all positions affected because Parks Canada continues to discuss details of employment with some of the individuals holding the positions, but said it will include site management and maintenance management.
Fort Walsh has been without a site manager since the fall and has been functioning under an interim manager ever since.
"Just knowing this was coming, and the fact that we... were in a hiring freeze situation, it didn't make sense to have a senior position only to... offer somebody a job that ended April 30," Patterson explained.
She said Parks Canada will look at options for recruiting a permanent site manager over the summer.
Previously, Fort Walsh has operated with about 20 staff members, including summer students.
While the changes will have an impact on employment, Patterson said it will not affect visitors' experiences.
"The impact for sure will be felt by the site staff, but in terms of what the tourism industry will see or what we offer to Canadians, we've really tried to protect that," she stated. "They will be seeing the same if not a better model at the actual site."
Days of operation at the fort will be changed to four days a week instead of seven from May 21 - July 1. Site management will determine which days of the week it will be open to best accommodate tourists travelling to other destinations in the Cypress Hills area as well as school programs.
"We had days that would be awfully quiet between May and the July long weekend, so we're trying to better match our services to the days that people would actually come," Patterson said.
Programs offered at the site will also be undergoing changes to draw in new visitors. In the future, Fort Walsh will include more Metis history and incorporate new resources geared towards the younger generation.
"We're working on trails and  new cabins to tell more of the stories of Cypress Hills," Patterson said. "We also have to find new technologies – new smart phone applications, audio tours and things that help connect people to the story and make them want to keep coming back. We want to attract many new kinds of visitors and have them become our new supporters into the future."

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