The Cliffs of Fundy has officially become a UNESCO Global Geopark.
The announcement came Friday morning at a meeting of the UNESCO Global Geopark Executive Board in Paris, much to the delight of those who have been working for years on this project.
While the announcement comes as a point of pride, and relief, for those involved, it also signals the beginning of more work left to do to make sure the designation does what they want it to do — bring tourists to the area and boost the local economy.
“The beauty of the designation is that it immediately puts you on the world stage,” Beth Peterkin, manager of the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark. “It will let us reach audiences we could never, ever reach on our own.”
UNESCO Global Geoparks are recognized for their exceptional geological heritage.
The park, along with Friday’s designation of Discovery in Bonavista, N.L., marks five geoparks in Canada.
The Cliffs of Fundy Geopark stretches along a roughly 165-kilometre drive, with about 40 designated sites from Debert to the Three Sisters cliffs past Eatonville, out to Isle Haute.
The area is the only place on Earth where geologists can see both the assembly of supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago and its breakup 100 million years later.
Cumberland and Colchester counties brought together geologists, paleontologists, businesses, tourism operators, Indigenous communities and local people to bring the idea for a geopark to life.
This partnership is a first of its kind, said Christine Blair, mayor of the Municipality of the County of Colchester, and that teamwork is what made this idea into reality.
“To have two municipalities form an agreement, that has never happened in the history of the two municipalities before,” she said.
“To have all of the communities and our First Nation community involved is very significant, because it’s recognizing the whole of what we have to offer — and not just part of the whole.”
The designation also comes ahead of a new Mi’kmaw cultural centre that will be built in the next two to three years in Debert, says Donald Julien, an executive director for The Confederacy Of Mainland Mi’kmaq.
“Our ancestors have been here for over 13,000 years according to archeological evidence. So it’s very exciting for the Mi’kmaq, our cultural centre and the recognition is going to be fantastic,” he said.
The Fundy region in particular, Julien said, is included in many legends about Glooscap, the most famous figure in Mi’kmaw culture who brought peace and restored balance to the world.
Julien said he hopes the UNESCO designation will help teach people about the history of the Mi’kmaq.
“At times in our history books and our histories, it sort of tended that we disappeared but we didn’t. We’re still here, alive and well,” he said.
“This is probably history in the making. Everybody is going to benefit.”
Province needs to help, councillor says
But there’s still more work to be done.
Donald Fletcher, president of the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark and the board chair, said the province and tourism sector will need to put money forward to make this a success story.
“I’ve felt over the years that we’ve sort of been neglected,” said Fletcher, who is also a councillor for the Municipality of Cumberland.
“This area and we have so much to offer. And as I mentioned before, we’ve just basically taken what Mother Nature has put here and we’re showcasing that to the world.
Fletcher said that includes fixing up the roads in the area, helping with signs and supporting their tourism sector.
“With the whole COVID thing, a lot of them are hurting,” he said.
“This is big and people are going to come, maybe not so much this year, but they’re going to come and see what we have to offer.”
Peterkin said other work to be done includes clearly marking the geosites, updating guidebooks and maps, educating staff working in the parks about the designation, and recruiting volunteers.
“It’s all about making the visitors feel welcome, so that they’ll come back again and again,” she said.
But the promise of a lucrative tourism sector is also bringing hope to communities still reeling after a gunman killed 22 people on April 18 and 19, in what is now one of Canada’s deadliest mass shootings in history.
“That will be with us forever. But we don’t want to be remembered specifically for that event,” Blair said.
“I believe we will all move forward together in the healing process. To have a positive announcement like we have at this geopark will be part of that, I truly believe that.”
Peterkin says they’re hoping to plan a celebration this summer once it’s safe to do so with the Public Health guidelines around COVID-19.
“I think we have so much to offer with the mixture of the geology, the culture, the music, the arts, the local experience,” she said. “Get your feet and hands dirty in the tide.”