New Visitor Reception Centre for Waterton Lakes National Park

New Visitor Reception Centre for Waterton Lakes National Park


Waterton Park, Alberta – In July 2015, the Government of Canada announced significant investments for Waterton Lakes National Park totaling $107.5 million. $7.6 million was identified for a new Visitor Reception Centre (VRC) for the park as part of this investment program.

Based on a review of a range of options for the location of the new Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Reception Center over the past eight months, which has involved Parks Canada specialists, architectural consultants and stakeholders, Parks Canada is confirming today that the new Visitor Reception Centre will be situated on an open area within the townsite along Windflower Avenue, close to the entrance of the Townsite Campground, and adjacent to the tennis courts and playground.

The townsite location provides an unparalleled platform for presenting the park. Located in the center of the town, it offers magnificent views in all directions that reinforce the park’s ecological, cultural and historical significance.

The townsite location provides easy visitor access from anywhere in the village, which receives all of the national park’s visitors. This location will maximise the opportunity for Parks Canada to connect directly, multiple times during a single visit, with the greatest number of visitors through welcome, orientation and the full range of interpretive programing possible from early morning to evening.

Parks Canada will consult on the design of the new facility in 2016. Construction of this new Visitor Reception Centre will start in 2018, with expected completion in 2019.

Quick facts

  • Built in 1958, the existing Visitor Reception Centre is small (56 square metres/600 square feet) and wholly inadequate to meet the needs and volumes of today’s visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park. It is also situated in a wildlife corridor and at a congested parking lot and trailhead for the Bears Hump trail, which is the most popular and most used trail in the national park
  • Visitation to Waterton Lakes National Park has increased by over 50% since 2000, from 300,000 to 477,000 visitors in 2015/16, and 45% of the park’s visitors are new visitors.
  • Established in 1895, is Canada’s fourth oldest national park and forms the Canadian part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first International Peace Park, which is also a World Heritage Site. Waterton Lakes National Park is a major driver for the economy of southwestern Alberta.

“This is the most important of all the new projects in Waterton Lakes National Park. This reception centre will welcome Canadians and visitors from around the world, and provide them with opportunities to learn about the park’s cultural and environmental significance and its international status as part of the world’s first International Peace Park and World Heritage Site.”

~ Ifan Thomas, Field Unit Superintendent, Waterton Lakes National Park

“The Council of the Improvement District #4 is in full support of the new Visitor Reception Centre in the Waterton Park community. This will be a great improvement in visitor services, and people will be able to walk to this location from wherever they are in the Townsite. As 100% of the visitors to Waterton already come to the townsite, there will be no additional traffic or parking issues.”

~ Dr. Brian Reeves, Chair, Improvement District (I.D.) #4

“It is wholly fitting that the hundreds of thousands of visitors of one of Canada’s most beautiful and pre-eminent national parks will be served by a new visitor reception centre located at the very heart of Waterton Lakes National Park.”

~ The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

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The present Waterton Lakes National Park visitor information centre no longer meets the needs of today’s visitors to the Park. The facility was built in 1958 and is too small (at 56 square meters or 600 square feet) to provide services beyond basic park information.

Visitation to Waterton Lakes National Park has increased by over 50% since 2000, from 300,000 to 477,000 visitors in 2015/16, and 45% of the park’s visitors are there for the first time. Waterton Lakes National Park is a major contributor to the regional economy: The park contributed $76.9 million to the Alberta economy in 2014/15 alone. Jobs are generated through Parks Canada operations, the many businesses that operate in the park, the regional businesses providing services to Parks Canada, the park-based businesses, and the visitors. This amounts to a total of 955 full-time equivalent jobs. 36% of visitors are from outside of Canada, including 27% from the US alone. It is the main destination of 98% of visitors, and they spend an average of three nights in the park.

The townsite already receives all visitors who come to the national park. There will be no increased traffic by relocating this facility in the community. In fact, traffic congestion, which is caused by the increase in visitation over the last 15 years will be relieved thanks to additional parking and new wayfinding in the townsite.

The need for a new Visitor Reception Centre and direction for its location in the community of Waterton Park, are confirmed in both the Waterton Community Plan (2000) and the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan (2010).

The Waterton Community Plan states, “The park is in need of a new Visitor Reception Centre. The park’s management plan directs that the Centre will be located in the community,” and “The plan anticipates the relocation of the visitor centre from its location near the Prince of Wales Hotel* to the community.”

The park’s Management Plan recognizes that “The Waterton community is the gateway to broader national park experiences and virtually all visitors enter it at some point during their visit. The community is the park’s centre for information and interpretation, celebrates international peace and cooperation, and demonstrates ongoing efforts towards achieving environmentally sustainable development.”

In July 2015, the Government of Canada announced a new Visitor Reception Centre for Waterton as part of a much needed capital investment program of over $100 million for the national park.

Parks Canada investigated a number of potential locations for the new visitor center. Options were narrowed to two locations: 1) adjacent to the Parks Canada operations compound on the entrance road; and, 2) the central Townsite location. An architectural firm was then retained to undertake a third-party review of the two locations to ensure a final assessment based on recognised architectural standards and principles.

Parks Canada Agency

*For more information on the Prince of Wales Hotel visit their website.