Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Landmarks! Go Ottawa!

OK, I was being a little blithe when I mentioned the Rideau Canal in my previous posting. I DO know who decided the Canal was a landmark. It was the United Nations. And I DO know what that designation is - a World Heritage Site. But I must confess, I still am not sure why. And I certainly don't see how it will increase terr-I mean-tourism in Ottawa by 40 percent. Does the UN send out a big book of World Heritage Sites to travel agents every year? And do people plan their vacations around these locations? I mean, how many people will this attract that were not already seduced by the possibility that they could come to Ottawa and see dozens upon dozens of tulips? No, I think that market is already saturated.

And what, exactly, are the criteria by which the UN chooses it's World Heritage Sites? A short list of the others which are shining lights of tourism, attracting foreigners by the thousands to Canada (there are fourteen - here are just a few); L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site in Newfoundland. Possibly chosen because of it's involvement with the vikings, who were damn cool, or maybe simply because the name cannot decide whether it is French or English, and poses the sort of conundrum tourists enjoy so much. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta. I've been there. It's really cool. And not just because of the smashed skulls of bison from years past, but because they celebrate the tradition by serving delicious bison burgers. Which could be one reason it was chose, or, possibly, it was the name that intrigued them once again. Old Towne Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. Again, I have been there. In fact, I spent almost a month there when I worked with the Bluenose II Preservation Trust. Aside from a proud tradition of ship-building and rum-running, what makes "Old Town Lunenberg" historically significant? It's shipyards, sure. It's harbour, sure. It's dilapidated buildings and charming pubs? You can get that just about anywhere. (By the way, if you're ever there - go to the Grand Banker or the Rum Runner - two fine establishments with incredible seafood and a bunch of local drunks who were fishermen sixty years ago, and now hang out in the bars and tell the coolest stories about being out at sea.)

OK, Lunenberg belongs. Just for the old men and their salty tales of the briny deep. And I assume that SGaang GWaay in BC has some sort of historic significance as well. The problem is, that I have no damn idea what the other things on this list are! Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/ Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek, Yukon/Alaska? What the hell does that mean? And what makes it interesting? Other things on the list include the pyramids and the Taj Mahal. That's good. I've heard of those.

I checked out UNESCO's website, and there were in fact 22 cultural sites that were added to the list at the same time as the Rideau Canal, (including the canal) and one removed. The following is copied directly from UNESCO's site; Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes (Namibia) was inscribed as a cultural site for its large concentration of rock carvings. South China Karst (China) was inscribed as a natural property, unrivalled in terms of the diversity of its karst features and landscapes. Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge of Višegrad (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was listed as a cultural site for characterizing the apogee of Ottoman monumental architecture and civil engineering. AND...In a decision unprecedented in the history of UNESCO's Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Committee deleted one property, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, from the List because of Oman's failure to preserve the outstanding universal value of the Sanctuary.

This is verbatim from their website. But wait, something doesn't add up here. Oman? Failure to preserve the universal value of the Sanctuary? Hmm. This, it turns out upon a little bit of further research, is a sacutary that was set up to protect the endangered Oryx, a type of Arabian antelope. So, it's not like buildings crumbled due to neglect, and the site just wasn't as pretty as it was when it was designated a World Heritage Site. No. Here's what happened, it would seem. Sites designated as World Heritage Sites are untouchable. There are rainforests in South America and jungles in Africa that can never be destroyed by human hands as long as they are designated as such by the UN. But apparently, the onus is on that country to keep it up? Maintain the grass on the fields in Newfoundland where the Vikings once had a picnic? And the Omani government was required only to make sure that the Oryx did not become exctinct, from what I can tell.

No, what UNESCO's website, http://whc.unesco.org/ does not say, is that there was a campaign being waged BY Oman to have the site de-listed. You see, they believe that beneath these protected grounds, there may be oil. And what, truly, is more important? One little species of one little antelope, or tons of money? Well, it looks like they chose money. But they could not go it alone. They had to put pressure on the UN to de-list their fertile antelope fields in order to hasten their excinction and drive out them pesky deer, and of course, they found that help in the US. So, a joint lobby of Oman and the States put enough pressure on the UN that finally they caved, and said "fine, you jerks. Dig for oil, kill the oryx, just stop talking at me!"

They may lose 40 percent (what an arbitrary number!) of their tourism as a result, but how many people take a summer vacation to Oman? Even a winter one? They can afford to lose eleven, twelve, or even thirteen tourist dollars if it means they can find oil! So they are de-listed. And we here in Ottawa, happy as clams, proclaim the selection of our canal as a landmark achievement, no pun intended, for Colonel By and his crew of oft-killed journeymen carpenters and the like. And it will bring US the eleven, twelve or thirteen tourist dollars lost by Oman! Way to go Canada! We'll be reaping the benefits of this for years to come! Unless we discover oil beneath the canal.

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