World Heritage sites are exceptional places around the world that are considered to have Outstanding Universal Value. As such, they are part of the common heritage of humankind. Places as diverse as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Landscape of Grand Pré in Canada, the Taj Mahal in India and Yellowstone National Park in America are only a few examples of places around the globe that make up our world’s heritage.

“State Parties”, such as Canada, which have ratified UNESCO’s 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, have pledged to ensure the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of World Heritage sites in their territory and to avoid deliberate measures that could damage World Heritage in other countries.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is a specialized intergovernmental agency of the United Nations system. Founded on 16th November 1945 following the Second World War, UNESCO was created in order to respond to the firm belief of nations, forged by two world wars in less than a generation, that political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.

Today, UNESCO’s aim is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue. It strives to build networks that foster and support international unity and co-operation in its three main areas of focus: education, science and culture. In the cultural sector, the World Heritage Convention is perhaps one of the most widely recognized programs that UNESCO administers.

Learn more about UNESCO, including its history, mission and programs.

The World Heritage Convention

The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (known as the World Heritage Convention) is an international treaty between member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It was adopted on 16th November 1972. Currently, 192 countries (known as "State Parties") have ratified the World Heritage Convention including Canada which did so in 1976. The Parks Canada Agency is Canada's State Party representative to the World Heritage Convention.

The World Heritage Convention established the World Heritage List as a means of recognizing that some places, either natural or cultural, are of sufficient importance to be the responsibility of the international community as a whole. The Convention therefore seeks to identify, protect, conserve, present and transmit to future generations, cultural and natural heritage that are deemed to be of Outstanding Universal Value.

Specific criteria and conditions, defined in Chapter II of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, are used to identify properties for inclusion on the World Heritage List. As of 1st August 2016, the World Heritage List includes 1052 World Heritage sites. These include 814 cultural, 203 natural and 35 mixed properties in 165 State Parties. By ratifying the Convention, Canada has pledged to care for its World Heritage sites and to avoid deliberate measures that could damage World Heritage sites in other countries.

The Convention stipulates the obligation of State Parties to report regularly to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of their World Heritage properties. It also encourages State Parties to strengthen the appreciation of the public for World Heritage properties and to enhance their protection through educational and information programs. Further, the Convention explains how the World Heritage Fund is to be used and managed and under what conditions international financial assistance may be provided.

Parks Canada as Canada's State Party Representative to the Committee

Parks Canada leads Canada's implementation of the World Heritage Convention, as well co-ordinates the input and activities of provincial, territorial, municipal and Aboriginal partners. Parks Canada also has either full or shared responsibilities for the management of 12 of Canada's 18 World Heritage sites. Six others are managed by other jurisdictions such as municipal or provincial authorities.

The World Heritage List - Global

World Heritage sites are classified as natural or cultural or a combination of the two. As of August 2016, 1054 sites of Outstanding Universal Value have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Globally, World Heritage sites are located in 165 countries and include properties such as:

  • The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, in Canada
  • The Historic District of Old Québec, in Canada
  • The Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador
  • Ancient City of Damascus, in Syria
  • The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, in Peru
  • Paris - the Banks of the Seine, in France
  • The Acropolis, in Greece
  • The Great Wall, in China
  • Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis, in Egypt
  • Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, in the United Kingdom
  • The Taj Mahal, in India
  • The Persian Garden, in Iran
  • The Great Barrier Reef, in Australia

The World Heritage Centre's Web site provides information about all of the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. It is available in eight languages, and in addition to information on each World Heritage site, there are maps, images, documents associated with the property, and more.

The World Heritage List – Canada

Since 1976, when Canada joined the World Heritage Convention, 18 of our country's most cherished heritage sites have met the requirements to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. They represent some of humanity's most outstanding achievements and nature's most inspiring creations. Some of our sites celebrate the history of the worldwide movements of people while others provide evidence of the forces that have shaped the planet. Some bear witness to the story of evolution of life on Earth and yet others pay tribute to extraordinary human achievements. They all cross the bounds of space, time and language and present Canada's stories of international significance to the world.

The World Heritage Committee

The World Heritage Convention established the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee. It consists of representatives from 21 of the State Parties to the Convention who are elected for terms of four to six years.

Once a property has been nominated and evaluated, it is up to the Committee to make the final decision on its inscription. Once a year, the Committee meets to decide which properties will be inscribed on the World Heritage List. In addition to inscribing a property or deciding not to inscribe, the Committee can also defer or refer the nomination and request further information on a property from the relevant State Party.

While the Committee can inscribe sites as part of its management of the World Heritage List, if necessary, it can also delete sites from it. It also manages the List of World Heritage in Danger. It monitors the state of conservation of sites on the World Heritage List and can ask State Parties to take action to ensure that World Heritage sites are protected and managed appropriately. It defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from State Parties.

The World Heritage Centre

The work of the World Heritage Committee is supported by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris, which ensures the day-to-day management of the Convention. The Centre's primary role is as the secretariat for the Committee, though it also advises State Parties on technical matters, organizes technical assistance upon request and co-ordinates reporting on the condition of properties. It also co-ordinates emergency action for threatened sites and administers the World Heritage Fund.

Becoming a World Heritage Site

There is a four-stage process to follow for any heritage site to become a World Heritage site. A site may be proposed for inscription only by the country in which the property is located. Since Parks Canada is Canada's lead agency for implementing the World Heritage Convention, it manages this process for Canada.

Stage 1 – The National Tentative List

In order for a country to be able to nominate a potential site for the consideration of the World Heritage Committee, the property must be on the country's Tentative List. This list is an inventory of candidate sites that the country believes has good potential to meet one or more of the criteria for inscription on the World Heritage List. The World Heritage Committee examines a maximum of two nominations per year from each country's Tentative List.

Stage 2 – The Nomination Dossier

A nomination dossier is prepared for the site according to the requirements outlined in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. It is a detailed and exhaustive document. The file must clearly demonstrate that the site is of Outstanding Universal Value compared with other similar sites around the world and that it meets at least one out of ten selection criteria. (Click here to see the 10 criteria in detail.) These criteria are always considered in the context of the Convention's definitions of monuments, groups of buildings, cultural and natural sites, natural features, and geological and physiographical formations. The nomination must also show that the site meets the qualifying conditions of authenticity and/or integrity. Furthermore, it must demonstrate that the site is protected and managed under Canadian (federal, provincial, territorial and/or municipal) legislation and policies, and that it has in place a management plan adequate to ensure the continued protection of the values that led to its inscription.

Stage 3 – The Evaluation

Once the nomination file is checked by the World Heritage Centre for completeness, it is independently evaluated by the appropriate Advisory Body as mandated by the Convention. Respectively, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), provide the World Heritage Committee with evaluations of nominated cultural and natural sites. A third Advisory Body, The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (known as ICCROM) may review the nomination in particular if there is a museum associated with the property. As part of the review conducted by these international, non-governmental organizations, experts visit the nominated site to evaluate its heritage values, its protection and management regime, and to confirm the level of support of the various stakeholders. The Advisory Body then makes its recommendation to the World Heritage Committee.

Stage 4 – The World Heritage Committee

The World Heritage Committee makes a decision on the nomination file. It can inscribe the site on the World Heritage List, not inscribe the site on the list, or send the nomination back for further information. Committee decisions regarding nomination files are made during its annual meetings. Committee meeting are typically held in June or July and hosted by the State Party of that year's Committee Chair. Canada has hosted two World Heritage Committee meetings; the first in Banff in 1990, and the second in Quebec City in 2008.

After being placed on the Tentative List, the process of preparing a nomination can be expected to take at least two years and may take much longer. After submission of the completed nomination file, the evaluation and review process takes approximately 18 months.

Canada's Tentative List

In 2004, the Government of Canada adopted its current Tentative List. The list is an inventory of candidate sites for World Heritage designation that was developed as part of a national process of study, analysis and consultation. The sites on the list are believed to have a strong potential to meet the requirements for designation set out in the Operational Guidelines.

As of August 2016, five of the 11 sites that were on Canada's 2004 Tentative List have been successfully inscribed as World Heritage sites. Nomination files for the other six sites are in various stages of preparation. (Go to: Canada's Tentative List.)

The Government of Canada is updating the country’s Tentative List for World Heritage Sites, an inventory of natural and cultural heritage properties with strong potential to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Managing and Reporting on the Status of World Heritage Sites

Successfully inscribing a property on the World Heritage List is not the end of the process for Canada or for the site managers. Rather, it is the beginning of a new stage in the site's history, and one that is expected to continue in perpetuity.

Through a process called Periodic Reporting (see paragraphs 199-210 and Annex 7 of the Operational Guidelines), State Parties have an obligation to regularly prepare reports on a six-year cycle about the state of conservation and the various protective measures put in place at their properties. These reports allow the World Heritage Committee to assess the conditions at the properties and, in certain circumstances, to decide on the necessity of adopting specific measures to resolve recurrent problems. Working co-operatively with site managers, Parks Canada coordinates the preparation of Periodic Reports for Canada's World Heritage sites.

Through these reporting procedures, should it be determined that a World Heritage property is under threat, the World Heritage Committee may request reactive monitoring. To this end, the State Parties may be asked to submit specific reports each time there are potential or perceived threats which may have an effect on the state of conservation of the property.

In exceptional cases, the Committee may consider adding a property to the List of World Heritage in Danger or even removing it from the World Heritage List altogether.

The World Heritage Emblem

Official emblem of the World Heritage Convention

A design by Belgian artist Michel Olyff was adopted as the official emblem of the World Heritage Convention in 1978. The emblem represents the interdependence of the world's natural and cultural diversity. It is used to identify properties protected by the World Heritage Convention and inscribed on the official World Heritage List, and represents the universal values for which the Convention stands. While the central square symbolizes the results of human skill and inspiration, the circle celebrates the gifts of nature. The emblem is round, like the world, a symbol of global protection for the heritage of all humankind.

Use of the World Heritage emblem, is strictly regulated and determined by the World Heritage Committee, with guidelines for its use defined in Chapter VIII of the Operational Guidelines. Please note that before using the World Heritage emblem in any form, appropriate authorization is required. Please contact wh.pm@pc.gc.ca for more information regarding its use.