The History of Wildlife Protection in Québec
When Canada became a country in 1867, crown lands were transferred to the provinces. A Commissioner of Crown Lands was appointed in Québec to oversee wildlife management. At the time, a number of important game protection issues had to be addressed, because the wildlife population was declining significantly.
Québec’s first game wardens
Québec’s first two game wardens, Alfred Blais and William Carpenter-Willis from Rimouski, were also hired that year, followed by an additional 19 over the next decade. Applicants were selected on the basis of their experience and knowledge of hunting, fishing and forests. Around the same time, two wildlife species, the passenger pigeon and great auk, became extinct. Poaching was as prevalent as legal hunting and fishing activities, partly because of the shortage of wildlife protection resources. A game warden was paid $50… per year!
The foundations of the Wildlife Protection Service
In 1897, Louis-Zéphirin Joncas, the first Superintendent of Fisheries and Hunting, submitted a memorandum setting out the foundations of the Wildlife Protection Service. Among other things, he proposed:
- professional status for game wardens and fish wardens;
- more structured supervision of the territory;
- the sale of hunting and fishing licences.
Unfortunately, his ambitious project was not implemented because public funds were in short supply, and it was not until the 1930s that the principles proposed by Joncas began to be applied. The territory of Québec was then divided into nine districts, each with its own officer responsible for overseeing employees. A hunting licence cost $1, and the average fine was $8.42. At the time, newly appointed game wardens received a badge, a copy of the applicable legislation and a weekly log book. They used their own vehicle, if they had one, and purchased their own firearm. Their main tasks were to:
- enforce the legislation governing hunting and fishing; and
- collect duties on fur pelts.
Professional status for wardens
Training courses for game wardens and fishing wardens were first offered by the Grande-Rivière Fishing School in 1950, shortly before the Quiet Revolution. A new training school was then opened on Turnbull Street in Québec City in 1959. Working conditions improved in the 1960s:
- Salaries were increased;
- Vehicles were provided by the employer;
- Snowshoes were replaced by snowmobiles;
- The first telecommunications service was introduced.
Despite this progress, however, game wardens and fishing wardens often had to work from their homes:
- selling licences and providing big game registration services;
- writing reports;
- welcoming citizens who had questions about the rules.
If the warden was not at home, his wife did the job in his place.
Adoption of the Wildlife Conservation Act
A new Wildlife Conservation Act was adopted on December 12, 1969, and had the following impacts:
- The terms “game warden” and “fishing warden” were replaced by the term “wildlife conservation officer”.
- The department itself became the “Wildlife Conservation Service”.
Hiring standards became more stringent and staff training was transferred to the Police Institute in Nicolet. A dedicated Training and Professional Development Centre was opened in the Cerf Building in Duchesnay in 1979. The Centre, which offered basic training and professional development for officers, was closed in the fall of 2017 and replaced by a brand new building on the same site, tailor-made to meet modern training needs.
A modern organization to protect, educate and prevent
In the early 1980s:
- A public awareness program was introduced to educate the general public on the importance of preserving and protecting the wildlife heritage and its habitats.
- The first toll-free emergency line was introduced: S.O.S. Poaching. It still exists today and is used by the general public to report instances of poaching and wildlife-related emergencies. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Wildlife Conservation Québec introduced the moto that its officers still display proudly, even today: “Protect, Educate, Prevent”.
- Québec’s new Wildlife Conservation flag was introduced.
- A canine squad, specially trained to meet the needs of officers, was set up to help teams with investigations.
- The department changed its name, becoming the Wildlife Protection Service of Québec.
- The Wildlife Protection Service’s new badge, emblem and flag were inaugurated.
Today, wildlife protection officers oversee compliance with ten Acts and nearly 150 regulations governing wildlife species and habitats. They are also responsible for educating citizens. They maintain strong links not only with wildlife enthusiasts, but also with the general public, communities and wildlife partners.
The future seems promising for Québec’s Wildlife Protection Service. As an organization, it adapts to its environment, recruits better trained officers and makes greater use of technology in its work.
Having adjusted to new situations and developments for the last 150 years, the Wildlife Protection Service and its officers can look forward to many more years as the proud custodians of Québec’s wildlife heritage.