- Nature and Nation: Recent Books in Canadian Environmental History
William Mackenzie King once remarked that “if some countries have too much history, then we have too much geography” (quoted in Turkel 2007, 77). Mackenzie King was speaking of the chronological versus territorial span of the Confederation, but he was also referring to its hinterlands, the spaces between settlements and presumably outside of history. The recent increase in books and articles on the history of the Canadian environment is a rejoinder. In the past five years, besides the eight titles reviewed here, numerous studies, research chairs, collaborative grants, databases, and websites have been produced or sponsored by Canadian funding agencies, universities, and publishers—principally the University of British Columbia Press and its Nature/History/Society Series, under the general editorship of Graeme Wynn. The October 2007 special issue of Environmental History, the journal of the American Society of Environmental Historians, was entirely devoted to Canadian topics. More projects are in the works.1
Still, it is convenient to have this epigram from a Canadian, since similar sentiments from outsiders are usually conjectural. Asked how they imagine the place, non-Canadians typically call up impressions of interminable winter and vast landscapes of forest or tundra. While its landmass is big, Canada’s population is relatively small and—except for Canadians’ exceptional decency and devotion to cold weather sports—difficult to distinguish from the societies of Britain or its other (more or less former) settler colonies. What is distinctive about Canada? This is a question that few foreigners have cared to study; mainly Canadian scholars have examined the history of the country’s environment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of their conclusions have been indeterminate, either explicitly or implicitly so. Not unlike the environmental history of other countries, changes in Canadian climate, animal populations, or sea and landscapes are often more readily understood in a supranational context or in comparison to someplace else.
The environmental history of Canada, in policy and practice, has been a colonial, North American, or Atlantic—rather than a strictly national—phenomenon. 2 The rise of environmentalism in Canada and debates here about natural resource and wildlife conservation, land- and water-use rights, or environmental regulations influenced and were influenced by developments...