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  • Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century by Neil S. Forkey
  • Sean Kheraj
Forkey, Neil S. – Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Pp. 157.

To write an environmental history of Canada in fewer than one hundred and fifty pages is no simple task. Neil S. Forkey’s recent contribution to the “Themes in Canadian History” series from the University of Toronto Press ably takes on this daunting challenge, offering a brief and accessible account of the field for undergraduate students and other non-specialist readers. Like other books in this series, Forkey’s textbook successfully synthesizes current literature while providing a broad geographic and chronological survey of Canadian history.

Canadian environmental historians now have a small collection of textbooks from which to choose for teaching this growing sub-discipline. David Freeland Duke’s 2006 book Canadian Environmental History was the first such textbook, offering a collection of previously published articles and book chapters from Canadian and US literature. Since its publication new textbooks have attempted a variety of styles to suit different course formats. Graeme Wynn’s lengthy, Canada and Arctic North America: An Environmental History (2006), serves as a useful comprehensive text with a strong narrative argument. Method and Meaning in Canadian Environmental History (2009), edited by Alan MacEachern and William J. Turkel, is a collection of original essays on an assortment of topics. This collection with its focus on methodological approaches and challenges to studying environmental history is well-suited to advanced undergraduate and graduate seminars. Finally, UBC Press’ recently published An Environmental History of Canada by Laurel Sefton MacDowell is one of the first to attempt a traditional comprehensive survey textbook format.

Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century provides a succinct narrative of Canadian environmental history that is structured by a clear central argument. As such, it is very well suited for use in undergraduate seminar courses. The book is primarily driven by Forkey’s contention that “[a]t the surface level, Canadians’ experience with the natural world has been informed by two major impulses. The first is the need to exploit natural resources, while the second is the desire to protect them” (p. 3). Forkey uses this argument as a hook for his readers to think critically about the various fluctuations in human relations with the rest of nature in Canada since European colonization in the early seventeenth century. [End Page 233]

In five brief chapters, Forkey impressively covers a chronology from the early 1600s to the present. His first chapter encompasses the broadest time frame, examining European resettlement across what is now Canada from the early seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. This chapter admittedly skips across an enormous sweep of history, but does so in order to demonstrate the ways in which natural resources became knowable to European/Euro-Canadian colonizers through natural history. Such early scientific observations, according to Forkey, were used to simultaneously amass knowledge about exploitable natural resources and to build an appreciation for the natural world. In the following two chapters, Forkey looks at the histories of conservation and preservation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These two chapters capture best the tension at the heart of this narrative between consumption of natural resources and the protection of the environment. Drawing from a substantive body of literature, these chapters outline the emergence of the conservation movement in Canada and its transnational connections through forestry sciences and wildlife and fisheries management. They also cover the romantic inspirations for the development of parks in Canada, particularly the national parks in the Rocky Mountains. In the final chapters, Forkey explores the origins and development of modern environmentalism in Canada after the Second World War, a period when Euro-Canadians re-evaluated their relationship with nature and sought to protect the environment through the application of ecological principles. The last chapter of the book specially looks at the place of Aboriginal peoples in twentieth-century Canadian environmentalism. Citing specific case studies, including the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and James Bay hydro-electric power projects, Forkey shows the effects of natural resource exploitation in northern Canada...


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