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  • A Century of Parks Canada, 1911–2011 ed. by Claire Elizabeth Campbell
  • Sean Kheraj (bio)
Claire Elizabeth Campbell, editor. A Century of Parks Canada, 1911–2011. University of Calgary Press. x, 448. $34.95

Does the true wealth of the Dominion reside in national parks? Canada’s national parks have become important symbols of identity, according to surveys cited in Lyle Dick’s epilogue to A Century of Parks Canada, 1911–2011, a timely collection of critical essays by leading parks historians on the past 100 years of federal parks policy. While many Canadians may believe that the national parks hold great symbolic meaning for their collective identity, it is not clear exactly what the parks mean. In fact, as this book reveals, the meaning of national parks and the guiding philosophy for their administration has undergone a number of significant transformations since the creation of the federal Parks Branch (now Parks Canada) in 1911.

Throughout this century-long history, the meaning of national parks has been contested and debated among bureaucrats, policymakers, business interests, tourists, environmentalists, aboriginal peoples, and ordinary park users. The historians in this collection focus primarily on policy matters related solely to national parks and the persistent tension between preservation and use, while excluding most discussion of other areas of Parks Canada’s jurisdiction, including national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. The chronological order of the essays in this book provides the reader with the opportunity to make some sense of the various twists and turns in federal national parks policy, beginning with Alan MacEachern’s insightful examination of the early years of the Parks Branch through the biography of Mabel Williams, a significant, albeit overlooked, figure in Canadian parks history. The chronology charts parks policy through three major periods of transition: the early creation and development of a coherent parks policy between 1911 and 1930; the expansion of the parks system and tourist facilities across the country from the 1930sto the 1960s; and the transformation and fragmentation of parks policy since the 1960s in response to environmental activism, ecological sciences, local resistance, and the aboriginal rights movement.

The essays on the earliest period of national parks history provide the most coherent narrative of the development of parks policy through the newly formed Parks Branch. John Sandlos’s analysis of the relationship between parks policy and tourism promotion between 1911 and 1929 stands out as one of the most important contributions to the collection. Sandlos adeptly challenges and debunks the myth-making narratives of contemporary wilderness advocates, such as Harvey Locke, who argue that the origins of the national parks reside in ‘a historical continuum of wilderness activism.’ Instead, Sandlos reveals that ‘both government officials and civil society in the 1910s and 1920s were much more focused on parks’ [End Page 637] commercial potential.’ During this period, the Parks Branch developed the national parks as playgrounds for recreational automobile tourism rather than wilderness preserves.

While the early period of parks policy appears most coherent in this book, the following two periods of national parks history offer a more disjointed narrative, perhaps because of the fragmentation of parks policy by the 1980s. Essays covering the period between 1945 and the present offer case studies of specific national parks, including Banff, Prince Albert, La Maurice, Kouchibouguac, Kluane, Ivvavik, and Jasper. Several of these case studies demonstrate a growing resistance among local people to centralized federal park management by the 1960s and 1970s. The shack tent and cottage owners from Prince Albert National Park shared a common sense of distrust and resentment toward the Parks Branch with displaced Acadian families from Kouchibouguac and Yukon First Nations who were excluded from hunting in Kluane. The differences in the political and social power of each of these local groups, however, resulted in a fragmentation of national parks policy in Canada. Shack tent and cottage owners remarkably retained their special privileges in Prince Albert while Acadians were forcibly removed from Kouchibouguac. Yukon First Nations (and the Inuvialuit in the far north) took hold of the emerging aboriginal rights movement in the 1970s and reshaped national parks policy to recognize land claims and the right to hunt, fish, and...