- Landscape Architecture in Canada by Ron Williams
By Ron Williams. 2014. McGill- Queen’s University Press. 664 pages. $65 hardback, ISBN: 9780773542068.
This book is a history of landscape architecture in Canada, seen from a broad geographical and cultural perspective.”(Williams 2014, Introduction)
Christmas came early for me this year in the form of a package lodged in my front door. I knew what it contained, but was full of anticipation as I carefully opened the packaging revealing a project almost 15 years in the making.
In September 2000, Susan Buggey, then chief historian at Parks Canada, invited me to join a group of landscape experts workshopping ideas for her friend Ron Williams, who was on a one- year sabbatical writing a book on landscape architecture and its evolution in Canada. In 2005 we invited Williams to present his findings in order to increase the federal government’s depth and range of knowledge in landscape history. By that time, Williams was at a critical point in his information- gathering mode and appreciated what he would come to remember as “an ideal opportunity to structure and clarify the content of the book”, distilled into a four- hour whirlwind tour. Now, almost ten years later, the marathon is complete and we—as well as future generations of landscape enthusiasts—are the grateful beneficiaries.
Ron Williams is a landscape architect, a teacher, and a keen observer of his environment who set out to describe the overall evolution of designed landscapes in Canada “from the point of view of a practicing landscape architect with a passion for history.” In this he has succeeded.
There should be no surprise, given Williams’s rich and varied background: a happy amalgam of a Canadian upbringing (Toronto), American training (Berkeley), Canadian practice/teaching (Montreal) and travel (too varied to mention). Williams’s uncompromising passion for this country, its rich history, and the resultant ‘stories written on its land’, was fueled by J. B. Jackson, his teacher at Berkeley, whose dictum was that the primary source for landscape studies is the landscape itself. In fact, for more than 40 years Ron has actively participated in shaping the face of the profession by transforming both Quebec’s physical and intellectual landscapes.
This research became a personal journey of discovery, a lengthy pilgrimage across the country that allowed me to comprehend and appreciate its remarkable biophysical and human variety.
The powerful image of a seaside boardwalk in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, on Canada’s east coast, adorns the book cover: it aptly symbolizes landscape architecture/design’s blend of design with nature. Williams says “Landscape architecture involves the design, planning, management and conservation of exterior spaces . . . defined by its practitioners as a social art, focusing on the creation of places for people to ‘circulate, to relax, to develop, and to undertake various activities both workaday and recreational.’”
On opening the book, one glances over tulips at the Montreal Botanical Gardens (virtually in [End Page 99] Williams’s own backyard) and then is immediately struck by the two- page image of an inuksuk at Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. This is no accident: as beautiful as the image is, its use hints at an important consideration in articulating this story: the First Nations peoples.
. . . long before professional practitioners earned their living designing landscapes, the Canadian landscape was shaped and modified by human hands in a deliberate and conscious manner.
The finished product comprises 24 chapters and is structured in four parts: the Landscape Heritage of the First Nations and Colonists, including a preface about natural landscapes; the 19th century Challenges of an Urban and Industrial Landscape; Years of Challenge, 1914–1945: Landscape Innovations in Times of War and Depression; and, Birth of the Modern Landscape, from 1945 to the Present Day. Williams readily admits that Landscape Architecture in Canada is not encyclopedic but, rather, sets out to “describe the overall evolution of the designed landscape in Canada, illustrated by a detailed discussion of a few key examples from each period, movement or trend” in a generally chronological manner.
It is apparent on first glance—as well as subsequent re- visits—that the volume boasts a...