- Climber’s Paradise: Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906–1974 by PearlAnn Reichwein
Beginning and ending with a recognition of her personal connection to the topic, PearlAnn Reichwein provides a rich and absorbing history of the Alpine Club of Canada (acc), beginning at the organization’s birth in Winnipeg in 1906 and ending with the club’s conservation work in the 1970s. Rather than providing a groundbreaking account of the history of Canadian national parks, Climber’s Paradise, instead, adds another component to the growing body of recent national park history, like the essays in A Century of Parks Canada (Calgary, 2011) that acknowledge national parks as dynamic cultural staging grounds for social, political, and scientific agendas. The study of mountaineering, and its connection to environmental, gender, and other history subfields, has been gaining momentum as seen in volumes like Peter H. Hansen’s The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the Enlightenment (Cambridge and London, 2013). “The history of mountaineering in Canada,” Reichwein writes, “is not a unilinear process of sport ‘progress’ or a ‘coming of age,’ but a diverse and contested field of ongoing social relations interacting in specific times and places as a dynamic site of culture” (p. xiii). Reichwein immediately situates herself amongst those that view parks as peopled places, places where humankind and nature are intertwined. Mountaineering, Reichwein argues, provides a device by which to examine the way in which humans interact with the environment and create meaning.
Reichwein portrays the mountains and the park boundaries that encompass them as both physical and imagined borderlands, a place where [End Page 601] differences and identities are created and managed. A constant undercurrent in Climber’s Paradise is the acc’s connection to the evolution of Canadian nationhood. A predominantly western organization, particularly in its first fifty years, the acc’s activities illustrate the ways in which Canadians and the Canadian government latched onto the sublime western mystique to create a unique Canadian identity. Several aspects of this national identity and the acc’s involvement in this process are apparent in Reichwein’s treatment of the organization’s story. Firstly, Reichwein demonstrates how the organization was anglo-centric, promoting “a distinct combination of alpinism and Anglo-Canadian nationalism” (p. 25). An elite organization, the acc and its membership illustrates that park-making in the formative years was largely an elite and whitewashed process. In chapter six, Reichwein briefly touches upon acc’s relations with aboriginal peoples, but does not give the subject detailed treatment, which is a missed chance to add depth to the narrative.
The male/female dynamics within the acc also illuminate the gendered aspects of Canadian identity. The dominance of white, male members in the club and the emphasis on climbing, or conquering, the next peak is reminiscent of the way in which Gail Bederman connects masculinity and race identity to the civilizing process in Manliness and Civilization (Chicago, 1995). However, unlike other mountaineering clubs, the acc admitted women at its inception, and Reichwein does an excellent job highlighting the ways in which the female members, like Elizabeth Parker and Phyllis Munday, negotiated the gendered climate of both the club and the society at large in order to create their own space in the organization. The club’s dedication to promoting scientific knowledge and facilitating government and science cooperation also connects Reichwein’s work to studies, such as Suzanne Zeller’s Inventing Canada (Kingston & Montreal, 2009), that link the creation of Canadian nationhood with the country’s strong relationship with science.
As a group invested in both sustaining the natural beauty and ecological integrity of Canadian national parks and a group also dependent on the use and accessibility of these same parks, the acc acts as a suitable instrument by which to further examine the continuous tug-of-war between recreation and preservation within the country’s national parks. Reichwein effectively shows how the club’s dedication to conservation and preservation ebbed and flowed through the decades as the organization balanced its own...