- Climber’s Paradise: Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906–1974 by PearlAnn Reichwein
Canada’s national parks have a complex history in which sport-oriented nature tourism is a key element. PearlAnn Reichwein. Climber’s Paradise provides a detailed account of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) and its entwined relationship with Canada’s mountain parks. This history focuses on western Canada and a western Canadian sport heritage. It is a valuable addition to social, environmental, and sport historiographies [End Page 544] and, importantly, highlights the intermingled concepts of nature and culture, of conservation and preservation, that permeated (and still influence) Canada’s parks and Canadians’ interactions with the physical world. This account travels chronologically through seven chapters that broadly reflect periods in the club’s and the parks’ developments. Throughout, Reichwein highlights how western mountain parks were contested spaces with multiple definitions and how mountaineers’ particular sense of place and land ethic within these parks changed over time in response to wider definitions and social realities, though their love of the mountains and of climbing remained steadfast.
Chapter one sets the groundwork for Reichwein’s emphasis throughout the book on the relationship between the federal government (predominantly through the Parks Branch) and the ACC as they engaged with conservation, recreation, and tourism. Chapter two explores the origins of the ACC and its approaches to alpinism that reinforced its English-speaking, urban, well-educated, leisured, and upper-middle-class membership and that aligned with the federal government’s dual national park mandate of use and protection. Chapter three investigates ACC camps as expressions of the climbers’ collective identity—an identity that included a blend of western mountain sport and “outdoorsy camp life amid polite society”—that borrowed from and interacted with the major railway players in the park system during the early twentieth century and helped the club take an active role in opposing proposed hydro projects within the parks. In chapter four Reichwein further examines the shifts in the ACC’s activism, from alignment with Commissioner James Bernard Harkin’s new management focus on the inviolability of the parks as the central tenet to a focus on recreation during the Depression years owing to the creation of the advocacy-driven Canadian National Park Association and the club’s need to shore up its declining membership, not to mention falling out of favour with the new government over its previous opposition to development. Chapter five expands on the club’s adjusted vision as a reflection of the times, whether by organizing World War II mountaineering training camps for soldiers or modifying its focus to accommodate a broader clientele, different climbing styles, and skiing. Chapter six marks the ACC’s transition to a new era of park life in the 1950s and 1960s with mass tourism, further pushes for resource extraction, renewed nationalism (including the Centennial Expeditions into the Yukon), and a growing awareness of the changes to the parks’ environments owing to such activities. Chapter seven brings the ACC narrative to the 1970s, when the club rearticulated its focus on conservation and also engaged with the new notion of ecology and the negative consequences of unchecked post-war tourism.
Reichwein infuses her chapters with enthusiasm for the topic. The book is punctuated throughout with an array of images and biographical [End Page 545] sidebars that add to an already engaging and impressively sourced story. Her epilogue further illustrates her zest for the club’s history, for the mountain landscapes of Canada, and for the value of both as means to discuss the state of Canada’s national parks and environments. There were moments where one wanted to hear more—about the lives of the labourers who were part of the early club’s tenting experience and about the “travellers of all ages, sizes, and abilities” who mountaineered but were often excluded from the clubs’ official discourse in the 1970s. Nonetheless, Climber’s Paradise is a discerning example of how sport and leisure are useful lenses through which to explore the history and politics of Canada...