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  • Nature, Place and Story: Rethinking Historic Sites in Canada by Claire Elizabeth Campbell
  • Will Smith
Claire Elizabeth Campbell, Nature, Place and Story: Rethinking Historic Sites in Canada (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017), 224 pp. Cased. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-77355-125-1.

Prompted by a sense that studies of historic sites in Canada have maintained an anthropocentric framework, Claire Elizabeth Campbell's Nature, Place and Story advocates an awareness of monuments and historic sites within their environment. Repositioning such sites within environmental history means here a history of decision-making that has implications for the environment at local, national, and global scales. Through careful and rich research, Campbell weaves a compelling argument for understanding historic sites by prioritising place. Drawing on a wealth of scholarship from public history, historical geography, and tourism studies, she tells the story of five historic sites across Canada, discussing the processes that formed their heritage status. Focusing on L'Anse aux Meadows, Grand Pré, Fort William Historical Park, Forks of the Red River, and Bar U Ranch, Campbell traces the decisions that shaped how these sites have been imagined and re-imagined. Throughout, the national context is ever-present as common federal strategies seek to position heritage as 'a gentler, more appealing form of history' (p. 19).

Too often, certified historic sites are exempted from broader regional and national histories. Instead the very forces of preservation that conserve historic sites as protected environments can serve as an alibi for not investigating the industrial and environmental narratives in which their production is deeply embedded. Campbell here poses a challenge, to see historic sites 'not as islands of history' (p. 24) but as parts of wider economic and societal priorities. For example, considering Grand Pré alongside 'the rest of the Annapolis Valley and the province, and today's dykelands in relation to industry norms' (p. 70) might also mean rethinking efforts to freeze a locale within one period of history and open conversations about sustainability and plans for future land use. Similarly, in the case of Fort William Historical Park, re-evaluating the re-enactment of fur trade life and a reconstructed trading post through a wider lens might also engage with the economic history of resource exploitation and challenging perceptions of wilderness. The example of the park created on the junction of Winnipeg's Red and Assiniboine Rivers, known as 'the Forks', draws attention to the recognition of environmental history and the extent to which human interaction with nature is integrated into this narrative. As Campbell concludes, these approaches suggest that historic sites can be seen as evidence of environmental history but they might also serve as 'a mirror to our every day' (p. 129) where they form a concentrated selection of how Canadian life is led today. [End Page 234]

The case studies examined here each form particular narratives of design and collaborative imagining but all share similar concerns in the communication of public history, private-public investment, and tourism as the driving industry. Campbell's strong advocacy for an environmental approach to cultural history has application in many fields. This book should generate new scholarship around national historic sites, but it also provides excellent material for interdisciplinary Canadian Studies research and teaching. Campbell's clear-eyed contextualisation of the managerial discourses surrounding heritage industry is deeply illustrative of the values and priorities at work in imagining the future of Canada.

Will Smith
University of Stirling


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pp. 234-235
Launched on MUSE
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