Neil S. Forkey. Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century. Themes in Canadian History Series. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. 168 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8020-4896-7; $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8020-9022-5; $24.95 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-4426-6226-1.
Reviewed by Gerald Killan (University of Western Ontario)
Published on H-Canada (February, 2013)
Commissioned by Stephanie Bangarth (King's University College, UWO)
Neil S. Forkey's impressive Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century is the tenth volume in the University of Toronto Press's Themes in Canadian History series, books targeted at undergraduates and general readers. In a remarkably succinct and compelling narrative in five chapters--comprising 125 pages of text, plus an introduction and conclusion, each 2 pages in length--Forkey succeeds in outlining the current state of Canadian environmental history. There are no footnotes to intimidate the target audiences. The published literature used by the author to craft his sweeping interpretive synthesis is presented chapter by chapter in the 23 pages of selected bibliography. Anyone intent on delving more deeply into a theme raised in any chapter will find it easy to do so.
By means of a judicious choice of case studies drawn from every region over the course of four centuries, Forkey reads Canadian history through its environment. His thesis is concise: "Canadians' experience with the natural world has been informed by two major impulses. The first is the need to exploit natural resources while the second is the desire to protect them" (p. 3). He persuasively demonstrates that the complex interplay between a diverse and changing cast of characters, seeking either to exploit or to protect Canada's natural resources, has been "integral to the formation of Canada," and that "humans and nature are mutually entwined in one related narrative of Canada's past" (pp. 124, 4). Forkey deftly organizes the considerable body of literature on Canadian environmental history, and the myriad of themes developed by researchers, around the exploitation/protection paradigm; each chapter details the evolving balance between the conflicting impulses.
In a remarkably condensed yet surprisingly detailed first chapter, he provides a fascinating overview of the exploitation of natural resources across all Canada's regions from the 1600s to the early 1900s. This is the period when Canada was perceived by Aboriginal and European peoples as an unlimited storehouse of natural resources to be drawn on without restriction. The exploitation of nature's bounty obviously wrought environmental change. Until the 1850s, however, because Europeans and Euro-Canadians colonized the land unevenly from Acadia to the Pacific Coast, "at different times and with varying degrees of impact ... environmental change was sporadic and localized" (p. 7). The most dramatic and tragic alteration to early Canadian environments involved the Aboriginal peoples whose ranks were decimated by European diseases beginning in the 1630s. This ecological disaster inexorably spread west and north over the decades. Other environmental changes were not yet alarming; they only hinted at future "drastic wholesale transformations of the land and waters" (p. 15). For example, as early as the 1630s, overexploitation led to depletion of beaver populations in parts of the St. Lawrence Valley and Huronia; David Thompson first reported depletion of beaver stocks due to over-trapping on the West Coast early in the nineteenth century. The demand of the China fur trade even resulted in species collapse--sea otter--in the Pacific Northwest in the 1810s, after a mere three decades of rapacious hunting by English, American, and Russian traders. On the Atlantic Coast, where the cod fisheries had flourished since the 1530s, reports of cyclical declines in salt cod exports in the 1830s were a harbinger of the collapse of the great cod fishery over a century and a half later.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Crown forests of New Brunswick became Great Britain's principal source of timber; the extraction of pine for masts and shipbuilding resulted in the denuding of the forests. Not until the mid-nineteenth century--when sparse populations, extensive agricultural patterns, and dense forests in Upper Canada gave way to population growth; intensive agricultural expansion; urbanization; and railway development--did Upper Canadians become "veritable 'ecological revolutionaries' reshaping the land with their numbers and the new species of crops they introduced " (p. 9). The assault on the forests also began in earnest, and by the 1870s three-quarters of the mature woodland south of the Canadian Shield in Ontario had been lost. West of Ontario at mid-century, little was known of the agricultural potential of the prairies, or the interior of the Pacific West--the fur trade continued to discourage settlement.
Forkey provides an excellent overview of the role played by French and British amateur and professional natural scientists who catalogued and classified resources, observed climate, or examined the lifecycles and habitats of flora and fauna "to expand the wealth and knowledge of empire and nation" (p. 16). In New France, the work of the military surgeon Michael Sarrazin in the late seventeenth century and Jean-Francois Gaultier, who in the mid-eighteenth century recorded as botanist, meteorologist, and mineralogist, are shown to be examples of those who "embodied the spirit of exploration and collection in a way ... important to the larger effort of empire building" (p. 19). Later, the British government was also well served by such worthies as Andre Michaux in the Rupert River area near James Bay (1790s), David Douglas in Rupert's Land and the Pacific Coast (late 1820s), and various Hudson Bay Company traders and former military engineers.
Interestingly, a few others, influenced by British naturalist Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborn (1789), studied the natural world from a proto-ecological rather than a utilitarian perspective. Titus Smith Jr. of Nova Scotia identified two vegetative zones in his province, and writing in the 1830s, he anticipated George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature: Or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1864) by identifying the deleterious impact of deforestation on eastern Mediterranean countries. In Upper Canada, Catherine Parr Trail in The Backwoods of Canada (1836) lamented the pace of deforestation by settlers in the Trent watershed. Similarly, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, Philip Henry Gosse, who botanized and studied meteorology, wrote in his The Canadian Naturalist (1840) "that humans were meant to be stewards and create harmony" (p. 22). He also decried the wanton killing of deer, and even recognized the role of predators like the wolf. Forkey posits that the "conservation and preservation impulses of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries are grounded in the questions and concerns raised" by natural historians, like Smith and Parr Trail (p. 32).
Canadian governments, both before and after confederation, also vigorously "encouraged the exploitation of the environment for economic gain" (p. 5). The United Province of Canada established the Geological Survey of Canada (1852) and launched a systematic inventory of mineral wealth. The failure to find coal assisted the confederation movement as central Canadian capitalists coveted Nova Scotia's coal resources, which were unavailable due to interprovincial trade duties prior to 1867. Scientific exploration also "supported the opening of the Northwest" after confederation. The expeditions of John Palliser, Henry Youle Hind, and Simon J. Dawson in the late 1850s "reinvented the Northwest in eastern minds" (p. 27). Once believed to be part of the "Great American Desert," these surveys revealed the region from Red River to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to be arable land. These findings fueled the movement for western expansion, particularly among the sons of agriculturalists in Canada West who faced a land shortage by the 1860s. John Macoun, who explored the little-known Palliser's Triangle in 1880, also declared that semiarid area to be arable--his expedition influenced the routing of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
Unbridled exploitation of natural resources and related economic growth gave rise to the conservation impulse (1800s and 1900s), the subject of chapter 2. From the 1870s through World War Two, a growing chorus of voices called attention to the mismanagement and exploitation of forest, fish, and game. These people and legislators began to see the lie in the notion of Canada as an unlimited storehouse of resources, and called for the introduction of wise use or scientific management. In this chapter, Forkey examines the emergence and strengthening of the conservation impulse through the lenses of the local, national, and continental "commons." He defines the "local commons" as the pool of community and local natural resources utilized by Aboriginal and early non-Aboriginal peoples, where custom and not elaborate and formal regulation determined access to natural resources for food (sustenance and dietary supplement) and modest commercial endeavors.
As the conservation impulse strengthened, custom and local control were largely displaced by state legislation (both provincial and national) introduced to regulate and rationalize use of natural resources, thereby eliminating waste and introducing efficiency so as to conserve resources that were deemed essential to the economic future of the provinces and Dominion. Those behind the new regulatory initiatives of the "national commons"--nonlocal resource users, scientists, and law makers--believed that rural users (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike) were the culprits behind resource depletion. Forkey strongly disputes this notion and demonstrates that rural people had "as much regard for their future sustenance and livelihood as anyone else" (p. 36). Aboriginal peoples in northwest Ontario and the Pacific Coast objected to the new regulatory regime; they, too, "frequently sounded the clarion call for wiser resource-protection measures" but in ways "that elevated the supremacy of the local commons" (p. 44).
Reflecting recent studies, Forkey views most of the regulations spawned by the conservation impulse as class and culturally biased. He adopts Tina Loo's thesis that this period of conservation legislation created a "colonization" of rural space by urban elites. Common folk were "more and more distanced" from the essential resources of their "local commons" (p. 67). The beneficiaries of conservation were most often "the new class of gentleman sportsmen" who sought to control excessive hunting and primitive angling methods, as well as governments seeking to promote tourism in natural areas, and upper- and middle-class elites possessed of "vitalist" thinking (the notion that enervated urbanites could obtain physical and mental regeneration by engaging in outdoor recreation activities) (p. 39). Forkey reaches a harsh conclusion: "these types of encroachment upon local resources in the effort to turn a provincial profit distanced rural people from the fish and wildlife that they had had always regarded as common property. Such cases stand as testimony to the fact that conservation laws, superficially noble gestures to defend nature, were highly charged exercises in which urban/rural, rich/poor, recreational/commercial, and Canadian/Aboriginal divides often emerged" (p. 42). Forkey provides many compelling examples from every region of Canada to illustrate these divides.
Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, the need to protect migratory species gave rise to the "continental commons" as Canadian and American authorities cooperated to manage valuable resources. This cooperation generated the Boundary Waters Treaty (1909) and the International Joint Commission (IJC), the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention (1911), the Migratory Birds Convention (1916), and later treaty (1918). Cross-border air pollution was also addressed through the IJC following pollution of agricultural lands in Washington State by the Consolidated Mining Smelter of Canada located in Trail, British Columbia. The IJC decision in 1941 established the important principal of "polluter pays." Interestingly, none of these conservation landmarks in the "continental commons" seem to fall into the category of "superficial noble gestures to defend nature" at the expense of local interests. Still, Forkey finishes this section with a case study of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project following World War Two, a massive endeavor requiring significant dislocation and dispossession of local residents and communities. "As we have seen in numerous examples from this chapter," he concludes, "conservation measures and multiple use development came most often at the expense of local residents" (p. 66). Doubtless, there will be some interesting classroom/tutorial discussions over this assertion.
During the period when utilitarian conservation prevailed, another vision of nature existed--so-called romantic preservation--involving both "the emotional connection that humans share with nature" and "the belief that the preservation of nature for its own sake was as important as economic reasons for conserving resources" (pp. 67-68). Chapter 3 analyzes this parallel impulse. The first national and provincial parks, beginning with Banff Springs and Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Park respectively in 1887, while created primarily for utilitarian reasons (tourism, scenic, and later in other parks for forest and game protection), were also partly the product of preservationist thinking. The wise-use management of parks was increasingly challenged over the course of the twentieth century by the preservationist impulse. One noteworthy step was the successful introduction of the "principle of inviolability" by Dominion Parks Commissioner James B. Harkin with the support of the Alpine Club of Canada in the battle to keep hydroelectric projects out of national parks, like Waterton Lakes. Prior to the 1960s, science, and gradually ecological science (an evolving discipline in that period), shaped park management albeit fitfully, and not always successfully.
English-Canadians and French-Canadians possessed quite different notions of "romantic preservation" or visions of the land. Ontario members of the Imperial Federation League and Canada First saw themselves as the product of northern environments and peoples. They thought of themselves as the inheritors of superior Anglo-Saxon qualities, such as hardiness, strength, freedom, intelligence, and industriousness--in stark contrast to effeminate southern peoples. French-Canadians responded differently through the uniquely Quebec focused le roman de la terre (the novel of the land) perspective of such writers as Louis Hemon and Felix-Antoine Savard. Land and tradition were inexorably combined in this genre of writing; Quebecois "prized the land as one of the pillars (alongside language and Catholicism) that served as bulwarks against English-language domination and foreign (English-Canadian and American) procurement of natural resources" (p. 68).
One of the strengths of this book is the incorporation of literature, artistic expression, and popular culture into the narrative. This is particularly well done in the section "Creating a New Canadian Aesthetic," which examines how two sorts of landscape painting emerged in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that evoked a powerful attachment to place. The first school (often military artists) emerged after the Conquest--their idealized, romantic, tranquil, and pastoral landscape paintings made no illusion to the repercussions of war and conquest; instead, they "introduced the idea that the land was ripe for the transplantation of British culture and progressive designs." "The second variety of landscape painting," argues Forkey, "effected a commodification of the land, displaying a landscape that could be used either to promote tourism or to secure a sense of Canadian identity that was linked to nature" (p. 74). For instance, William Henry Bartlett's paintings in Upper and Lower Canada in the late 1830s "imposed picturesque and sublime imagery on the land" in order "to present Canada to Europeans" (p. 75). Similarly, Lucius O'Brien, renowned for his tourist-promotion paintings for the CPR, illustrated George Monro Grant's two-volume Picturesque Canada: The Country as It Was and Is (1882,1884), the quintessential example of Canadian tourist literature. Forkey believes the paintings of the Group of Seven in Ontario and Emily Carr in British Columbia have "provided the most lasting and omnipresent images of Canada's natural environment," leaving "an imprint on the minds of those living within and outside of Canada. They celebrated a northern distinctiveness" (pp. 76-77). But why the Group of Seven and Carr should be described as contributing to the "commodification of nature" because they spoke to Canadian distinctiveness is not clear. And it is a stretch for Forkey to make a connection between the Group of Seven and the social Darwinist thinking of the imperialists in the following statement: "Though perhaps not fully accepting the racial overtones of this view [the Imperial Federation League and Canada First], the Group of Seven reinforced the image of the North as wedded to 'Canadianism' through their paintings" (p. 71).
As the conservation versus preservation debate characterized Canada for earlier generations, environmentalism has done the same for Canadians since 1960--the theme of chapter 4. Following World War Two, Canada entered decades of unprecedented economic prosperity and urban-industrial expansion. The exploitation of natural resources was relentless. Environmental degradation was unprecedented. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) generated enormous concern over the disastrous impact that the use of DDT was having on the web of life. Ecology came of age and was embraced by Canadians, especially youth (the postwar baby boomers), who began to rethink humanity's relationship in nature. A spate of environmental disasters--the Torre Canyon oil spill in the North Sea (1967); the Santa Barbara, California, spill (1969); the Three Mile Island near-nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania (1979); cancer causing toxic pollution in Love Canal in New York State (1978); and the Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear disaster, to name a few--produced outrage that fueled environmental action.
Forkey provides excellent context for the strengthening environmental impulse by examining how popular culture icons, such as the singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot, as well as renowned writers and novelists (Roderick Haig Brown, Fred Bodsworth, Farley Mowat, Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Atwood, and Jacques Godbout), and filmmaker Frederic Back, all contributed to environmental awareness. They spoke of the importance of ecosystems and reverence for life; raised environmental concerns about water pollution and deforestation; and in the case of Atwood (Surfacing, 1972) and Godbout (L'Isle au Dragon, 976), presented their protagonists as "stewards of the land, protectors against those that sought to possess the natural qualities that informed national identity" (p. 92).
A new kind of environmental activism arose in the late sixties, beginning with the formation of Greenpeace in Vancouver. Enraged by the Vietnam War, nuclear testing and fallout, and specifically the excessive commercial hunting of whales, the group achieved international notoriety by using zodiacs to harass whaling vessels. Later Greenpeace also turned its attention to protecting old-growth forests and to challenging global warming. At the University of Toronto in 1969, a new professor-student activist group called Pollution Probe emerged to combat Great Lakes pollution, especially detergent dumping and the general use of phosphates in household detergents. The group's campaign against phosphate use was unprecedented in its clever use of the media, publicity attracting events, and door-to-door canvassing. Most importantl their claims about the adverse effects of phosphates on Great Lakes ecosystems was irrefutably science-based. As Pollution Probe brought "the issue of pollution to the public consciousness," governments "heeded the sound of youth" and passed the Canada Water Act (1970), resulting in significant reductions in phosphate discharge (p. 98). A decade later, another influential science-based group--the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain (1981)--became Canada's largest environmental activist organization; its efforts also eventually won out with the signing of the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement (1991), which committed both countries to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and to monitor air quality. Environmental activism and heightened public understanding and concern over ecological issues resulted in other legislation: the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act (1985), the Eastern Canada Acid Rain Program (1985), the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (1984), and the Species at Risk Act (2003).
The general tone and subject matter of this chapter on environmentalism is in sharp contrast to the chapter on conservation, which presents conservation laws as "superficially noble gestures to defend nature" that were class and culturally biased (p. 42). Environmental laws as detailed in chapter 4, by contrast, are portrayed in a more inspirational and positive light. Yet it could be argued that class and cultural divides, and new versions of the colonization of rural spaces by urban elites, are present in aspects of the broad environmental movement. Many "divides" are evident in the wilderness preservation movement, for example, that emerged in Ontario in the mid-1960s, not one of this book's case studies. Forkey identifies class and cultural bias in his final chapter on Aboriginal Canadians and natural resources, but not in his chapter on environmentalism. This begs the question of the extent to which similar "divides" were at play in other elements of the environmental impulse.
At the end of the chapter on environmentalism, which, as noted, is generally positive and inspirational in tone and subject matter, the narrative takes a sudden and gloomy turn. Forkey concludes that Canada now "seems to be committed to two key agendas of environmental concern: the protection of resources and their continued exploitation" (p. 104). Regrettably, the latter is trumping the former. Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal government signed the Kyoto Agreement in 2002 to reduce greenhouse emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, only to be followed by the abandonment of Kyoto by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative administration. Harper's government, in the face of the worldwide financial crisis and recession (2008-12), has joined the environmental dark side by enthusiastically supporting the industrial expansion of the Alberta oil sands on a massive scale, and by ignoring the many warnings that our production and consumption of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming and climate change.
The fifth and final chapter of this book provides an outstanding overview of Canada's First peoples and natural resources, the best elucidation of the subject in print--and this is accomplished in only sixteen pages. Throughout his book, Forkey has shown how Aboriginal peoples were "pushed to the margins of society" during the creation of the Canadian state (p. 107). They were given no part in decision making. Until the end of the twentieth century, the central theme of Aboriginal-white relations was "colonization, displacement and appropriation of resources" (p. 114). Forkey argues that it is essential to ascertain how natural resource use had an impact on First peoples, particularly in recent decades. As policies of environmental protection increasingly shaped the uses of forest and fisheries, and addressed matters of air and water pollution, issues involving Aboriginal land rights, self-determination, and autonomy over resources bumped up against the environmentalists' agenda. In the past five decades, First peoples have reacted strongly to four centuries of "dispossession and exclusion" and reasserted their claims to land and resources (p. 114). Four excellent case studies are detailed to illustrate this theme: the battle over logging in British Columbia's Clayoquot Sound, the Atlantic fishery, the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline issue, and Quebec's James Bay hydroelectric project.
In 1993, Aboriginals and environmentalist groups originally stood together to protest the clear-cut logging of Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island's coast. Some nine hundred protesters were arrested that summer, most in the logging blockade. It was "the largest display of civil disobedience in Canadian history to date at that time." To the consternation of environmentalists who sought a total ban on logging, their alliance with the Aboriginal bands fell apart as various Aboriginal groups broke ranks and made agreements with the federal and provincial authorities. These groups were permitted to harvest timber on a sustainable basis and generate revenues for their communities. "In other words," Forkey shows, "Aboriginals wanted recognition that the land belonged to them." Clayoquot Sound also revealed the gulf between the environmentalists and Native peoples; each possessed "their own particular methods, tactics, and goals for protecting the forest" (p. 115). Environmentalists also came to the realization that the romanticized notion of "ecological Indians" was a myth. As historical research has shown, from the precontact period, First peoples "shaped the land to best fit their needs by burning and clearing the forest, hunting and fishing, horticulture and agriculture, and other such alterations that ensured their survival." Aboriginal peoples were never "benign in the treatment of the environment" (p. 111).
Forkey's second case study of Aboriginal resource exclusion and restitution involves the Atlantic coastal fisheries. This story traces the successful legal effort of Mi'kmaq Indian Donald Marshall Jr., arrested in 1993 for catching eels without a license. Marshall argued all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada that his right to fish was guaranteed by legal treaty. His claim, "serving as a litmus test for defence of treaty rights," was upheld in 1998 (p. 116). Subsequently, Aboriginals in Burnt Church, New Brunswick, tested the limits of their rights by laying some one thousand lobster traps during the closed season, an action that triggered an ugly confrontation with non-Aboriginal fishers. The Supreme Court quickly clarified its initial decision by stating that the Marshall case applied to eels only, and by declaring that legislation on closed seasons applied to everyone. "As in the case of Clayoquot Sound," explains Forkey, "a delicate balance act was needed to diffuse heated situations between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal Canadians when it came to the exploitation of natural resources" (pp. 116-117).
The case studies of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the James Bay hydroelectric development both focus on the lengthy but successful efforts of Aboriginal peoples to be full participants in the decisions around the extraction of natural gas and fossil fuels, and the development of water power. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline proposal--a 4,200-kilometer pipeline to transport natural gas south from the Mackenzie Delta to Alaska's Prudhoe Bay along the Mackenzie River--generated sufficient controversy in the early 1970s to prompt the federal government to establish an inquiry led by Justice Thomas Berger (1974-5). The Dene and Metis concerns resonated with Justice Berger who ultimately came down on their side by recommending that the pipeline be postponed for a decade until outstanding land claims were settled and more economic diversification could occur in the territorial economy. The Dene and Metis peoples had expressed deep concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline, but, as it happens, they were not fundamentally antidevelopment. Rather, they wanted to assert local control over decisions that would affect their surroundings and livelihood as well as protect against negative impacts on their sociocultural milieu and loss of heritage. Berger's call for a time-out on the pipeline development served the Aboriginal peoples well. Eventually, in March 2011, the Dene and a consortium of gas and oil companies formally agreed to revive the pipeline with the Aboriginal shareholders poised to receive a third of the profits.
A similar story unfolded around Quebec's James Bay project as Cree and Inuit peoples struggled for decades to protect their resources and determine their uses. Upon learning of the Quebec government's plans for James Bay in the 1970s, the Cree opposed the project, arguing that it would disrupt their traditional lifeways based on the hunt for caribou and other fur-bearing animals, and fish. Beginning in August 1974, the newly created Grand Council of the Cree launched their campaign for Aboriginal self-determination. By November 1975, the Cree had negotiated the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and gave the green light to the project. In return for giving up their title to the land, the agreement included the Cree and Inuit in a "tripartite land regime" and afforded them various rights and benefits, including $275 million (p. 120). Regrettably, this modus vivendi collapsed in 1984 when a spillway was opened on La Grande 2 (part of the Caniapiscau Reservoir and a phase of the immense James Bay hydroelectric project) and killed some one thousand deer, a disaster Cree and environmentalists blamed on Hydro Quebec. The Cree and Dene were soon claiming that their voices were not being heard by provincial authorities; they responded by engaging the national and international media with considerable effect. In the wake of a barrage of negative publicity in the mid-1990s, the states of Maine and New York withdrew from agreements with Quebec for James Bay electricity, thus throwing the completion of the remaining elements of the James Bay project into question. Discussion ensued, and the province and Cree reached another settlement in 2002, one that promised the Cree $3.5 billion over fifty years, enhanced local control over their economy, and provided more jobs for Aboriginal people in Hydro Quebec.
Forkey's analysis of the "renaissance of Aboriginal assertiveness" is first-rate (p. 123). His case studies clarify Aboriginal motivations and needs, and unravel the complexity of their position, a position that includes "environmental sustainability and responsible stewardship of nature, but also the livelihood of the local Aboriginal people" (p. 122). The realization that environmentalism does not mean the same thing to all people has challenged the assumptions of the "often white, urban/suburban middle- and upper-class recreationists" who comprise the core membership of the environmental movement (p. 123). Environmental organizations now comprehend that environmental policy must be crafted with Aboriginal perspectives taken into account.
Forkey's conclusion will likely render some readers breathless. It seems to border on the apocalyptic. He despairs that the environmental impulse is not currently powerful enough to counter the forces of natural resource exploitation. The world's dependence on fossil fuels, he argues, and Canada's role as a major oil producer is a prime contributor to rapid climate change; "global ecological catastrophe" is impending (p. 124). What is the solution? "Unless Canadians renounce involvement in the capitalist economic system," claims Forkey, "it seems unlikely that the situation will improve." Many readers will not see that conclusion coming. Then, immediately in the next sentence, Forkey retracts his statement: "This is hardly meant as a call to action, for most of us would only grudgingly give up the creature comforts that capitalism has brought." His next best option is not at all radical. Evidently, knowing our history could give rise to the rapid and significant changes required to save our planet. "Recognizing our shared historical development alongside nature," suggests Forkey, "may well be the best spur to address the threats to our common future" (p. 125). We can only hope he is right; unfortunately, historians and the understanding they bring to bear on current issues are not often very influential.
Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century is a splendid book; the author has done a masterful job of meeting the rigorous demands of publisher and editors. Forkey has written an excellent introductory textbook for undergraduates (they will need some prior knowledge of the sweep of Canadian political, economic, and social history), and educated general readers. While recognizing the length limitations imposed on Forkey, this reviewer is still left with one complaint about content--the lack of historiographical context. This would have only required a half dozen pages of more text (in the introduction perhaps), and a handful of explanatory footnotes. Undergraduate students would benefit from knowing when and why environmental history first emerged in Canada as a subject. Who were the founders of the field, and the major revisionists over time? As a new school of Canadian history, it would have been helpful for students had Forkey even linked environmental history back to the earlier grand interpretive historical schemes of Canada's past championed by such luminaries as Harold Innis (the Staples theory), Donald Creighton (Laurentianism), Arthur Lower (Frontierism), and J. M. S. Careless (Metropolitanism), interpretations that also emphasized place, geography, natural resource exploitation, and thus the environment. These old interpretations may seem antiquated, but they laid a foundation for Canadian environmental history, and have been influential even among American scholars. For instance, William Cronon adopted metropolitanism in his magisterial Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991), an exploration of the ecological and economic changes behind the rise of Chicago as America's most dynamic city with the Great West as its hinterland. Cronon credits Canadian historians, particularly Careless, for inspiring his application of the metropolitan thesis to Chicago. The task of providing the important historiographical dimension of Canadians and the natural environment will fall to university instructors; at least Forkey's delightful book will make their job easier.
. Tina Loo, States of Nature: Conserving Canada's Wildlife in the Twentieth Century (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006), 40.
. William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1991), 400n100.
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Gerald Killan. Review of Neil S. Forkey, Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century.
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