The oft neglected introduction, so regularly skipped by the average reader…I presume, most historians will tell you that the introduction is one of the most, if not the most, important parts of the book. The most interesting iteration of the introduction, and the most tempting to gloss over, is the introduction written by another author to introduce a new edition of a book. These introductions are primary sources in and of themselves. They serve to situate the way in which the book was viewed by society at that time and how the book has continued to enjoy enough relevance to deserve a third or fourth printing.

Selwyn Dewdney

Most recently, I stumbled on Selwyn Dewdney‘s 1963 introduction to Audrey Saunders’ Algonquin Story, which was originally published in 1946. Saunders reports to have consulted all documents available to provide a complete synopsis of the park’s early history. I admittedly had to google Dewdney. He was, according to Wikipedia, “a Canadian author, illustrator, artist, activist and pioneer in both art therapy and pictography.”

Dewdney’s introduction is only six pages long, but contains a few notable details. He writes that Saunders’ account does not just tell a story, but unveils the character of the park. Although the charming character of the park is undeniable, Dewdney emphasizes the fact that ultimately the park exists to make otherwise useless land useful and that this will ultimately lead to clashes between multiple-use philosophies (hey, I think I’ve heard this before!). He also, interestingly, suggests that Canada has followed the lead of the United States in regards to park creation and management up until that point, and that Algonquin will play a major role in the future by helping Ontario and the rest of Canada “[grow] to maturity…” and discover their own way of doing things. (xii) Ontario developed its tiered park classification system later that decade, so Dewdney was not far off the mark on that point.

The best parts of the introduction are the questions that Dewdney asks about the future of Algonquin. He seems particularly focused on the agricultural potential of the park. Blueberries! Gotta figure out how to grow more of them.

I’m looking forward to pondering these questions first posed in the 1960s with the knowledge of the present, perhaps ya’ll might enjoy doing the same. They are as follows:

  1. “What will come of it?”
  2. “Can the solid benefits of summer camp life now enjoyed by the favoured few be extended to the many?”
  3. “Will the adult and youth education movements now developing in the Park grow into a great ‘University of the North’, scattered in scores of units over the Shield country, forming the nuclei of similar communities?”
  4. “Is there in the old farms, as in so many other early Park activities, the seed of a future development?”
  5. “Could scientific study and research, now directed largely toward forest and animal problems, include the uses to which the pockets of fertile soil that are scattered through the Canadian Shield might be put?”
  6. “Is it possible to develop a domestic blueberry that will grow where other berries find the soil too sour?”
  7. “Could our swamps yield harvests of rice that would be profitable to gather?”

*UPDATE: Some insight from Mark Sholdice:

And a neat coincidence from Andrew Watson:

Dewdney, Selwyn. “Introduction” in Algonguin Story by Audrey Saunders. Department of Lands and Forests, 1963: vii-xii.

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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