I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here. 

“The Doctrine of Usefulness: Natural Resource and National Park Policy in Canada, 1887-1914”

Robert Craig Brown

Robert Craig Brown was a history professor at the University of Toronto. Much of his work, including his dissertation, focused on Canadian-American relations. This tendency towards comparison is evident in his essay “The Doctrine of Usefulness: Natural Resource and National Park Policy in Canada, 1887-1914,” which was originally presented at a conference organized by The National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada in 1968. Brown’s “Doctrine of Usefulness” is the Canadian counterpart to Samuel P. Hays’ “Gospel of Efficiency.” Like conservation in the United States, Brown argues, the conservation undertaken in Canada was not done with preservation in mind, but rather an assurance of future efficient and profitable use and control of the country’s natural resources. Brown agrees with Harold Innis’ findings in The Fur Trade in Canada. Innis’ Staple Thesis connects the historic and contemporary development of Canadian cultural and economic identity to the exploitation of natural resources. The Canadian Pacific Railway was developed in order to more efficiently access and extract these resources. Like Doug Owram in The Promise of Eden, Brown touches upon the way in which the image of the west was transformed by policymakers in the East in order to gather the manpower to fully exploit the region’s potential. Brown’s main contention in “The Doctrine of Usefulness” is to suggest that, like the national parks in the United States, the original Canadian national parks were not a break from resource exploitation and conservation, but rather a continuation of it. The creation of Banff National Park enabled officials to bring the area into its full potential of usefulness. As a resort the park would become a financial advantage and would serve as an attraction and a source of pride for the nation. National parks were initially created to ensure the regulation and control of resource exploitation. Brown argues that there is no evidence to support the claim that Banff and other early national parks were result of wilderness preservation concerns.

Feature Photo: Swimming Pool, Banff. Credit: Canada. National Parks Branch / Library and Archives Canada / PA-058092

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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