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. 

Leslie Bella is a professor in the School of Social Work at Memorial University. Most of Bella’s work revolves around topics of gender, women, and policy. Parks for Profit originated from a query Bella had concerning the nature of park development in Canada. Bella questioned why Canada had chosen to save certain areas of the country from resource exploitation when the entire basis of the country’s economic system depended on the exploitation of such resources. Bella’s finding is reminiscent of Brown’s “Doctrine of Usefulness.” Bella discovered that most of Canada’s parks were created with exploitation in mind, whether it is from sole control of the region’s resources or from tourism. Bella asserts that in a capitalist society pure preservation is not feasible because the forces of the market insist that preservation be coupled with the profitable forces of accessibility and tourism. Each park, she argues, is the result of a multitude of forces; each side appeasing the other for the ultimate goal of what Joe Hermer would call “emparkment.” Rather than ensuring that these areas remain untouched, the formation of parks guaranteed that these areas would become centers of development.

Bella begins her analysis of the development of the relationship between profitability and preservation in the late nineteenth century with the founding of the many of the larger parks in the West, most notably Banff in 1885. The original idea for of a park reserve was not thought up by a government official, but by William Cornelius Van Horne, a Canadian Pacific Railroad official. Van Horne believed that a park preserve would give the CPR the ability to monopolize and control the development of the land through which his railway ran. The discovery of the hot springs at Banff offered the government and the CPR a keen opportunity to develop a resort that would rival those being developed in the United States. Although the government held title to the land, the CPR was given favored treatment, which lasted nearly fifty years and allowed for the company to develop profitable tourist sites on the best land and ensured that they controlled both their physical and business environments. Bella also points out that the CPR gained the most money, not from tourism, but from the exploitation of natural resources within the park boundaries. In the early years, she demonstrates, activities such as mining were not seen as incompatible with tourism.

What Bella terms the First Conservation Movement changed the profit atmosphere in the parks in the 1920s and 1930s. Bella describes a conservationist/preservationist feud that is remarkably analogous to the Hetch Hetchy controversy in the United States. The feud originated in 1923 with the Spray Lakes Dam proposal. Arthur Wheeler, in John Muir fashion, was completely against the degradation of parkland for power and irrigation purposes, and thus was strongly against the proposal. William Pearce took a stance similar to that taken by Gifford Pinchot. Pearce believed in the smart use of park resources and believed that individuals like Wheeler were far too sentimental. The feud was ended with J.B. Harkin’s 1930 National Park Act, which barred actions within park lands that impaired the natural environment, and moved the source of profit in parks from resource extraction to tourism by making scenery a resource in and of itself.

Bella offers a bit of disdain in regards to the manners in which Harkin encouraged tourism and jumped on the automobile bandwagon. The introduction of cars meant that the parks could become more accessible, but were also meant that parks lost the backing of the powerful railroads. Insufficient funds forced Harkin to look to other ways of developing and maintaining the parks; one of these solutions was the use of labor camps. Bella is particularly disparaging of these forced labor camps, which she says employed men who had no choice but to obey. Her portrait of the depressed and angry workers that came to the parks in result of the 1930 Unemployment Relief Act is a far cry from the CCC camps described by Neil M. Maher in Nature’s New Deal.

The first conservation movement’s dilemma of insufficient park funds was solved by way of tourism, which led to the second conservation movement’s dilemma, which was the need to save the parks from tourist industry and adjacent town sites. The current problems facing the National Park system in Canada are multifaceted, Bella states. Firstly, the parks have to deal with the new obstacle of aboriginal land claims. Secondly, they must deal with significant budget cuts. Thirdly, they have to deal with the continued attrition of park lands, and lastly, they must continue to deal with the problems of juggling preservation ideals with tourism and accessibility. Bella, despite recognizing the profit side of Parks Canada, is concerned with the recent drive towards park privatization, which she thinks will lead to significant environmental issues. And hopes that the park system moves beyond the profit initiative to instead embrace a future in which the parks provide stability.

Feature Photo: “Mr. McCarron, the Park Warden, gives information to tourists as the entrance to Point Pelee National Park.” June 1955. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

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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