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.

State, Provincial, and Historic Parks

  • C.J. Taylor, Negotiating the Past: The Making of Canada’s National Historic Parks and Sites (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990). 
  • C.J. Taylor, Jasper: A History of the Place and Its People (Markham, Ontario: Fifth House, Ltd., 2009).  
  • Richard S. Lambert, Renewing Nature’s Wealth: A Centennial History of the Public Management of Lands, Forests, and Wildlife in Ontario 1763-1967 (Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, 1967). 
  • Gerald Killan, Protected Places: A History of Ontario’s Provincial Parks System (Toronto: Dundern Press Limited, 1993). 
  • George M. Warecki, Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A History of Changing Ideas and Preservation Politics, 1927-1973 (New York: Peter Lang, 2000. 
  • Ney C. Landrum, The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004).

Natural sites are not the only locations that have gained the preservationist interest of the public and the Canadian government; historic sites have also enjoyed similar attention and protection. In Negotiating the Past: The Making of Canada’s National Historic Parks and Sites, C.J. Taylor, a retired Parks Canada historian, explores the origins of what he calls one of the country’s largest cultural institutions, an institution that spends a great deal of money in order to tell people about the past. The history of Canada’s national historic parks and sites is significant, Taylor argues, because “collectively, regionally, and locally, national historic sites are important sources of information about our national outlook.” (x) Historic sites, he enumerates, are subjective objects that represent the cultural underpinnings and understandings of Canadian national identity of the particular era in which they were founded. For instance, during World War I, Canada gained an inordinate quantity of military historic sites because they were deemed important by the Canadian citizenry at the time. The very act of deciding what site is worthy of historic preservation and what site is not is a highly subjective activity. The history of historic sites illuminates the sociology of the federal government, particularly in regards to its complicated relationship with regional governments and with the public. Additionally, Taylor argues, the history of historic sites also demonstrates the way in which internal and outside factors influence the way in which a federal program is run. “The politics of historic sites,” which refers to the complex relationships between federal and private, regional and national, and other interests, is the term Taylor uses to describe his approach to historic site history. “I call this the politics of historic sites,” Taylor writes, “because the parks and sites are the result of varied and sometimes conflicting concerns that are worked out in an ongoing process of negotiation.” (xii) 

Taylor identifies two major players in the development of Canada’s historic parks and sites. The first key player is the national heritage movement, which includes a wide variety of local and national voluntary associations that sought to identify and save historic sites. These associations were not an amalgamated group, but were rather made up of a wide variety of often conflicting outlooks and goals. The second key player was the federal government, which was typically influenced by the various national heritage movement participants, but, in the end, was in charge of making the final decision as to whether a site would be saved and in what capacity. The volunteer organizations more often than not sought cultural development as their main objective. However, the federal government typically viewed the sites as tourism moneymakers and often used them strategically to get votes in particular regions. This attitude is not surprising due to the fact that the historic sites are administered by the national parks service, a wing of the government defined, at least originally, by what Robert Craig Brown calls the “doctrine of usefulness. Aside from the national parks service, the historic sites and parks of Canada are also managed by another government agent, the Historic Site and Monuments Board of Canada, which is made of regional representatives. This board enables the historic sites to be the result of both federal and regional self-expression, and surprisingly, Taylor points out repeatedly throughout the narrative that regional interests were often placed above federal. Because of the fact that historic sites cannot be moved liked museum pieces, the federal government especially had to consider regional attitudes. 

The national heritage movement initially began to swell in the late nineteenth century. These early efforts were often wrapped in a nationalist ideology so as to make them more palatable to the public and to the federal government. This nationalist ideology was also strongly tied to a national fascination with science, as was also seen in Morris Zaslow’s Reading the Rocks and W.A. Waiser’s The Field Naturalist, leading to the protection of sites like the Southwold Earthworks. The heritage movements converged nationally in the Royal Society of Canada and the Historic Landmarks Association, founded in 1907. Also important in the early years was the national parks service under the leadership of J.B. Harkin. Wanting a greater national presence for the national parks, Harkin viewed the inclusion of historic sites into the service as a way to gain more areas that could be developed into centers of recreation and, subsequently, revenue. “The association of historic sites with landscape preservation provided the national parks branch with a relatively easy way to extend the parks system across the country,” (29) Taylor states. However, by 1919, the year of the national parks bill, it was clear that the historic sides needed separate consideration, and thus the Historic Sites and Monuments Board was created. Like the issue of the dueling objectives of preservation and recreation in the national parks, the national historic sites also suffered from competing goals: preservation and commemoration. Taylor demonstrates how the individual preferences of the board members throughout the years often played a major role in the avenue that the historic sites took. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the historic parks and sites branch often suffered from a lack of focus and direction. Taylor illustrates the way in which outside and internal factors shaped the nature of Canada’s historic sites. By the 1960s, provincial heritage boards arrived on the scene, often in conflict with the federal historic sites board, making regional and federal cooperation more difficult. Similarly to the way in which citizenry groups became more influential in the National Parks in the 1960s as described by William Lowry and Paul Kopas, historic sites also gained momentum due to public participation during the decade, which Taylor states was defined by the era of the big project. The end of the big project era due to the tightening of government expenditures during the 1970s and 1980s effectively demonstrates the restrictions placed on such government programs by the political environment of the times. 

Taylor’s analysis of Canadian historic parks and sites history is human-centered; that is, he focuses on the people and organizations surrounding the history of the historic sites, rather than on the historic sites themselves. Taylor also takes a human-focused look at the history of Jasper National Park in Jasper: A History of the Place and Its People. Like the complexity presented in Negotiating the Past, Taylor views a case-study of the history of Jasper National Park as an ideal window into the complexities of the Canada’s national park system. The earlier history of the Jasper region is better known, Taylor remarks, than the more modern history of the region. Similarly to William J. Turkel in Archive of Place, Taylor notes that the landscape of the present-day park contains remnants of the past. In the act of preserving the natural landscape, pieces of the past, such as old trails and buildings, have also been preserved. These remainders play upon contemporary imaginations more so then more recent history. However, by using the exhaustive archive of Parks Canada, Taylor demonstrates that the history of the region since it was declared a park is equally as interesting and important.  

Jasper originally served as a transportation corridor through the Rockies for fur traders, missionaries, explorers, and the like. Jasper is named after Jasper Hawes who operated a North West Company trading post in the area. In the late nineteenth century, Taylor describes Jasper as standing at the crossroads of time: Jasper trading post representing the past and the scouts of the westward advancement of civilization representing the future. The origin tale of Jasper National Park that Taylor weaves closely resembles accounts of its southern neighbor, Banff’s origination by individuals such as Brown and Leslie Bella. Like Banff, the railroads led to the preservation of the region. The passage represented a perfect northern route for a railroad and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway could gain control of the land around it and benefit from tourist revenue if it were turned into a park.  The original Jasper Forest Park was founded in September 1907. The creation of parks and reserves at the time, Taylor argues, enabled the federal government to gain control over the West, including its wildlife and native peoples. Nature was expected to cooperate with the organizational plans of the government. As George Colpitts pointed out in Game in the Garden, Taylor demonstrates that initially predators were weeded out from the Jasper wildlife population, similarly to what occurred in Prince Albert National Park, in order to make nature conform to a notion of what a proper natural atmosphere should be.  

The early years of Jasper Park were characterized by disorganization. Focus was on how to gain from the land rather than to make the park’s formation sustainable for the future. Even when the boundaries were decided in the 1910s, the park was not yet accessible to most Canadians. However, as is the case with all national parks, Jasper’s need to meet standards of both preservation and recreation, spurred widespread and various development in the park. One of the first projects was to create a park town site. As Alfred Runte remarked on American national parks, Taylor also suggests that Harkin was concerned with making sure that the facilities of Canadian parks were able to compete with European tourist centers. The development of the park was directed mainly by the railway in its early years, followed by national park system in the 1920-1940s, and by private entrepreneurs in the 1950s and 1960s. The onslaught of automobile travelers in the 1930s changed the atmosphere of the park and made it much more geared toward recreational pursuits. Campgrounds were developed and roads were built. The growth in visitation has continued since these early years, and at times proves to be too much of a good thing. As others have pointed out, particularly Richard Searle, growth in visitation is not beneficial for the natural preservation of the park’s environment. However, with a growing understanding of ecological systems coupled with an easing of visitation growth, Taylor is hopeful that these problems can be overcome. 

Preservation of the environment, wildlife, and historic places does not just take place on the national level, but also at the provincial level. In Renewing Nature’s Wealth: A Centennial History of the Public Management of Lands, Forests, and Wildlife in Ontario, 1763-1967, Richard S. Lambert, who was a biographer, popular Canadian historian, and CBC broadcaster, provides an early overview of Ontario’s nature management history. Lambert uses the records of the Department of Land and Forests, which he claims are continuous from 1827 when the first Crown Lands commissioner was appointed. Demonstrating the biases of his era, Lambert states that “the main theme of the book is devoted to the impact made by a civilized people upon a forested land.” (xiii) In typical Canadian fashion, Lambert champions the public ownership of land and natural resources, rather than the private as is often championed in the United States, as the reason as to why Canada has been able to cultivate a rich, natural heritage. The public ownership of land, he writes, “constituted awesome responsibilities of husbandry and guardianship; heavy indeed are the obligations vested in the Department of Lands and Forests to hold, manage, and save in trust for generations yet unborn the natural wealth of this Province.” (xiii) Lambert’s work illustrates the Canadian penchant for public and private cooperation.  

Lambert writes that in the earliest days of the province, land settlement and surveying went hand in hand with lumbering operations, similarly to the way in which Zaslow demonstrates that surveying and settlement often occurred parallel to mining activity. The early years of land use were marked by extreme waste, Lambert notes. Desire to manage the forests did not manifest until the 1880s. Canada followed the example of the United States Forest Service, which Harold K. Steen enumerated upon in his history of the American forestry service. Initially this management was focused on regulation and revenue production, but in the twentieth century, focus switched to protection, preservation, and regeneration. The greatest enemies of the forest, Lambert writes, were and are fires and insects. As a result, he writes Ontario has been at the forefront of developing forest fire prevention measures. It is clear that Lambert is not writing from the nuanced position that Stephen Pyne and other more recent historians have taken towards fire in nature. Lambert champions the repression of fire without question; the idea that it may actually be beneficial does not enter his realm of consideration. Like in the West, as Paul Riegert shows in From Arsenic to DDT, insects did not become an acknowledged nuisance in Ontario timber regions until saw timber became less abundant and more people moved into the region. Lambert also notes, like Riegert, that early insecticide methods were often damaging to the environment and it is not until recently that more caution has been being used.  

Also similarly to the experience of the United States Forest Service and the national park services of both countries, the Department of Lands and Forests has had to deal with the burgeoning demand for outdoor recreation. This demand was increasing parallel to the growing demand for environmental preservation. Not only do Canadians want more access to their public lands, but they also, often contradictorily, demand that these lands be preserved so that they do not fall prey to commercialism. Lambert is writing at the point which later historians identify as a turning point for land-use management. According to Lambert, the way of the future will be the doctrine of “multiple use of land,” meaning that the use of land for one use does not exclude it for being used for another purpose. A piece of land used for lumbering can also be used for recreation, he argues.  

This concept of multiple-use that Lambert found so promising was eventually rejected by the province, particularly in its provincial parks system, as Gerald Killan demonstrates in Protected Places: A History of Ontario’s Provincial Parks System. Killan, a professor of history and the academic dean at King’s College, the University of Western Ontario, presents a history of the development of the Ontario Provincial Park System, which, like Taylor’s accounts, focuses on the actions of the groups and individuals that shaped the organization. These groups, he states, include the provincial bureaucracy, who ultimately conducted the final decisions, the ,conservation groups, which greatly influenced acquisition and management techniques, park users who determined much of the parks’ development, and the politicians that made many of the policy decisions. Ultimately, Killan concludes, the history of Ontario’s provincial parks have been shaped by continuity and change.  

Ontario’s first provincial park was Algonquin Provincial Park, founded in 1893. Before 1954, Killan contends, the original five parks were created on an ad hoc basis. That is they were founded in little to no relation to one another and for completely unique social and political reasons. The concept of a “system” of provincial parks had not yet developed. As was the case with the early national parks, the doctrine of usefulness and profit was principal in the development and consideration of these early provincial parks. This type of utilitarian thinking was not questioned within the province, Killan argues, until the founding of the Quetico Superior Council in 1928, which was made up of mostly Americans, representing the interplay between the two countries on issues of environmental preservation, and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists in 1931. It was Frank A. MacDougall, the Algonquin Park superintendant, who originally suggested the doctrine of multiple-use, modeled on that of the United States Forest Service, to help resolve the disagreements occurring between the commercial timber extractors, recreationists, and preservationists within Ontario’s provincial parks. However, this concept of multiple-use was bound to fail because, Killan argues, it mistakenly assumed that parks could handle being all things to all users.  

Multiple-use was abandoned in the 1960s because the postwar recreation boom and advance of forestry technology no longer allowed for its effectiveness. The growth in recreation occurred so rapidly that the preservation side of the park mandate began to be neglected. Additionally, as William Lowry and Paul Kopas demonstrated in regards to the national parks, the growing environmental movement also played a major role in reshaping Ontario’s provincial park system. In 1967, the Ontario Parks Division developed a new groundbreaking policy framework for their provincial park system, which relied on a classification and zoning system. The five zones were primitive, natural (nature reserve), historic, multiple-use (in which timber extraction would be allowed), and recreation. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the Parks Division wrestled with how to properly manage this new system, and in 1978 they passed the Ontario Provincial Parks Policy, which provided detailed information and answers for the questions that had been causing issues for the parks, and also developed a long-term plan for each provincial park. The late 1980s, as Taylor mentioned, was a time of deep budget constraints and hostile political atmosphere for the Parks Division. However, Killan contends, the Ontario Parks Division was able to adjust to the political atmosphere and actually expand the park system by 150 parks. Unlike Leslie Bella’s distaste for private coordination in the national parks, Killan applauds the Parks Division’s canny cooperation with the private sector in order to pull the provincial park system through a rough time period.  

The changing management of Ontario’s provincial parks has largely been shaped by a changing understanding of nature and the role of nature within society and society within nature. One of these evolving understandings revolves around the concept of “wilderness.” In Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness: A History of Changing Ideas and Preservation Politics, 1927-1973, George M. Warecki, an assistant professor of history at Brescia College, looks at the way in which the changing perception of wilderness has affected the preservation policies of the Ontario government. Canadian identity, Warecki writes, has been largely shaped by the nation’s close relationship with its environment. As such historians as Colpitts and Tina Loo have noted, Warecki states that this close association between nature and national identity often reinforced a myth of abundance. It was assumed that the unlimited land that had shaped Canadian character would last forever. Warecki argues that this assumption of overabundance resulted in most Canadians having little interest in preservation until the 1960s, notably lagging behind the United States. This lack of widespread preservationist activity led Roderick Nash to claim that preservationist sentiment in Canada had not had a significant impact on Canadian politics. Warecki openly refutes this assumption, arguing that Nash assumed incorrectly that the lack of an American-style preservationist movement meant that those few preservationists that did exist did not have an effect on government policy. Though small in numbers, several Ontario conservationist campaigns were exceedingly successful in convincing both politicians and provincial civil servants to implement preservationist policies. The late timing of environmentalism in Ontario can also be attributed to the province’s geographical characteristics. Ontario experienced much less population and industrial pressure in its wilderness hinterland than was experienced in the American West, thus resulting in a delayed embracement of conservation principles. Additionally, unlike in the United States where the environmental battles were largely fought at the federal level, the provincial governments were at the center of preservation conflicts because they controlled a large percentage of the Crown land.  

Protecting Ontario’s Wilderness, Warecki writes, is an analysis of the confluence of two themes: the politics of wilderness preservation and the history of changing ideas revolving around the concept of wilderness. “Ultimately,” Warecki writes in postmodern fashion, “wilderness is a state of mind, a perception coloured by human biases and cultural values.” (3) Wilderness will never represent the same thing to different persons. It is the conceptualization of wilderness at any given time that initially began many of the controversies surrounding nature protection in the province. Shifts in ideology, even those that are the most understated, can have profound effects on the effectiveness of environmentalist strategy. Warecki treats wilderness, in the course of this study, as that which the preservationists conceived to be wilderness. Warecki demonstrates that ideological rifts, particularly in the earlier years of the twentieth century, were most common between classes. Most early preservationist were educated, upper-middle class men and their desire for preservation often seemed to the general public, many of whom depended on resource extraction for their livelihood, as a means to further their own personal gains. Warecki demonstrates the way in which preservation, despite good intentions, is often exclusionary because it relies on the assumption that other uses for the land are not to be tolerated.  

Throughout the text Warecki emphasizes the cultural influences of both the United States and Britain. The American influence is most obvious in Warecki’s first example, the Quetico-Superior Council, which was organized mostly by Americans, demonstrating the lack of interest in preservation by Canadians in earlier years. The Quetico-Superior Council, according to Warecki, championed a multiple-use concept of wilderness; while demanding that the scenic shorelines be preserved for canoeists, they had no problem with also accommodating commercial logging and resort development. The second example of wilderness ideology is that of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, which centered on an anti-recreation, “wilderness for its own sake” ideology. The Federation, by 1960, promoted the ecological and scientific values of parks and resulted in a consistent lobbying by naturalists in later years for nature reserves. The rise of this ecological conscience began to influence the public in the 1960s, leading to Ontario’s first widespread environmental movements, such as the Algonquin Wildlands League in 1968.  

The history of the development of provincial parks in Canada shares many similarities with the development of state parks in the United States. However, in Canada, the provincial park movements seem to tend to be provincially bound, whereas in the United States, as Ney C. Landrum argues in The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review, there did exist a nationwide, though often loosely bound, state park movement. Concerned with the greater movement, rather than individual parks or park systems, Landrum wishes to critically track the evolution of the concept of the state park and the manner in which the concept swept across the country causing twentieth century social and environmental phenomenon. Landrum, as Director Emeritus of Florida State Parks, expresses that one of his main objectives for his study is to understand the past in order to meet the challenges of the future and to reverse the questionable developments that have occurred recently across the country’s various state park systems. State parks, according to Landrum, “occupy a central position in the overall gamut of public outdoor recreation, bridging the critical gap…between the largely playground types of recreation provided by America’s cities and towns and the contrasting backcountry recreational experiences available in the vast national parks.” (xi) Landrum, in stating that he sees this link as the main purpose of state parks, demonstrates that he, personally, sees state parks as a kind of natural multiple-use arena in which nature is preserved, but recreation and tourism must also be allowed to flourish. State parks are naturally more flexible and accessible in character than national parks. Landrum demonstrates that the doctrine of usefulness also played a major role in the development of the country’s state parks, as the economic potential of the parks often played a much larger role in winning their protection than the concept of preservation for preservation’s sake alone.  

Like the provincial park movement in Ontario, as Taylor noted, the early state park initiatives were scattered and unrelated efforts, and were often founded before the term “state park” was even in use. Some of these early efforts included Niagara Falls in New York and the original Yosemite Valley Park, which was initially a failed state venture. It was not until 1921 that a seeming state park movement developed in the United States. Before then, state park activity was limited to a number of unrelated park developments in various different states. Surprisingly, it was the National Park Service and its first director, Stephen T. Mather that officially launched the state park movement. Mather was overwhelmed by the number of national park requests that were coming into his organization. He recognized that many of these pieces of land deserved to be preserved, but that they were not of the caliber needed for national park status. Mather’s solution was to encourage the states to take responsibility for these lesser pieces of land so that the National Park Service could stick to preserving “scenery of supreme and distinctive quality,” demonstrating the subjective nature of park selection. Mather called upon representatives from each of the states to attend the first National Conference on [State] Parks in 1921, which officially launched the state park movement. This Conference, manned by what Landrum calls an oligarchic board, would remain an influential force throughout most of the twentieth century. Economic, preservation, and recreation incentives led to the development of a seeming national state park movement. Even the promise of economic gain, however, did not organize the various state park systems into a true movement. The movement was never cohesive because the different states took their systems on different paths, and are today, Landrum states, “uncommonly individualistic.”   

Landrum points out two major events that truly kicked the state park movement into high gear: the automobile and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The automobile, coupled with increased leisure time, enabled middle and working class Americans to travel for their vacation for the first time. The state parks offered a public playground in reasonable distance from major urban centers. The call for a “state park every hundred miles” illustrates the importance of accessibility in spurring the movement into action. Landrum discusses the projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the New Deal years, which Neil Maher also discusses in Nature’s New Deal. The nature of CCC work across the country varied; however, Landrum argues that this work provided the permanent, physical foundation that the state park movement needed for momentum. Landrum traces the development of state parks throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It was not until the 1970s that state parks found their niche and were seemingly here to stay. The state parks in the through the 1980s shared a common goal: to get bigger and more popular, and thus more commercialized. Many traditional parks are now considered too limited. Landrum sees this commercialization trend to be troubling. State parks in the twenty-first century are facing an identity crisis he concludes, and they are in danger of becoming places of entertainment, rather than recreation.

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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