Last Friday, October 29th, was a busy day. A cadre of historians from graduate students to established scholars gathered in Saskatoon at the newly-repurposed Graduate Student Association meeting facility on the main campus of the University of Saskatchewan. I say “repurposed” because it formerly belonged to the Anglican church. Its stunning stained glass windows and lighting sconces have remained — perhaps controversially — untouched. Whatever your views on religion, the space has been beautifully reappointed, replete with up-to-date technology and comfortable chairs.
The space offered a comfortable setting for what was a fantastic day of reflection, presentation, debate and conversation. In a country where the national parks have generally taken center stage, the topics ranged from rural spaces in France to urban parks in Ontario, state parks in Oregon and parks as places of cultural conflict and renewal in British Columbia. I was particularly intrigued by the work of Dr. Keith Carlson, who reminded the audience that space means more than lines drawn on a map, but a place from which to look outward: at the sky, at the heavens, at the viewscape around you. Dr. Sterling Evans presented a gorgeous, photo-filled journey through the ‘badlands’ of North America, reminding the audience that park space can be defined in many ways — from sublimely or inherently beautiful all the way to the veritable ‘gates of hell.’
Although not a presenter at the conference, I introduced myself as a highly engaged member of the audience. One chapter of my current project looks at the reinterpretation of the region north of Prince Albert as ‘Lakeland,’ building on the binary nature of Saskatchewan’s dual identity of flat, treeless prairie south, with lush, watered, green and treed boreal north. Prairie residents were targeted to ‘See Saskatchewan First’, and to view the northern landscape as the ‘playground of the prairies.’ Parks within the prairie context often revolved around non-prairie spaces, at least until the creation of Grasslands National Park.
All in all, an engaging and intelligent conference. My thanks to the organizers and the presenters for an intriguing day.