Archive for the ‘parks’ Category

Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation

The new homepage of the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation https://www.saskheritagefoundation.com/ 

Well, it’s happened: I’m mentioned in the Hansard! (See page 32, under Bill 90, and keep reading).

If you’re not a historian, the Hansard is the record of what is said in the Saskatchewan legislature. It contains the debates, transcribed, as well as the record of visitors, bills being put forward, and shows the province’s political leaders going about the business of government. It’s a great resource to know what’s happening, and to track political debate over time.

So, how did I get there? I wrote an op-ed about the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation that was published in the Star Phoenix. This op-ed is all about the disparity in support for heritage projects around the province, as well as criticism of the way the current bureaucracy in the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport (where the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation is connected) has been running roughshod over the Foundation.

It’s a hard-hitting piece. I was on the Board of the SHF for three years, and I had a lot to say about heritage in Saskatchewan, and the way the SHF board has been working hard to protect, and fight for, the groups working on heritage projects across the province. In the end, I called for those currently running for the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party to look into the debacle, and get things straightened out.

I’ve since spoken about the issue to sitting MLAs and Saskatchewan Party leadership contenders, because this is an issue that transcends party politics. The SHF has been in existence, helping the people of Saskatchewan for more than 25 years. Heritage is not about politics. It’s about dedicated people fighting hard to save their heritage buildings and cultural landscapes, from north to south, and from east to west across Saskatchewan. Every political party and MLA has a heritage project in their backyard. And the current Ministry officials in the department of Heritage for the province of Saskatchewan are not doing a good job of supporting the SHF, its board, goals, and by extension the people of Saskatchewan.

I’m glad to see some traction on this issue. I understand that the pressure will continue, and I’m encouraged to know that it’s now in the Hansard as a permanent record — even if they accidentally thought that I’m a male, not a female historian.

To sitting and incoming MLAs: keep this on your radar. The people of Saskatchewan expect it: Do better.

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This is a story about aborted academic work. Years ago, I proposed and workshopped a paper. The original call came from fellow environmental history academics, building a curated book on the concept Landscape, Nature and Memory: Tourism History in Canada. We wrote the papers and sent them around for everyone to read before we got together. The workshop was held in Vancouver, and I remember my first introduction to Granville Island and Macleod’s Books. It was an invigorating workshop, with discussants and good conversation. I received good feedback (Ian MacKay liked my paper!) and thought that it would, in time, lead to publication. At the time, I was still occasionally aiming hopefully for an academic position.


But it was not to be. When the collection of papers from the workshop went around for external review, mine was deemed not a good fit for the overarching theme. It was too different. In some ways, I think the paper’s exclusion mimicked my own ‘differentness’ and ultimate exclusion from academia. But no matter. I worked on it a little more, and sent it out to Prairie Forum, a scholarly journal based out of Regina. I’d published with them before, and thought the little paper would have a chance to at least be read.

I didn’t hear back. At all. Strange, I thought. I forgot about it for a bit, then (remembering), dusted it off, and sent it to them again. It’s the internet, I decided. It does eat things, on occasion. It gets hungry. No worries. I’ll hear back this time.

Still nothing. No reply, no acknowledgement. So, I may be slow but eventually I get there. This poor little paper doesn’t have a home.

I could go back to it, work on it again, try to figure out where and how to make it academically publishable. Send it out again. And again. But that is no longer my life. Writing for an unpaid academic publication just isn’t an appropriate use of my time. So I won’t.

But it remains there, with many hours of research, and a lot of thought, hiding in a corner of my computer files. There is an old adage that says ‘unread books do no work.’ The same is true for articles. I didn’t manage to get it published (which would have meant external reviews, more work, and no doubt a much better article) but I can share it here, with you.

The article is about building the South Saskatchewan River Project, now known as the Gardiner Dam which created Diefenbaker Lake. It’s about the policy stories we tell, and how Saskatchewan desperately needed to create a story of water and beauty through tourism to counteract the post-Great Depression story of dust, aridity, and flatness.


Gardiner Dam, South Saskatchewan River

Who might want to read it? Anyone who has visited the dam and wants to know a bit more of its history. Academics working on tourism, dam, or general prairie history might find it useful. But if you are not an academic, I warn you: this is filled with references, theory, and a bit of jargon. And a few stories. It might be worth your time.

Still, I’m ready for it to be in the world, with all of its flaws and problems. You can deal with it. I have confidence in you. Click on the PDF below and enjoy your read.

Damming Saskatchewan

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I’ve been asked by the digital content editor at Environmental History, Finn Arne Jorgensen, to be one of the commentators for a new online forum. I will be commenting over the next few weeks on the essays, along with several others, and encourage you to do so as well.

The forum is based on three papers by Emily Wakild, Libby Robin, and Donald Worster. Each consider the role and purpose of the Wilderness Act (which is 50 years old this year) and comment more broadly on the state of ‘wilderness’ and the act of setting aside protected spaces. Wakild’s essay focuses on Latin America, Robin on Australia, and Worster on America.

The forum can be found here. There is an introduction by Lisa Brady, and a visual essay on the signing of the Wilderness Act by Sara Dant.

I recommend that you take a few minutes to read through the three forum essays, all from noted environmental historians, and add your thoughts to the comments section.

My opening comment is as follows:

My thanks to the writers of all of these essays — there is much on which to ponder.
Let me first state my prejudices: I believe people are a part of nature, that no area on earth is without the imprint, interpretation, and use of humans, and that there is no way to establish a ‘baseline’ wilderness. I nonetheless support setting aside tracts of land.
But that leads to my problem: setting aside tracts of land for what purposes? What will we, as humans, be allowed to do there? Nothing? Something? Anything? What?
It seems to me that the debates over the Wilderness Act, within the larger context of park-making (which pulls in debates over class, ethnicity, land rights and usage) is essentially about purpose. Is the act of setting aside wilderness areas, as Donald Worster suggests, a higher altruism worthy in its own right, but something to be defined and defended through an international court? (In an earlier essay, ‘The Wilderness of History’ in Wild Earth fall 1997, Worster suggests that we should set aside wilderness land as a tithe, a certain amount of the total land holdings of a nation state, returned to nature.) Both Libby Robin and Emily Wakild see that same nation-state as the key stewards of conservation and best situated to define and manage wilderness.
Whether at the international or national level, whether you believe in wilderness for its own sake or as part of a land-management scheme, my question remains: what is wilderness for? And conversely, what activities are NOT conducive to wilderness areas? As Wakild and Robin note, this answer might very well be quite different in different countries and contexts. Can we then, following Worster, have any kind of international tribunal judging wilderness?
Drawing those lines between what is acceptable use, and what is not, is the slippery slope on which we slide and struggle. And it is where the most intense debate is found.

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Bonfire pit on the shore

[Note: this blog post was published as an opinion piece in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix Friday 23 November 2012. See http://www.thestarphoenix.com/late+save+Kenderdine/7598518/story.html]

I am sad, angry, and confused that the University of Saskatchewan released news Thursday November 15th 2012 that it is suspending operations at Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus, the U of S-owned campus on the shores of Emma Lake, in Saskatchewan’s northern boreal forest. It is shocking news. The timing is particularly strange: just one day after the U of S hosted a major expo to flaunt its support for experiential learning opportunities for students, it moves to close the one campus that offers exactly that.

Such a move, of course, is a sign of the fiscal restraint facing the University. As a campus community member, U of S grad, and a Canadian environmental historian whose research encompassed the beginnings of the Kenderdine campus, I pause to reflect on the irony of this announcement.

Augustus Kenderdine was a painter, trained in Britain, who taught art from his top-floor studio in what is now the Thorvaldsen building – home of chemists, pharmacists, and old memories of turpentine. By the 1920s, as cars brought mobility and better roads led north of Prince Albert, Kenderdine discovered Saskatchewan’s north, and set out to paint its beauty. He took yearly sojourns at Emma Lake.

When southern Saskatchewan fell to its knees amid the dual prongs of drought and economic devastation, Saskatchewan’s mid-north, all along the forest edge, boomed. It is a little-known story. Thousands of prairie refugees fled north to carve a living off a bush homestead. It was a tough life, but it worked. Northern residents required less than one tenth of the aid of their southern kin – in a time when relief money was a loan for which the government expected payment, a place with fuel, game, fish, berries, and a chance to grow a garden and raise a hay crop seemed a Saskatchewan mecca.

Kenderdine convinced President Walter Murray to purchase land at Emma Lake, and build an art school. It was an art school with a purpose: bring teachers from across the southern wasteland north, to the beauty of the boreal forest. Through art, the teachers would know that not all of Saskatchewan was barren and broken. There, they soaked in a landscape of trees, water, and green and took those visions home with them, to bring a sense of hope and renewal to their students and communities squeezed by drought. It was an extraordinary vision of what Emma Lake meant to the U of S – a critical foothold in a Saskatchewan landscape that was decidedly not the prairie.

It was a stretch for the University. In the province that was hardest-hit by the depression, in the middle of endless years of short budgets and constricting choices, Kenderdine convinced the president that this was a worthwhile endeavor. He won, and Saskatchewan artists, biologists, students, writers, ecologists, and many others have been the thankful beneficiaries.

Fast forward to now. This past September, my colleague and I from the School of Environment and Sustainability took 30 graduate students on a field trip to Emma Lake, the Lakeland, the boreal forest, and Prince Albert National Park. Our students come from all over the world. We had two perfect days and nights at Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus, basking in starlit nights, excellent food, a sense of history, all within an ecological experiential learning laboratory of the highest order. We wished, several times, that we had brought our new U of S president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, along with us. What a jewel in the campus crown – we wanted to show it off.

Fox walk: knowing the ground beneath your feet

Kenderdine campus has an Achilles heel: it is not operational in the winter. So, the peak time is May to September. When are students most active on campus? September to April. That leaves a scant one month crossover. How much money would it take to winterize it? What could that do to create better connections between the facility and the main campus student body? Solutions, I’m sure, abound.

Yes, I understand fiscal constraint. Yes, I believe you when you say it was a difficult decision. But if Kenderdine and Murray could create it during a time when the province of Saskatchewan, and the U of S, were going through their most difficult fiscal times, could we not do the same now? Please, for the sake of student experiential learning, let’s reconsider.

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The endless plains, the iconic Saskatchewan identity, once thrummed to the pulsing tempo of millions of bison hooves drumming the skin of the prairie landscape.

Environmental historians Dan Flores, a renowned researcher (really, almost a philosopher) on the Great Plains, has pondered the fate of the bison and the classic story of white destruction of this once seemingly-inexhaustible resource and staple for so many Plains First Nations people.

Flores’ original essay, “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy: The Southern Plains from 1800 to 1850”, while first published in 1991 in The Journal of American History, continues to influence consideration of the role of bison on the Great Plains. Flores followed this article with a chapter in his 2001 book, The Natural West, which he termed “Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy Redux.”

He returns to the topic again this Thursday, May 12 2011 in Saskatoon, where he will offer a public presentation. If you’re near Saskatoon, it will undoubtedly be an entertaining and informative evening.

 Dan Flores Public Lecture May 12 2011

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Modern Voyageurs

In 1930, the Department of the Interior and the National Parks Board created a silent film entitled Modern Voyageurs. The film, shown across Canada and the United States, showcased the new Prince Albert National Park.

The film is a visual trip down memory lane for anyone who has ever visited Waskesiu. The film opens with a bustling street scene from Prince Albert, where modern cars vie for space with horses and wagons, c. 1930. It was important to demonstrate that the park was accessible to cars and not far from Prince Albert, hence scenes of cars traversing the best and driest sections of the gravel road to the park, with a park entrance gate a mere 35 miles from the city. (The fact that Waskesiu townsite, the destination of most holidaymakers, was many miles further than that was not mentioned!)

As with all silent films, moving images are cut with flowery text that directs the attention of the watcher. The film chooses to focus on a canoe trip through the park, complete with fishing, portages, wildlife, tenting, afternoon tea, and the requisite nod to Canadian First Nations men, hired as guides and tripmen to take the pampered crew on their wilderness journey. A cameo appearance by Metis trapper Louis Lavallee is also included.

The film was part of an immense campaign to pull down regional stereotypes of Saskatchewan as ‘prairie,’ to allow possible future tourists to know that the new Prince Albert National Park was a boreal wonderland, a playground for prairie sojourners and others.  A push to present the new national park as a vacationland for potential canoe enthusiasts depicted the park as a gateway to the old ‘voyageur’ highways of the fur trade.

Modern Voyageurs can be viewed online at the Saskatchewan Settlement Experience website:

http://www.sasksettlement.com/display.php?cat=Life on the Prairies&subcat=Recreation&id=1618

(I recommend copying and pasting the link into your browser site).

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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.

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I’m delighted to pass along the news of an upcoming conference in Saskatoon, focussing on the importance and role of provincial and local/regional parks (as opposed to ‘national’ parks). Organized by graduate student Jon Clapperton and professor Keith Carlson at the University of Saskatchewan, the conference promises to give extensive and intensive thought to the way parks are created, why, and whether or not they do the job for which they are created. I’m looking forward to it.

The call for papers, copied from the NiCHE (Network in Canadian History and Environment) website, is as follows:

Call for Participants: Perspectives on Canadian Parks


Jul 30 2010

Event Date: 

Oct 29 2010 – Oct 30 2010





Primary Contact Name: 

Keith Carlson

Contact Email: 


Canadian national, provincial and local/regional parks are of global significance. Combined, they cover over 599,000 km2 (an area roughly twice the size of Germany, or equivalent to Ukraine). And yet, there exists a national park myopia that has caused the more than 300,000km2 of Canadian provincial and local/regional parks to remain largely ignored.

This October 29th and 30th, 2010, Keith Carlson and Jonathan Clapperton will be hosting a symposium at the University of Saskatchewan with funding from the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE) on the history of provincial and local parks (including non-architectural heritage sites that are “natural,” however defined).
This symposium seeks to encourage original research on Canadian provincial and local/regional parks, and to foster dialogue with the existing scholarship on Canadian national parks and the international scholarship on state/provincial and local/regional parks in the USA and elsewhere.

In particular, we seek to:

  • elucidate the intersections of provincial, local, and national park histories within a global context,
  • to communicate the continuities and discontinuities between the parks creators’ intentions and the lived reality of parks,
  • and to illustrate any hegemonic cultural assumptions that lie behind parks and the impact these have for indigenous people and recent immigrants who may or may not share the assumptions of mainstream society.

We especially encourage applications that:

  • place Canadian provincial and local/regional parks within the context of trans-national comparisons, and those that,
  • account for long-term ecological change.

Ideally, the symposium will include a mixture of distinguished professors, emerging scholars, and graduate students. We also encourage papers from those working outside of academia, such as in parks administration or public history. We are proposing that the best of the contributions be considered for inclusion in a special edition of Environment and History. The symposium, therefore, will serve principally as a forum for presenting and refining ideas and analysis and for engaging in critical, respectful dialogue aimed toward publication of an integrated body of articles. All papers will be historical studies, and participants will design their papers to provide answers to several questions:

  • What cultural and scientific assumptions have informed the creation and operation of provincial/local parks?
  • What have the relationships between heritage and ecology in provincial/local parks been?
  • To what extent have provincial/local parks enacted a program set by national or international agendas and standards?
  • How have these second and third tier parks socially, politically, environmentally and discursively compared and contrasted with national or comparable provincial/state and local/regional parks elsewhere?
  • How have these parks reflected a process of local and provincial, as opposed to national or international, community-building ideology, and are such attitudes ever set in opposition to presumed national or international interests?
  • What could those responsible for parks do differently to better design and implement their mandates?
  • Have parks in general been the best way of preserving or providing stewardship for ecosystems, heritage, and recreational resources, or are there alternate ways of managing the land that may be more culturally or ecologically responsive and appropriate?

Anyone interested is asked to send a max 300 word abstract (which includes the authors’ names, affiliations, and title of the paper) and a one page C.V. to Keith Carlson (keith.carlson@usask.ca)
Deadline: by July 30, 2010.
Nominal travel subsidies will be awarded to symposium participants.

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