Originally posted in The Otter NiCHE June 18, 2014
By Jessica DeWitt
In early May 2014, I traveled to Waterloo, Ontario to conduct research at the Laurier Archives on the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University. Earlier this year, I was awarded the inaugural Joan Mitchell Travel Award.
The award, designed to assist with travel and accommodation costs,
provides $1,000 to an established scholar or graduate student wishing to
conduct research at the Laurier Archive. I had an exceedingly positive
experience at the archive and found it to be a friendly and comfortable
place in which to conduct research. All materials are housed on site,
ensuring that wait time for material is little to none. The Laurier
Archives employees, Julia Hendry, Andre Furlong, and Cindy Preece,
provided knowledgeable, cheery, and prompt assistance.
The Laurier Archives has three main research collections,
the most important of which for Canadian environmental historians is
the Environmental Conservation Movement in Canada collection (the
finding aids for which can be found here).
The archive has amassed a vast assortment of material relating to the
Canadian environment, including material related to the Canadian North,
parks, and biosphere reserves. The collection is particularly rich for
those dealing with the history of the Canadian environment after 1950.
My dissertation is a comparative history of provincial and state parks
in Canada and the United States. I am focusing specifically on the park
systems of Ontario, Pennsylvania, Alberta, and Idaho. Before I arrived
at the archive, I hoped that the environmental history sources at the
archive would allow me to more fully understand the history of Ontario
provincial parks and how Ontario’s parks fit into the broader history of
conservation in Canada.
I focused on two collections while at the Laurier Archives. The first collection is the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) Fonds,
which contains briefs, publications, reports, and other items created
by the organization since 1970. The most important document in the
collection for my purposes is a copy of the Classification of Provincial Parks in Ontario 1967. I only scratched the surface of what the CELA Fonds has
to offer. The collection is a substantial resource for any researcher
focusing on the management of nature and natural resources in relation
to Canadian law.
I focused most of my energy on the James Gordon Nelson Fonds.
Nelson, a policy maker, planner, ecologist, geographer, and former
University of Waterloo professor, played a major role in both national
and provincial park policy development. I originally came into contact
with Nelson’s work while completing comprehensive exams, during which I
read Nelson’s The Last Refuge and his edited volume, The Canadian National Parks: Today and Tomorrow, among others.
the massive collection–the finding aid is nearly 300 pages alone–and
deciding upon which parts to focus was a definite challenge. In addition
to containing most of Nelson’s prolific publishing career, the
collection also contains documents pertaining to the numerous boards and
organizations on which Nelson served. Paperwork in the collection
relating to Nelson’s activity in the National and Provincial Parks
Association of Canada (NPPAC), now the Canadian Parks and Wilderness
Society (CPAWS), is particularly valuable. The correspondence, minutes,
and reports of NPPAC and CPAWS provide a rich source from which to
analyze the relationship between national and provincial parks and the
evolving attitude towards preservation and conservation in Canada from
the 1960s onward.
I was pleasantly surprised to find sources relating not only to
Ontario provincial parks in the Nelson collection, but also relating to
all provincial park systems in Canada. I was able to find several
sources about my other Canadian provincial park system case-study,
Alberta. The most exciting source that I found was the correspondence
files relating to the mid-1970s Rondeau Provincial Park Advisory
Committee. The files contain over 100 completed questionnaires and
letters written by Ontarian community members expressing their opinions
about the future of cottage leases, hunting, and other issues in the
park. Park-related sources, like this one, that supply the direct
opinions of citizens, rather than government and park officials, are
rather rare, making the representation of their voices in historical
Due to time restrictions, I was not able to look at other collections that interested me, including the Beaver Valley Heritage Society Fonds and the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association Fonds.
I encourage others to take a look at what the Laurier
Archives’ Environmental Conservation Movement in Canada collection has
to offer. The deadline for this year’s Joan Mitchell Travel Award application is November 28, 2014.