Thanksgiving has passed, the leaves are turning, I have to wear socks again … it must be fall. But memories of summer insulate against grading’s headaches autumn’s chill. In August, we asked people to share stories of discoveries and adventure, at home and abroad. Thank you to those who responded.
PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning
Queen’s University, Kingston
In the lead up to the International Conference of Historical Geographers (5-10 July 2015 in London, UK, see Sean Kheraj’s NiCHE posts for an environmental history perspective of the conference) I had the opportunity to conduct archival research at a number of important British agricultural scientific stations such as Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Rothamsted Experiment Station (the historic heart of today’s non-profit corporation Rothamsted Research). Located in the village of Harpenden a short train ride north of London, Rothamsted is one of the oldest continuously operated agricultural research stations in the world. Its Broadbank experiment is now in its 172nd year. Just like the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario, which is the focus of my dissertation research, Rothamsted’s fields are open to the public. After a long day reading documents linking the Farm back home in Ottawa and the experiment station in Harpenden, a walk through the fields offered the chance to see the ways Canadian government scientists were inspired by Rothamsted but also how the Canadian experience leaves a different mark on the land.
Department of History
University of Saskatchewan
Traveling from Munich to Paris with a one year old and all the gear he required for a six month stay in Europe forced us to rent a car and drive. My partner Katie mapped out the route and realized the halfway point was close to the Saar Valley and a major industrial museum she heard about on an English language podcast called This Week in Germany. By this point we’d seen our fill of castles, making this an ideal stop over on the final leg of our European adventure. The Völklingen Ironworks is a UNESCO world heritage site and an amazing museum to visit. The scale of the site is astounding as is the factories history that includes the use of forced labour during the Second World War. As an environmental historian with a particular interest in industrialization it was amazing to climb to the top of the ironworks and think about the workers who spent their lives exposed to pollution and weather and without all the railings installed to keep tourists safe. Most importantly, the museum had a great playground for Cameron and one parent to hangout while the other parent took their turn to climb around. We preserve too little of our industrial heritage and the Völklingen Ironworks is a great example of transforming a decommissioned industrial site into a great museum.
Arizona State University
My flight from Phoenix to Denver was smooth, but now behind the driver’s wheel, Siri and I were having a serious disagreement. I wanted to go to Loveland, Colorado, 56 miles north of Denver and my phone wanted me to go to Loveland Ski Resort, 56 miles west of Denver. A quick stop in Evergreen and a brief chat with a local prompted a U-turn and another slog through freeway commute travel, this time in the opposite direction.
The ever-so-slow pace allowed me to reflect on my soon-to-be first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, which along with Acadia National Park and the U.S. National Park Service is the midst of a 100-year anniversary celebration. Pictures of Rocky’s dedication in 1915 show people arriving in cars, motorcycles, and horseback. I wondered what the impetus was for these folks to travel to parks. Who were those people in the audience? How did they find out about the dedication – was it solely through The Denver Post? Was the journey part of their destination? How far did they travel? Did they get lost going to the park like I did and grumble about it? Did they venture to the park to seek peace and quiet, like me? That notion was quickly put to rest as Siri (now correctly) steered me into Loveland where I would soon find myself sharing my hotel basecamp, the road, and the park with hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts taking part in the Thunder in the Rockies Harley-Davidson bike rally. The mantra of the early park advocates in 1915 still held true in 2015: Protect it and they shall come…
Jessica M. DeWitt
PhD Candidate, Department of History
University of Saskatchewan
In August I was conducting research on Albertan provincial parks at the provincial archives in Alberta. I unexpectedly had some time to explore and decided to drive a little over two and half hours to Dry Island Provincial Park. The park marks the point at which the grasslands open up to the badlands of the Red Deer River and the view was breathtaking. The park is on the site of an ancient Cree buffalo jump, and ‘Dry Island’, the plateau in the middle of the park, is undeveloped and still covered in native prairie grass.
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies and School of Sustainability
Arizona State University
Until last year (2014) I was keeping an environmental historian’s Cardinal sin under wraps. I professed to be a historian of agriculture in the Canadian Prairies, particularly in the semiarid parts of the wheat belt, but I had never actually stepped foot in Manitoba or Saskatchewan. My research had taken me to such grassland metropolises as Fargo and Medicine Hat, but the Saskatchewan and Manitoba archives were all too willing to either digitize or mail whatever I needed. You could imagine my conference conversations with certain prairie history greats – Sarah Carter, Roy Loewen, Bill Waiser, Rob Wardhaugh – where I tried to let book smarts hide my plains innocence. Last year I moved to Saskatchewan and made penance in Palliser’s Triangle, a wellknown Canadian extension of the “Great American Desert.” This year I’ve progressed a few more circles into Dante’s Inferno, now that I live in the real desert (Phoenix).
This photo is of my kids and their friends running toward Fort Walsh, in the Cypress Hills, a stunning pocket of lodgepole pines and elevated rangeland in the middle of Palliser’s Triangle in southwest Saskatchewan. Just like the southwestern desert, the higher elevation of this geological anomaly creates lower temperatures and increased precipitation. It’s an island of forest in a sea of grass – or as John Palliser put it, in 1859, “a perfect oasis in the desert.” For explorers like Palliser, the term oasis was more than metaphorical. Their horses were nearly starved for fodder by the time they reached this plateau, particularly when bison herds had recently consumed every blade of grass for miles around. (Motorists must still plan ahead in Palliser’s Triangle. It’s a long walk from the halfway point between gas stations!) The fort is an early North West Mounted Police headquarters, and the historical interpreters and public historians have done a fantastic job recreating 19th century military life (including a live field gun demonstration), First Nations culture, and borderland issues. We camped nearby in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park East Block, and we swam in the artificial lake that was dug by hand as a relief project in the 1930s (check out the webcam). It’s a pretty heavenly place to do penance.
And a late-summer (it’s still plenty warm in Tempe) postscript …
To my great good fortune I was invited to speak on the modern history of the Columbia River at a symposium sponsored by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff the first week of October, no longer quite summer. Mixing business with pleasure, my wife Linda and I rented a car and drove to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park for two days and nights, stopping for hiking excursions in Banff NP at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. We were in Banff once before in 1994. Just as beautiful as I remembered. Changes: more people, smaller glaciers. The photo ironically represents the Whyte Museum logo: “When Peaks and People Meet”: a classic people-less Sierra Club calendar style photo. The only person in the photo is the eye/I behind the image. Favorite post-hike experience: dinner at Truffle Pigs Bistro in Field, BC.
Paul Hirt is a professor of environmental history and senior sustainability scholar at Arizona State University. He apologizes for helping recruit some of Canada’s best and brightest to the American Southwest.
(Arizona: the new satellite province? When can we expect our invitation? ~ Ed.)
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- Reminder: Northeast & Atlantic Region Environmental History (NEAR-EH) 2019 - March 15, 2019
- Get Outside: Field Trips & Teaching Environmental History - February 26, 2019
- Northeast & Atlantic Region Environmental History (NEAR-EH) 2019: Call for Proposals - February 18, 2019
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