Introductions, Invasions, and Infections: Testing Environmental and Cultural Reception in Canadian History

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Monday, May 30, 2016
Time: 2:45-4:15
Location: Science B148

On May 30th, at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting, William Knight, Merle Massie and I will be sharing our research into the deliberate and accidental movements of plants and animals into and across environments, and their varying reception as beneficial introductions or invading aliens. Examining three episodes from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the panel considers the cultural and environmental reaction to species across different scales: physical, temporal, and conceptual. Applying different methodologies, these papers address the tensions between ideas of invasion and introduction, as well as the agency of plants, non-human animals, and viruses in environmental history.

Introductions: My paper, “Managing Introduction across Dominion and Imperial Scientific Networks,” focuses on attempts to recreate landscapes through scientific intervention into plant life at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. Tracing the westward movement of wheat from Eurasia to Ottawa to the Prairies and the eastward movement of wild rice/manoomin/Zizania aquatica from the Canadian Shield to Ottawa to the estates of the United Kingdom, I explore the role of practical experimentation on plants in changing landscapes and developing networks of exchange between Canadian scientists and farmers at home, as well as Canadian scientists and their imperial counterparts at places like the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the United Kingdom. These movements were also physical and discursive transformations that traced fundamentally different relationships with the world beyond the farms and estates where these plants were introduced.

Invasions: Will’s paper, “‘Pugnacious marauder’ and prized trophy: black bass introductions in British Columbia, 1902-2012,” examines an underappreciated aspect of biological imperialism: the use of fish to create new economic and recreational opportunities in European colonies around the world. Will looks at one historical episode: the introduction of black bass (Micropterus sp. dolomieu and salmoides) in British Columbia (BC) in 1902 to provide sport fishing. Fear that bass would destroy valuable salmon fisheries led the BC government to forbid further introductions. Bass, however, spread through waterways and became naturalized in southern BC where they today provide popular sport fisheries. Anglers also surreptitiously transferred bass to other parts of the province, and the fish is once again seen as a threat. In 2012, more than a hundred years after bass were first introduced, the BC government began to exterminate the fish in selected lakes. This paper examines the historical dynamics of fish introductions in BC, and considers how bass have been both welcome and unwelcome, and how such valuations change with time and place.

Infections: Merle’s paper, “Swamp Fever: Horses, Infectious Anemia, and the rush to the farm frontier,” uses stories of infection and loss on the forest edge to ask whether or not agriculture should be conducted beyond the prairie. Horses were the lifeblood of Canadian agriculture in the days before tractors. On the forest edge, into the 1950s, they provided essential labour to sweat, tug, and heave the modern West into existence. However, after the opening of forest land for settlement in 1908, horses that ate swamp hay and drank swamp water began to die of swamp fever (equine infectious anemia). Merle outlines the search for the cause of the distress, from academic researchers at the federal and university level to the memories and stories of pioneers who lost farm resources and friends. Was swamp fever a form of environmental resistance? Was the land itself rejecting farming as a form of acceptable activity in those regions?

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Pete Anderson

Public History Consultant at History Applied
I am an Ottawa-based historical research consultant. My personal research examines the confluence of science, settler colonialism, and landscape change in Canada and my doctoral thesis explored the early history of Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm.

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