BookLook 2017

Three-year-old Jennifer Adair with a book, Montreal (1930-1960) Library & Archives Canada

Scroll this

Being an annual reconnaissance of newly-released and forthcoming works in Canadian historical geography and environmental history. See BookLook 201520142013, and 2012. Don’t see BookLook 2016; it doesn’t exist.


I do try to keep up with the field, really I do, but miss a single book fair at the Congress for Humanities & Social Sciences, miss writing a single BookLook, spend just a little too much of your reading time on books with dragons,  and suddenly it feels like your course reading lists have to be completely overhauled. There are so many books coming out in our field just now! Here are some arriving this spring or later in 2017 – or in some cases 2016 stragglers that I missed.

I must give primacy of place to Jocelyn Thorpe, Stephanie Rutherford, and Anders Sandberg eds., Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research, because it’s an international publication with a lot of Canadian content. And because it’s super expensive – $116 US! – and I hope that if I mention it prominently Routledge will send me a complimentary copy. I highly recommend this book I haven’t read yet. What a great book that I haven’t read yet.

There are a number of books on British Columbia, per usual, some coming out in the indefatigable Nature|History|Society series edited by the indefatigable Graeme|Wynn.  Look for Ben Bradley, British Columbia by the Road: Car Culture and the Making of a Modern Landscape; Jonathan Peyton, Unbuilt Environments: Tracing Postwar Development in Northwest British Columbia; as well as Robert Griffin and Richard A. Rajala, The Sustainability Dilemma: Essays on British Columbia Forest and Environmental History, published the Royal BC Museum. That’s right, a non-academic press used the term “Environmental History” in a title.

The Maritimes are well-represented, too, in Mark Leeming, In Defence of Home Places: Environmental Activism in Nova Scotia; and Edward MacDonald, Joshua MacFadyen, and Irene Novaczek, eds., Time and a Place: An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island. Full disclosure: I have an essay, which a lot of people are saying is the best essay, in this latter book, which a lot of people are saying is the best book ever written.

Those interested in Ontario environmental history will want to check out Susan Hill, The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River; as well as Nancy B. Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank, The People and the Bay: A Social and Environmental History of Hamilton Harbour. And I’m intrigued by John Michels, Permanent Weekend: Nature, Leisure, and Rural Gentrification, a history of the Almaguin Highlands written by a Wisconsin high school teacher.

Quebec, there’s …ok, I’m not seeing much here beyond Michèle Dagenais, Montreal, City of Water: An Environmental History. What am I missing, people?

There are a few 2016 books on the West that I keep meaning to read – Geoff Cunfer and Bill Waiser, Bison and People on the North American Great Plains: A Deep Environmental History; Adele Perry, Aqueduct: Colonialism, Resources, and the Histories We Remember; and Cordy Tymstra, The Chinchaga Firestorm When the Moon and Sun Turned Blue – and this 2017 title also looks promising: Brian M. Ronaghan, ed., Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin: Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments. Does the “West” in Jim Clifford, West Ham and the River Lea: A Social and Environmental History of London’s Industrialized Marshland, 1839–1914, qualify it for entry in this category? I suppose not. Whatever. I’m still looking forward to reading it.

This being Canada, there are books of interest on the North. Last year’s Emilie Cameron, Far Off Metal River: Inuit Lands, Settler Stories, and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic, has been nominated for the Canada Prize; there is Andrew Stuhl, Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands, which has a lot of Can-con; and Brenda L. Parlee and Ken J. Caine, eds. When the Caribou Do Not Come: Indigenous Knowledge and Adaptive Management in the Western Arctic looks pretty fascinating. And let’s not forget the recently published Stephen Bocking and Brad Martin, eds. Ice Blink: Navigating Northern Environmental History.

Actually, as the eds. in that last paragraph attest, a great deal of Canadian environmental history energy and output can be found in edited collections. The Canadian History & Environment series at University of Calgary Press, edited by the fatigable me, is devoted strictly to collections, and the last year has seen release not just of Ice Blink, but also Joanna Dean, Darcy Ingram, and Christabelle Sethna, eds., Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Canada; Lynne Heasley and Daniel Macfarlane, eds. Border Flows: A Century of the Canadian-American Water Relationship; and Ben Bradley, Jay Young, Colin M. Coates, eds. Moving Natures: Mobility and Environment in Canadian History. McGill-Queen’s Rural, Wildland, and Resource Studies Series is powering up, too, as evident in R.W. Sandwell, ed. Powering Up Canada: The History of Power, Fuel, and Energy from 1600; and James Murton, Dean Bavington, and Carly Dokis, eds., Subsistence under Capitalism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Note also Laurel Sefton MacDowell, ed. Nuclear Portraits: Communities, the Environment, and Public Policy.

But as much as I cherish ed. and the eds., and the collaborative nature that they signify, I’m a sucker for a book with a single authorial voice – the right authorial voice. I’ve read Claire Campbell, Nature, Place, and Story: Rethinking Historic Sites in Canada, and think it’s a landmark work in both public policy and environmental history.  Buy it and read it. And I look forward to the career-capping Fashioning the Canadian Landscape: Essays on Travel Writing, Tourism, and National Identity in the Pre-Automobile Era by Jack Little, a writer who always has lots to offer.

Happy reading. Please share in the comments any titles I’ve missed.

The following two tabs change content below.
I am the author of Becoming Green Gables (spring 2024), The Summer Trade (with Edward MacDonald, 2022), & The Miramichi Fire (2020), & the editor of the print/open-access Canadian History & Environment series at University of Calgary Press. I was Director of NiCHE, 2004-15. Contact me at


NiCHE encourages comments and constructive discussion of our articles. We reserve the right to delete comments that fail to meet our guidelines including comments under aliases, or that contain spam, harassment, or attacks on an individual.