Resource Procurement, Household Economies, and Environmental Change in Canada: Rural Roundtable Recap

Image from the S.S. Main Collection, the University of Guelph Archives

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From Baskerville and Bowley to Wilson and Watson, the lineup of rural history scholars at the very first Rural History Roundtable Symposium brought rural history seekers and advocates together at the University of Guelph this past Saturday. The Symposium was the product of the efforts of Dr. Catharine Wilson, co-ordinator of the Rural History Roundtable Series, and Jodey Nurse, Ph.D. Candidate in history at Guelph. A rousing success, the event showed that rural history in Canada is remarkably vibrant as it continues to push for a greater understanding of the complexities of the rural past, while also looking for areas of consensus-building with wider Canadian historiography.

The title for the day’s event was “Rural People and Places: Historical Perspectives on Resource Procurement, Household Economies, and Environmental Change in Canada.” While this thematic net was quite broad, it captured the idea that the experience of rural Canada was itself just as diverse. As Dr. Ruth Sandwell, the keynote speaker, declared, “Not all rural Canadians were rural in the same way.” Ruth’s opening discussion contained aspects of this idea, noting also the varieties of historical methods that would be presented throughout the day. She referenced directly the innovative scholarship being written by rural scholars and the historiographical lineage of which they are a part.

Each presenter was part of a number of separate panels that included papers discussing farm diaries and account books, resources and capital, and ideas of ‘rural vision’, to name a few. More directly, 19th and 20th-century rural and urban demographics were presented; wool weaving and cloth making; women on the farm; mortgages, biomass, and logging; power, photography, and amateur science; and bees…both of the buzzing and the reciprocal type.

In true roundtable fashion, presentations were followed by a sharing of thoughts and comments on each other’s works. While some claimed not to be rural scholars per se, by the end of the day all in the room were considering the possibilities that presenters opened through their papers – hinting that the Symposium was successful at gaining a few converts. Those in attendance also flexed their rural-knowledge muscles, as they discussed not only the size of a cord of wood, but also problems with shipping and making butter in the summer, the awful smell of a foulbrood-infected hive, the place of rural lenders, glass plate photography, and the meaning of ‘free riders’!

After the symposium Roundtablers (this word has yet to be recognized by Merriam-Webster, but its use on Saturday shows that it is on its way) were also treated to a warm welcome and old-fashioned country cooking at Catharine Wilson’s home. This was a perfect wrap-up to a day of rewarding discussion and provocative thinking.

Special thanks also goes to Dr. Doug McCalla, who created the Roundtable for Guelph University and rural historians, and Edna Mumford, who consistently improves the image of the group and keeps us all connected.

For future Roundtable events like us on Facebook, and for more information about rural history at Guelph University visit the rural history webpage.

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Nicholas Van Allen

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