Quelques Arpents de Neige brings together scholars from Quebec, Ontario, and nearby U.S. states who share an interest in environmental history. Arpents started in 2003 as a workshop that met three times per year in various locations. In 2011, the format changed to a single annual meeting held in Kingston. The two-day workshop incorporates presentations and a field trip; speakers have the opportunity to test new ideas and engage the audience with works in progress.
This year Arpents met in Kingston, on the weekend of December 8 and 9, 2012. As per tradition, on Saturday we listened to and discussed scholars’ works in progress. On Sunday, we participated in a field trip to St. Lawrence College’s Energy House. This year’s presenters came from York University (PhD Candidate Andrew Watson and Dr. Sean Kheraj), Queen’s University (Dr. Ben Bradley), Carleton University (Dr. Joanna Dean), and the University of Toronto (PhD Candidate Caleb Wellum and Dr. Ruth Sandwell, OSIE). Attendees included professors, visiting scholars, recently finished “PhD-ers,” PhD candidates, and MA students.
Andrew and Ben’s papers brought to light hidden or obscured histories key to the wider narrative of recreation in Canada. Andrew addressed the patterns of and transformations to aboriginal life in Muskoka, where there existed an absence of aboriginal peoples from much of the local history record and perception of Muskoka, though there was a complex web of use and interaction in the area. Ben outlined ideas for a new project on the rowdier, non-official use of Canadian provincial parks. The discussions around the ways in which to access this “from the bottom up” history sparked conversations about official park narratives on nature and recreation versus how different groups of people actually interact with the environment and other people in these spaces. Attendees also offered up their own suggestions on parks and behaviours that Ben might include in his future project.
Joanna and Sean offered presentations, respectively, on using animals as a way to think about environmental history and on the Red River Settlement as a case study for ecological imperialism unfolding in a more northern and western Canadian-centred region. These papers garnered debate on how we view and incorporate ideas about the natural world into our work and how these definitions shape our research questions and approaches. For instance, the group spent much time considering the problems around measuring or perceiving animals by human standards (i.e. agency and emotions). The group also pondered the value of the actor-network theory in environmental histories. We came away with fresh ideas but no grand resolutions.
Finally, to round out the presentations, Caleb and Ruth discussed perceptions of fuel/energy consumption in two different contexts. Ruth’s paper focused on early 20th century Canada’s transforming fuel uses and distribution in rural and urban centres, and it illustrated the gradual obscuration of the origins of fuel from the general public. Caleb’s paper looked at the rise of the Documerica photography campaign—to visually represent possible futures for America, which included everything from the nostalgic to the fiery-apocalyptic—as a consequence of the energy crisis and environmental movement in the 1970s.
We continued the energy theme on Sunday morning at the St. Lawrence College Energy House. There, Cam McEachern, Director of Research, provided us with a history of the Energy House, the Energy Systems Engineering Technology lab, the Wind Turbine Technician lab, and the Sustainable Energy Applied Research Centre at the College. He also overviewed past and recent projects. We then proceeded on a guided tour of these sites and saw, among other things, where students work on wind turbines and where students collect data from the variously graded solar modules in order to ascertain at what angles these generate the most energy for our climate and weather. This tour was a great way to end our workshop for this year.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Quelques Arpents, and we hope to organize something special!
Elizabeth Jewett is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto.
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