BookLook 2015

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Being the fourth annual reconnaissance of newly-released and forthcoming works in Canadian historical geography and environmental history. See BookLook 2014, 2013, and 2012.

You work hard. You put in the hours. You try your best, you really do. But no matter what you do, no matter who you are, there comes a point when you have to look at yourself in the mirror – I mean really look – and admit: you’re no George Colpitts. While the rest of the Canadian environmental history and historical geography community is researching an essay – bam! he’s published Pemmican Empire: Food, Trade and the Last Bison Hunts in the British American West, 1780-1870 with Cambridge UP. While you’re fumbling with a new course – boom! he’s written North America’s Indian Trade in European Commerce and Imagination, 1580-1850 for Brill. While you’re reading this overheated blogpost – pow! he’s released Fish Wars and Trout Travesties: Saving Southern Alberta’s Coldwater Streams in the 1920s with Athabasca. I’m calling my next manuscript Gorges, Coal Pits, and Canadian Environmental History in hopes of attracting an acquisitions editor with bad eyesight.

Others are producing books, mind you. Works on British Columbia and Ontario seem to predominate at the moment. Not surprisingly, UBC Press leads the BC titles. There’s John Thistle’s Resettling the Range: Animals, Ecologies, and Human Communities in British Columbia and Justin Page’s Tracking the Great Bear: How Environmentalists Recreated British Columbia’s Coastal Rainforest. McGill-Queen’s is publishing Nancy J. Turner’s two-volume magnum opus, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America. The Ontario books include Jennifer Bonnell’s Reclaiming the Don: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley, Nancy B. Bouchier and Ken Cruikshank’s The People and the Bay: A Social and Environmental History of Hamilton Harbour, and Mark Kuhlberg’s In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894-1932. Somewhere along the line I missed Oiva Saarinen’s From Meteorite Impact to Constellation City: A Historical Geography of Greater Sudbury. And my old collaborator, fellow Islander, and student Ryan O’Connor has been busy touring Southern Ontario to promote The First Green Wave Pollution Probe and the Origins of Environmental Activism in Ontario.

I will also read Courtney W Mason’s Spirits of the Rockies: Reasserting an Indigenous Presence in Banff National Park because I like parks history, Nicholas Guitard’s The Lost Wilderness: Rediscovering WF Ganong’s New Brunswick because I like Ganong, and Matthew Evenden’s Allied Power: Mobilizing Hydro-Electricity During Canada’s Second World War because I like what he writes. I’m also pledging to read more histoire environnementale, and I’ll start with two by that great Quebec publisher, Septentrion: Claude Richer, Pearl Duval, and Carolane Grenier’s Le Cheval Canadien: histoire et espoir and Alain Asselin, Jacques Cayouette, and Jacques Mathieu’s Curieuses histoires de plantes du Canada. Speaking of French Canada, it’s great to see that my old student Jessica van Horssen has brought A Town Called Asbestos: Environmental Contamination, Health, and Resilience in a Resource Community to press.

And I’ll bask in some reflected glory this fall when Arn Keeling and John Sandlos’ excellently assembled collection, Mining and Communities in Northern Canada: History, Politics, and Memory, is published in a series I edit for University of Calgary Press.

Congratulations to all you writers and all us readers. All in all, it looks like a rich year for the environmental history of Colpitts – I mean, Canada.

What books have I missed? Share in the comments below. And happy reading.

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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


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