Review of Ingram’s Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec, 1840-1914

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Reviewed By: Emma Hunter (Queen’s University)

Darcy Ingram, Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec, 1840-1914. Vancouver and Toronto: UBC Press, 2013. 304 pp. ISBN 9780774821414. $34.95 (paper).

Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec, 1840-1914 fits into a growing trend in environmental history that seeks to contextualize the historical evolution of wildlife conservation. Ingram demonstrates that wildlife conservation began in Quebec much earlier than other areas of North America and was characterized by a patrician regulatory system—one, in other words, dominated by British elites, including urban professionals and small-scale capitalists whose liberal beliefs in privatization, improvement, and sportsmanship became embedded in the wildlife legislation and conservation-club culture. Through Ingram’s detailed analysis of fish and game clubs records, Quebec emerges as a unique case study based on a British, not French, system of conservation and preservation.

The monograph is divided into two parts, which represent the two phases of early Quebec wildlife conservation. Part I explores the period from 1840-1880 when patrician influence reached its height and protection emerged as the governing strategy for conservation. Privatization of commercial and subsistence hunting and fishing practices was central to this policy of protection. Ingram identifies the 1840s and 1850s as a watershed in Quebec’s conservation policies, which developed alongside a growing number of civic associations that were concerned with the state of the province’s fish and game resources.

The men who pioneered this movement and formed these civic associations were from Quebec’s elite landed and capitalist classes. Ingram introduces Col. William Rhodes in the opening lines of the book as a representative of the Quebec upper class whose identity was closely aligned with that of the English gentry. Rhodes, and others like him, were part of a group of conservationists who formed organizations like Montreal and Quebec City’s Fish and Game Protection Clubs in the 1850s. Private-public partnership and leases, equipment restrictions, and interest in the economic potential of resources such as salmon rivers characterized this early period of conservation. The paternalism of the period, furthermore, allowed institutions, the state, and patricians to retain their power in the conservation movement.

The second half of the book examines the development of upper- and middle-class sportsmen and the emergence of a narrower understanding of conservation when Quebec favoured private hunting and fishing leases while paradoxically maintaining subsistence and commercial hunting and fishing. The social dynamics of the protection movement changed in the 1880s and a more encompassing membership was implemented which included a wider Anglo-American network of individuals such as urban professionals. However, this evolving social dynamic did not dismantle the patrician values of previous decades.

Ingram demonstrates that the 1880s was the height of the protection movement, which can be seen through game and fish club culture. At the same time, a sports-based system of conservation was developing much like it was in other parts of North America. However, the situation in Quebec was different, Ingram argues, because the province adopted private leases for hunting that originated from the British (especially Scottish) gentry system. Quebec’s dedication to privatization while having ample resources and wildlife was a paradox that also set the province apart from other systems of protection that were developing on the continent. At the turn of the century, there was opposition to Quebec’s conservation system; however, Ingram demonstrates that these efforts were unsuccessful because the patrician model of fish and game protection was already entrenched in civil society.

The breadth of research and variety of sources used in this project contribute to a stimulating analysis of the origins of environmentalism in Quebec. Ingram challenges the conception that wildlife conservation is a relatively recent phenomenon. Instead, the chronology of Ingram’s study convincingly demonstrates that conservation in Quebec actually began over a century and a half ago, distinguishing it from conservation initiatives in other parts of the country. The distinctive British-colonial character of Quebec’s system of wildlife protection made it unique not only within Canada, but in North America more broadly. Undergraduate and graduate students alike will find this book valuable and readable for research in Canadian environmental history.

Several of Ingram’s conclusions would have benefitted from further exploration. For example, in the introduction Ingram suggests that the wildlife conservation system that developed in Quebec was most similar to that of Scotland. However, the parallels to Scotland’s conservation policies are only really acknowledged in the introduction and conclusion of the book. Similarly, an area that could have been pushed further was the section about conflict and opposition. Ingram illustrates that indigenous groups were the most negatively affected by Quebec’s new regulatory system. The author provides a brief summary and analysis of why Aboriginal hunting and fishing practices were culturally threatened by the province’s new conservation system. It would have been interesting to explore the interaction and exchanges between these competing systems in the second half of the book and to trace the impact of Quebec’s conservation system on the province’s indigenous groups.

Ultimately Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec is an important and valuable study in the field of Canadian environment history. Historians and environmentalists will be interested in this well-researched and insightful analysis of the history of wildlife preservation in Quebec. Ingram covers a number of stimulating topics in Quebec history including class relations, environmentalism, and the relationship between the public and private spheres of society. This book will resonate with all those interested in learning more about the early conservation movement in Canadian history.

Emma Hunter is currently completing a Masters degree in History at Queen’s University under the supervision of Dr. Ian McKay. She will be continuing her studies at Queen’s in the PhD in History program in September 2015. Her research focuses on Ontario education reforms during the Second World War.

Citation: Emma Hunter. “Review of Darcy Ingram’s Wildlife, Conservation, and Conflict in Quebec, 1840-1914. Vancouver and Toronto: UBC Press, 2013.” The Otter ~ La Loutre Reviews (June 2015).

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