Ron Rudin, Kouchibouguac: Removal, Resistance, and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016. 400 pgs, ISBN 9781442628403.
Reviewed by Christine Grossutti, PhD candidate (ABD), Department of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University
Kouchibouguac: Removal, Resistance, and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park presents a history of how Parks Canada deracinated an unprecedented number of people – more than 1200 individuals belonging to 260 families – in order to create a national park on the coast of New Brunswick in the 1970s. The story is told in three parts, with each answering one of the following research questions: How were the residents removed? How did they resist? And how are their experiences remembered? The text is complemented by a bilingual web installation (www.returningthevoices.ca) which plots audio, video, and photographic evidence from Rudin’s research with the park’s former residents onto an interactive map of their expropriated lands. I especially appreciated the online maps because they provide a level of detail absent from those provided in print.
For some, the creation of the park forty years ago remains a lively and contested issue. Rudin and his book were mentioned in a November 2017 Globe and Mail article about Jackie Vatour, the most widely known opponent to Kouchibouguac National Park, and his latest legal challenge against it. The appearance of the article gives credence to Rudin’s contention that Vatour, who to this day defies the expropriation of his land by continuing to live on it, has occupied too much space in the story of Kouchibouguac. Rudin pinpoints the moment Vatour took up this dominant position as the day in 1976 when the province of New Brunswick bulldozed his house. It was also the moment, according to Rudin, that the story of Kouchibouguac became an Acadian story. Rudin describes how, despite the efforts of provincial officials, an innocent bystander captured this dramatic event on film by chance. Once the film clip went public, it inspired a proliferation of Acadian nationalist art that made Vatour into a hero and the resistance to Kouchibouguac Park the defining moment for modern Acadian identity. However, this way of remembering the story, as Rudin shows, is an oversimplification of the facts.
Rudin manages to capture the complexity of the Kouchibouguac story that ideological and political forces have threatened to erase. Rudin uses James C. Scott’s concept of high modernism to theorize the way that government agents planned and created the park. Supported by ample archival evidence, Rudin shows how the federal and provincial governments envisioned the creation of the park as a social engineering project designed to rehabilitate its soon-to-be former residents. Rudin documents how government-employed scientists made way for their relocation by collecting and presenting data that deliberately characterized the rural residents as living deprived, isolated lives marked by poverty and social disintegration. Rudin then draws on his ethnographic work to present convincing evidence to the contrary. He shows that the former residents of Kouchibouguac were in fact wealthy in their ability to earn a living directly from the environment, and supported by a strong social network of neighbours. Rudin demonstrates that not only were the government officials in question willfully blind to such measures of well-being, but that many felt moral disdain for the residents’ way of living.
In addition to the logic of high modernism, Rudin argues that Parks Canada officials in the 1960s felt it was necessary to remove Kouchibouguac’s residents because they were committed to the “Yellowstone Model” of national parks. This model is grounded in the belief, famously critiqued by William Cronon (1995), that wilderness is incompatible with human presence. Rudin’s engagement with questions about nature as a cultural concept does not go much further than pointing to the nature/culture dichotomy. He might have delved a little deeper to show how this dichotomy could have been disrupted by acts of resistance and remembrance at Kouchibouguac, especially as he asks readers to imagine what could have been if the residents had been allowed to stay. Such analysis would have been appropriate at the parts of the narrative where he describes his own visits to residents’ former home sites, locating traces of occupation that park planners had sought to erase. Rudin muses that the now vacant home of the Comeaus – the only family Parks Canada left in relative peace – can be read as a monument to what could have been and invites the reader, with directions (the Park provides no signage), to seek out the site where it still stands in a dilapidated state.
Something else that deserved more attention are the acts of resistance and remembrance performed by Indigenous Peoples at Kouchibouguac. The Globe and Mail article cited above explains how Vatour, asserting Métis heritage and working in cooperation with Stephen Augustine, a member of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, is claiming Aboriginal title to park land. Rudin suggests that Vatour started to appeal to Métis heritage only after Acadian support for his personal struggle fizzled out. Rudin does refer to the First Nations of the area sporadically throughout the book, but these details remain marginal and only appear in relation to the acts of resistance carried out by the expropriated settlers. He shows, for example, several cases where government officials feared that being lenient with settlers by allowing them to remain in their homes or to continue fishing within park boundaries would provoke new demands from the Elsipogtog First Nation. While hints of it are present, I would have appreciated more information about the role Indigenous Peoples have played in this story.
Questions of documentation also appear in the final chapter, “Reconciliation,” which describes how former residents and their descendants have been collaborating with Parks Canada since 2012 to make the history of their uprooted communities more visible to visitors. Rudin concludes that as an agency, Parks Canada is limited in its willingness to tell the entire story, tending to minimize the scope of historical resistance to the park. This fact, for me, makes this book’s contribution clear. As simplified depictions of Kouchibouguac abound and persist, Rudin’s history stands to remind us of the complexity that the forces of bureaucracy, mass media, and nationalism threaten to erase.
William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (New York: W. W. Norton., 1995): 69-90.
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