The Management of Natural Resources and the Environment in Canada: Historical and Transnational Perspectives

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During the Spring of 2022, the Department of History at Carleton University hosted four lectures on “The Management of Natural Resources and the Environment in Canada: Historical and Transnational Perspectives.” This Shannon Lecture series was convened by PhD Candidate Stephen Osei-Owusu with support from Dr. Dominique Marshall, Chair, the Shannon Endowment Committee, Department of History, Carleton University. The series was also advised by Dr. Blair Rutherford (Sociology and Anthropology) and Dr. Candace Sobers (Global and International Studies). The Shannons are a series of thematically linked public lectures that are held annually since 2010 and made possible through the Shannon Donation, a major gift from a long-time friend of the Department of History at Carleton. We are happy to share the recordings of this spring’s four Shannon lectures by Jason Colby, Joseph Aggrey-Fynn, Shireen Hassim, and Ronald Rudin.

“I am excited about this year’s Shannons because, as a keen enthusiast of researching the environment and learning how it has been central to humankind’s relations with each other since antiquity, I believe audiences will leave with a better understanding that our historical experiences in the use and management of the environment are steeped in pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial socio-political relic.”

Stephen Osei-Owusu, “The 2022 Shannon Lecture Series’ theme “The Management of Natural Resources and the Environment in Canada: Historical and Transnational Perspectives” intersects with the research of its convenor,” by Nick Ward, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Carleton University

Introduction to the Series1

Relations between humans and non-human inhabitants of the environment are old of several millennia. The history of these relations involves regulations of all sorts about use and preservation, contested or collaborative. In the making of these regulations, users, activists, government agencies and civil society organizations alike have shared contrasting traditions and perspectives on the ecology of natural resources. As recent global climatic trends suggest ominous cataclysmic environmental implications for both the environment and its users, the issue of natural resources and the efficient management of the environment to guarantee the continuous sustainable consumption of the environment and its natural resources has appeared in sharp focus.

This lecture series [was] intended at sharing different, yet syncretized global environmental experiences and the epistemic outlooks they generate, all within the framework of historically researched multi-disciplinary narratives. The lecture-series involve[d] a predominantly Canada-oriented range of environmental experiences, and feature corresponding transnational perspectives, in conversations with African environmental/resource management experiences/practices from Ghana. Proceedings [were] aimed at generating historical knowledge of our collective transnational experience of the environment and its resources, which, hopefully, should add to existing knowledge in history, government policy formulation, environmental protection efforts, legal frameworks on the environment, resource management, among others.

“Orcas, Pipelines, and the Politics of Science on the West Coast” with Jason Colby

Today, there is no more evocative icon of the West Coast than the orca, and there is no more prominent product of Alberta than oil. Over the last decade, these two symbols and the values they represent have clashed in heated debates over Canadian energy and environmental policy. Ranging in Canadian and US waters, critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are the most studied and most culturally influential population of cetaceans in human history, and they rely predominantly on declining numbers of Chinook salmon for food, particularly from the Fraser River. In 2013, their fate intersected with Canada’s oil economy, when Houston–based Kinder Morgan proposed expanding its Trans Mountain pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the BC coast through the Fraser watershed.

In addition to raising questions of Indigenous sovereignty, the proposal posed new threats to orcas and the rest of the coastal ecosystem. In 2018, after years of public opposition and legal challenges, Kinder Morgan sold the pipeline to the Canadian government, which pushed forward with the project while promising to fund research on the threats facing the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Yet the federalization of the project raised new concerns about the politicization of science, as well as the fate of the Southern Residents. This talk will explore this history of changing values and clashing icons and ponder its implications for resource management and environmental protection on the West Coast.

“Small-scale Fisheries in Ghana: Historical and Transnational Perspectives” with Joseph Aggrey-Fynn

The fisheries in Ghana consist of marine and freshwater fisheries. The marine fishery is practice at the subsistence and commercial levels. The commercial level of fishery consists of artisanal/traditional, semi–industrial and industrial fisheries. The significant fish landings come from these three components of marine fisheries whilst the freshwater fishery contribute small amount of fish which are mainly for local consumption. The small–scale fisheries therefore are practiced both in the marine and freshwater.

The small–scale fishery employs about 2.5 million out of 30 million of the Ghanaian population either directly or indirectly in the fisheries industry. These are the fishers, fish processors, fish traders and other auxiliary workers. The small–scale fishery industry is characterized by the use of several fishing gears which targets various fish resources.

The use of dug–out canoes and other traditional fishing gears in the industry dates back centuries ago. Fishing materials had been developed and improved from cotton and hemp to synthetic fibres, mechanization of canoes had improved from hand driven to gasoline even though the use of oars is still practice. However, some historical practices had been maintained such as salting, smoking, drying of fish for storage; and no fishing day and other taboos for conservation purposes.

Historically, some small–scale fishers in Ghana either migrate to other West African coastal states to settle for fishing activities or as migrant fishers that fish in other waters and return to Ghana. There are records of Ghanaian small–scale fishers that are spread from Angola to Senegal.

“Grass in the Cracks: Gender, Social Reproduction and Climate Justice in the Xolobeni Struggle” with Shireen Hassim

This chapter examines the opposition by members of the Xolobeni community to proposed mining on their communally–occupied land, including through litigation. While only one strategy amongst many, the use of law is notable and has thus far been effective in challenging the mining company and the government. The Xolobeni struggle points to important links between efforts to overcome gendered structures of production and reproduction and environmental destruction that offers insights for feminist struggles for climate justice. We draw on Silvia Federici’s gendered framing of the commons to tease out the key tensions in the long–drawn–out opposition to mining in Xolobeni: the involvement of women as the main producers of food and custodians of the land, their movement to the centre of the struggle in the context of violence against activists, and their assertion of new forms of temporality that engage the responsibilities of the present generation to the future.

“What is Nature?: The Rise and Fall of Moncton’s Petitcodiac Causeway” with Ronald Rudin

In 1968, a causeway was constructed across the Petitcodiac River, splitting in two the river that runs through Moncton on its way to the Bay of Fundy. The project was carried out by the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration (MMRA), a federal agency tasked twenty years earlier with protecting land that would have otherwise been flooded by the tides of the Bay of Fundy, the largest in the world, in the process creating marshland. With the arrival of settlers in the seventeenth century, protective structures were constructed to drain the marshland so
it might be farmed.

By the 1940s those structures had badly deteriorated, leading Ottawa to create the MMRA, but the agency went further than reconstructing existing dykes, as it also constructed dams across five major rivers, significantly altering the environment; but nowhere was this more dramatically visible than on the Petitcodiac, where the causeway provided a highway connecting Moncton with suburbs on the other side. Fish stocks were destroyed, the river downstream from the dam became narrower and shallower due to the accumulation of silt that was now deposited just below the structure, and upstream a headpond was created, where a new lakefront community was created.

In response to these environmental changes, bitter controversy ensued that lasted for over 40 years, until opening the gates in the causeway structure in 2010 and removal of much of that structure altogether in 2021. This presentation will focus on that debate and how it highlighted different conceptions of what constituted “nature.”

Feature Image: “Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline protest” by mag3737 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


1 This post draws directly from the “Shannon Lectures – Spring 2022” page on the Department of History, Carleton University’s website.

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