Man and Resources 50 Years Later: A retrospective on early Canadian environmentalism

Scroll this

A National Program for Citizenship Engagement

From 1972 to 1974 thousands of Canadian citizens participated in the Man and Resources Program. This was an initiative launched by the Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers (CCREM) intended to facilitate public engagement in resource and environmental management issues. The scope of the program was immense. The outcomes were ambiguous. Yet the records of the engagement process provide a rich historical resource of local perspectives at a moment when environmental issues were of increasing concern to a growing number of Canadians.1

At the outset, the CCREM’s stated goal was to “provide a national forum for debate” surrounding guidelines “to achieve and sustain an optimum balance of social and economic benefits derived from the natural resource base.”2 To achieve this, the program aimed to “foster communication and understanding between citizens and members of governments in the formulation and administration of resource policies.”3 This broad scope made for a program that was rife with tensions from the beginning, especially tensions between local concerns and national policies and between citizen and expert participants.

Although Man and Resources was a national program, the provinces undertook the bulk of the organizing. Here is how it unfolded: Throughout 1972, approximately 15,000 Canadians attended dozens of local meetings and identified issues of local and regional concern. In September of that year, regional delegates met for a national conference at Montebello, Quebec, to agree on and prioritize issues of national concern. The result was 12 “Montebello issues”: Citizen Participation, Integral and Long Term Planning, Population, Education, Growth Ethic and Social Values, Environmental Protection, Foreign Ownership, Northern Development, Indians: Land and Resources, Energy, Ownership, and Qualitative and Quantitative Data. These issues were then passed to task forces and regional working groups, who met throughout 1973, designated the “Man and Resources Year.” They were tasked with providing expert and local perspectives on and solutions to address the priority issues. The program culminated in a second, much larger national conference in Toronto in late 1973, which established a set of national guidelines for resource and environmental management within each Montebello issue.

There is little question that Man and Resources met its overarching goal of citizen engagement. The bigger question was, as Saskatchewan Environment Minister Neil Byers wrote in 1974, “What happens now?”4 The answer is that not a lot happened with Man and Resources material, and the scope of the program was so broad as to make it difficult to truly evaluate. Seven months after the Toronto conference the former Chairman of the National Steering Committee, Rod Hummel, could point out only that governments were “taking a conscientious look at the results of this great experiment,” and that they “had been made more aware of the increasing desire of people to contribute effectively” to environmental management.5 David Furlong, who served as Chairman of the Energy Task Force, wrote a skeptical review of his involvement and of the Toronto conference in particular, which he stated was “not the type of conference to which scientists and professionals are accustomed.”6 He asserted that the effort, cost, and uncertain outcomes were simply “not worthwhile,” and he was particularly alarmed that “modern society” was questioning the values of “engineers, scientists, economists, and business and professional men.”7 Given the lack of follow-up, it was not long before the entire program was criticized as being an effort to rein in and control public concern. One critic labeled the effort as a “largely innocuous” forum “culminating in bureaucratic cooptation” of environmental concerns.8

There were also differing views as to how successful the program was in its stated goal to engage Canadians from “all walks of life.” Hummel suggested that participants skewed towards the academic and professional, although he noted that many participants were engaging with such issues for the first time. A Saskatchewan report noted that white, professional men were overrepresented at urban meetings, although the effort to hold meetings in small communities helped to balance this to an extent.9 However, Robert Blais, Chairman of the Canadian Geoscience Council, wrote that participants of the Toronto conference came from “extremely diverse backgrounds,” noting that participants ranged from “genuinely alarmed scientists” to “a few anarchists and some mixed-up kids and old ladies” adding to a large presence of “so-called ‘ordinary people’.”10

Ultimately, the vague guidelines that came out of the program, the lack of clear next steps, and the de-centralized nature of it all have led to historians reasonably overlooking the proceedings.11 But while the overarching feeling coming out of the program was one of ambivalence, the resources created as part of the initiative offer a snapshot of environmental concern in the early days of the Canadian environmental movement. Looking at the program’s run in the province of Saskatchewan neatly demonstrates how environmental concerns were being shaped by both the broader environmental movement and by responses to localized issues. Moreover, reports from community meetings provide an inventory of highly localized environmental concerns from all over the province.

Man and Resources in Saskatchewan

My interest in this topic was piqued by frequent references to the Man and Resources Program in the defunct Saskatchewan environmental magazine Probe, which in the early 1970s was a joint effort of Pollution Probe Regina and the Saskatoon Environmental Society.12 Both groups were expressions of a new wave of environmental engagement and politics sweeping the West in this period. It is clear that they perceived Man and Resources as a significant opportunity for the groups and their members to influence environmental politics, as well as to connect with like-minded groups from across the province and the country. While more than 30 individuals from Saskatchewan attended the Toronto conference, the most significant engagement happened in three sets of community meetings in 1972, 1973, and 1974.13

Community meetings were held in 17 places across the province from the major centres of Regina and Saskatoon to small communities like Assiniboia, Hudson Bay, and Uranium City. In the lead-up to the Montebello conference in 1972, organizers travelled the province for these meetings, and delegates from each community were also invited to provincial workshops in Saskatoon and Regina. In the Man and Resources Year between national conferences, working groups were set up to report on the Montebello issues and consider briefs submitted by different communities and community interest groups. Finally, in 1974, follow-up meetings were organized in the same 17 communities as part of a process to review the national guidelines and to consider next steps. For each stage of the program there is a record of perspectives and concerns from across the province.

A sample of Man and Resources literature.

These proceedings demonstrate some of the ways in which the broader environmental movement was already finding a home in Saskatchewan at this time. Above all, there was a clear and urgent emphasis placed on the need for broad, public environmental education. The goal would be to “inform people of the interaction of life systems on earth,” and to ultimately shift from an “archaic” value system that prioritized “man the waster” towards one that respected the need for conservation and that would “allow man to continue his existence.”14 This approach reflects the optimism of environmentalists that environmental education would lead to environmental action. In discussions on issues like population and energy, participants consistently expressed an urgent need to limit growth to curb resource depletion, and what they articulated as the increasing ecological and social costs of perpetual growth. Saskatchewan’s regional working group on Energy also expressed concerns in 1973 about global warming stemming from fossil fuel use.15

The provincial Man and Resources records are especially valuable in highlighting the ways that concerns specific to Saskatchewan were helping to shape environmentalism there. In a still largely rural province struggling to diversify its economy, agriculture emerged as a dominant theme. In particular, there was a clear concern with the growing capital-intensive farming model that was resulting in bigger farms with a high level of energy-intensive inputs. Another significant and related theme was a concern for rural decline and the effects that this could have on the landscape. Significantly, these themes highlight that Saskatchewan participants were prioritizing environmental issues where and when they intersected with social issues. While there was a desire expressed to set aside bigger tracts of land for conservation and recreational purposes, much of the focus was on environmental issues that directly implicated Saskatchewan people. At the 1972 provincial workshop in Regina, one of four priority topics was headlined “What do we want for Saskatchewan?” The first two points concerned viable rural communities and non-polluting farming practices.16

Perhaps most valuably, the Man and Resources records provide lists of priority environmental concerns from all participating communities. In far-north Uranium City, the focus was on the hazards of abandoned mines, lake pollution, and the challenges attending isolated resource towns. In Cumberland House, a predominantly Cree and Métis community, water management at what is now known as the E.B. Campbell hydroelectric station was central to several concerns: impacts on trapping due to flooding of beaver and muskrat populations; impacts on forestry, with water level fluctuations impacting log-hauling; and impacts on fishing due to high levels of mercury. Further south in Swift Current, concern focused on unsightly and dangerous abandoned farm buildings as well as encroaching highway construction around the sensitive Cypress Hills and Great Sand Hills areas. In Kindersley, concern was expressed about the burning-off of oil and natural gas in open pits at oil operation sites. And in Saskatoon and Regina, participants worried largely about rapid and unplanned urban growth, and increased opportunities for meaningful public participation in environmental planning.17 This snapshot of environmental concerns is invaluable for seeing what was affecting different communities across the province and, more broadly, what those communities perceived as environmental or resource problems at the time.

A Valuable Historical Resource

The Man and Resources Program did not lead to an overhauling of environmental and resource policy in Canada. However, it did signal that already by 1971 governments across the country were feeling the need to respond to the increasing organization and demands of environmentalists for greater transparency and public participation. This was a major theme of environmental politics throughout the rest of the decade from the Berger Commission on the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline project to a suite of energy developments in Saskatchewan, such as a proposed dam on the Churchill River.18 Moreover, Man and Resources created a robust public record of environmental concerns from the local to the national level, which can help to trace influences on and tensions surrounding a burgeoning environmental movement and provides tremendous detail about localized environmental concerns. Every province created its own set of records apart from the national proceedings, providing an enticing view into Canadian environmental politics in a contentious era.


1. On the rise of environmentalism in Canada see for example Colin M. Coates, ed., Canadian Countercultures and the Environment (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016) and Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper, eds., Environmental Activism On the Ground: Small Green and Indigenous Organizing (Calgary: UCP, 2019).
2. Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers, Man and Resources Conference: Proceedings (CCREM: 1974), 2.
3. D.G. Wyllie, ed., Man and Resources Program in Saskatchewan (CCREM & Environment Saskatchewan, 1973): 1.
4. Neil E. Byers, “Introduction,” in Directions: A Follow-up to Man and Resources, ed. Claudia Nicholl (Environment Saskatchewan, 1974): 2.
5. Rod Hummel, “Man and Resources – Did Anything Really Happen?” The Forestry Chronicle 50, no. 3 (June 1974): 96.
6. David Furlong, “The Man and Resources Program,” Geoscience Canada 1, no. 1 (1974): 45.
7. Furlong, “Man and Resources,” 47.
8. Murray Randall, “Energy Policy Planning: Towards a Critical Perspective,” Alternatives 6, no. 2 (Winter 1977): 14.
9. Directions, 9.
10. Quoted in Furlong, “Man and Resources,” 45.
11. I have not found any substantial treatment of the Program, although it received a mention in Alan MacEachern’s history of Prince Edward Island’s Institute of Man and Resources, which took its name from the program. See MacEachern, The Institute of Man and Resources: An Environmental Fable (Charlottetown: Island Studies Press, 2003).
12. Probe would become the sole responsibility of SES in 1972. The name was changed to Environment Probe in 1975 and SES’ own name was changed to the Saskatchewan Environmental Society in 1981.
13. As Saskatchewan must always be compared with its prairie peers, 46 individuals attended from much larger Alberta, while 32 individuals attended from slightly larger Manitoba, compared to 34 from Saskatchewan. CCREM, Proceedings, 73-84.
14. CCREM, “Man and Resources Program in Saskatchewan: Community Meetings and Provincial Workshops, 1972,” (CCREM: 1972), Part D.
15. “Energy,” in Man and Resources Program in Saskatchewan, 144.
16. “Community Meetings,” Part D.
17. See Directions, Section A, 10-25.
18. On this Saskatchewan project, see Daniel Macfarlane and Andrea Olive, “Whither Wintego: Environmental Impact Assessment and Indigenous Opposition in Saskatchewan’s Churchill River Hydropower Project in the 1970s,” Canadian Historical Review 102, no. 4 (2021): 620-646.

Feature image: The Forestry Chronicle 50, no. 3 (June 1974), 96.
The following two tabs change content below.

Justin Fisher

Justin is a PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. His research is examining the history of alternative energy development in Saskatchewan.

NiCHE encourages comments and constructive discussion of our articles. We reserve the right to delete comments that fail to meet our guidelines including comments under aliases, or that contain spam, harassment, or attacks on an individual.