Forest History: Exhibits

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Chutes Coulonge Historical Park – Fort Coulange, Quebec
Chutes Coulonge Historical Park
100 Promenade du parc des Chutes
Fort Coulange, Quebec
J0X 1V0

Lumber merchant George Bryson settled near the Coulange River and acquired several thousands of acres of timber in the area. The large white pines of these forests were desired for squared timber exports to Great Britain. Over the years, a number of machines and modifications were used to move timber down the river and over the waterfall at this site. Logs were squared and assembled into massive “timber rafts” for eventual transport on the Ottawa River. This historical park features many standing buildings and types of equipment, as well as a river trail.

Bryson House – Mansfield QC
Bryson House
For information, please contact: Maison culturelle George Bryson, George Bryson Cultural House Committee, 314, rue Principale (Highway 148), Mansfield, QC J0X 1V0.

George Bryson Sr. (1813-1900) was a successful lumber manufacturer and politician who built this unique house in 1854. Declared a historic site in 1980, the mansion and grounds feature a company office, farmland, stables, ice room, and more. Today, the house serves several functions as a municipal library, history museum, and seasonal art gallery.

Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum
Prince George Railway and Forestry Museum
850 River Road
Prince George, BC V2L 5S8

Museum information kindly provided by James Tirrul-Jones, PGRFM curator

“The Railway and Forestry Museum includes collections, exhibits and programs relating to the forest industry. The collections include railroad rolling stock and railroad equipment related to forestry plus forestry equipment, tools and background information. For example we have on display: a beehive burner, a spar truck with a 1959 Madill spar mounted on a 1952 Hayes truck, arch trucks, a 1965 Letourneau log stacker, early tree shearers and a patented bush blade designed by a local entrepreneur. We have a temporary exhibit gallery and have shown exhibits such as “We Did That: forestry innovations and inventions in British Columbia” and “Forestry in the Fifties” (first hand accounts of the nature of the forestry industry in Central Northern BC in the 1950’s). Our programming includes guest speakers, forestry teaching kits that are available on loan and school programs for all grades from K to University. We have a small library of equipment manuals and general forestry information plus archival materials. We partner with the Northern BC Archives at UNBC who stores and makes available to the public much of our archival collection. The museum is open year round with some outside exhibits closed in the winter.”

The Unnatural History of Stanley Park – Vancouver
Vancouver Museum

Vancouver, British Columbia
A Review of “The Unnatural History of Stanley Park” and a Reflection on History and Museums
By Sean Kheraj
Department of History
University of British Columbia

Director of Collections and Exhibitions: Joan Seidl
Exhibit designer: Sholto Scruton
Graphic Designer: 10four Design
Lighting and interactive design: Shaun August of Douglas Welch Design

The sounds of cracking wood, chainsaws, and human voices fill the first room of “The Unnatural History of Stanley Park” exhibit at the Vancouver Museum. Triggered by motion sensors, the recordings from the winter of 2006-07 play through hidden speakers as you pass between a series of geometric columns that represent the tangle of fallen trees and branches in Stanley Park following its last major windstorm event. It is a stunning entrance to this smartly designed exhibition.

This past September, the Vancouver Museum opened its now popular exhibit “The Unnatural History of Stanley Park” to the public in both English and Chinese languages. The exhibit was funded in part by the Community Care & Advancement Association (Johnny Kwan Hok Fong,, Shek Kwong Leung, Cheng Jia Huang, Zhan Wei Hao, Hua Chen, Kwok Chun Yu, and Shun So.)

Beginning with a virtual walking tour of the 2006-07 storm damage in the park, the exhibit follows with panels displaying information about previous storm events and restoration efforts, including major windstorms in 1934 and 1962. The remaining rooms display different physical artifacts from the park’s past, including books, souvenirs, and a brilliant showcase of historical postcards of Stanley Park (many of which came from a single donor, Peggy Imredy). The final component of the exhibit is a collection of digital photographs and videos of Stanley Park drawn from the online photo-sharing website, Flickr and streaming video website, YouTube. Visitors are encouraged to share their own photos and videos of the park through the Vancouver Museum’s Flickr and YouTube pages. Curator Joan Seidl highlights the storm history of the park to illustrate the broader thesis of the exhibit regarding the artificiality of Stanley Park’s environment. According to the museum’s website, “We interfered with, altered, and rearranged Stanley Park’s forests, creatures, and people to make nature more ‘natural’.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I recently defended my doctoral dissertation on the environmental history of Stanley Park and I am the author of two scholarly articles on the history of this park. Standing in the first room of the exhibit on opening night was akin to witnessing the physical manifestation of my dissertation as a museum display. The curator even used some of my research to construct the exhibit. So while the experience felt somewhat surreal, it provided me with an opportunity to think about the intersection of academic research, public history, and public policy.

Having spent the better part of my doctoral training researching the history of this park I was obviously highly sensitive to the handful of inaccuracies in the exhibit’s various information panels (i.e., Stanley Park did not get its grey squirrels from New York City’s Central Park). As an academic researcher, my instinct to search for citations and references left me disappointed when I found very few references to the historical source material for the exhibit. And finally, I was left unsatisfied by what I thought was an oversimplification of the park’s environmental history, one which framed the changes to the environment of the park within a natural/artificial dualism that obscures the more complicated relationship between human forces and non-human natural forces that continue to alter the appearance of Stanley Park. These critiques, however, are born from training in environmental history research rather than public history and should not take away from the fine achievement of the effective design and display of the museum’s exhibit as well as the impressive accumulated material history of Stanley Park.

Ultimately, the historical source material for this exhibit can only be as good as the most current research available. My research, as well as work by Renisa Mawani, Jean Barman, and Robert A.J. McDonald, is evident in the composition of the museum exhibit. There is reference to the long storm history of Stanley Park, the families who once lived within the park boundaries, and the debate over the reconstruction of Coal Harbour in the early twentieth century. But the academic research of historians in this case is restricted to reference. Because of the absence of consultation with historians, this exhibit is limited to the available published research on Stanley Park and lacks a more nuanced analysis of the relationship between humans and non-human nature.

Historians, I think, can provide a very valuable service to public history (and their own research) by more actively engaging as consultants. There are, of course, many historians who do play this role, and environmental historians should be no exception. They need to assert more authority over questions about the public history of past environments and public policy regarding present environmental issues.

To this end, I have become involved with the Vancouver Park Board’s efforts to compose a new forest management plan for Stanley Park. The board’s own records have poorly documented the history of this small forest and forestry sciences have few tools to reconstruct that history with much accuracy. Therefore, they have turned to historical research on Stanley Park in order to better understand how the environment of the park has changed since it opened in 1888.

As it turns out, environmental historians have a lot to offer as consultants for both public history and public policy. What we must do, however, is find more ways to connect our skills and expertise with those in our communities seeking a better understanding of past environments.