Western Canadian Studies Conference: The West And Beyond: Historians Past, Present, Future

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Event Date: Jun 19 2008 – Jun 21 2008
Venue: University of Alberta
City: Edmonton, AB
Country: Canada
Primary Contact Name: Peter Fortna
Contact Email: wchc@ualberta.ca


This conference, co-sponsored by Athabasca University and the University of Alberta, will inaugurate a new version of the Western Canadian Studies conferences, which in the 1970s and 1980s helped generate energy and vitality in the field through bi-annual rendezvous. The conference is an opportunity to:

  • Reflect on and assess the writing and teaching of historians of Western Canada of the past and present
  • Showcase the work of a new generation of scholars
  • Chart new directions for the future.

The plenary session of three invited speakers who represent diverse perspectives and generations, will address overarching themes in Western Canadian historiography. Semi-plenary panels will assess and critique the state of scholarship in major areas of activity in Western Canadian history: political, environmental, women and gender, Aboriginal, immigration and ethnicity, social class, comparative/ borderlands, and African-Canadian.

Other sessions will feature the most recent scholarship on the West, with particular emphasis on the diversity of the social landscape of the West, the themes of memory and commemoration, environmental history, and the modern post World War II West. The conference will advance lively and important discussions about what we have accomplished, what may have been overlooked and how we must expand our horizons.

View the official Western Canadian Studies Conference website.

Archived Presentations

Citation: Stunden-Bower, Shannon. “Introduction to the Western Canadian Studies Conference.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Shannon Stunden-Bower is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta

Citation: MacFadyen, Josh. “Reconciling Business and Environmental History: Flax in the Prairie Plow-up.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Josh MacFadyen is a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph. His dissertation on flax fibre and linseed oil examines specialty crops, industrial growth, and environmental stresses in the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions.
Abstract: Farmers were market responsive business people, and they were surprisingly aware of and adaptable to their environments. This paper examines the commonalities between business and environmental approaches to agricultural settlement, and it argues that both borrow from an outdated discourse of humans engaged in a conquest of nature. It examines township level data from the 1906 Census of the Northwest Provinces which show early expansion by northern farmers and practically no activity in the semi-arid land of Palliser’s Triangle. People quickly realized the limits of low precipitation, and they frequently abandoned newly broken land in dry regions. Flax was considered a sodbusting crop by many farmers and, in 1916, a large concentration of flax cultivation appeared in Saskatchewan on land that was unbroken a decade earlier.

Citation: Campbell, Claire, “Defining Settlement History in the Public Context.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Claire Campbell is an associate professor in History at Dalhousie University, where she also teaches in Canadian Studies and the College of Sustainability.
Abstract: Questioning the concept of settlement challenges not only our understanding of environmental history but our usual practices of public history. Revisiting the meaning of settlement in the historical narrative also means questioning its place in public memory, where ideological preferences and practical constraints have made settlement an ubiquitous motif in historic site designation. Indeed, I suggest we need to draw greater attention to the theme in the West’s popular historical culture, and to colour existing designations with a richer critique of settlement’s transformative quality and historical specificity.

Abstract: Liza Piper is an associate professor in History at the University of Alberta. She is also an executive member of NiCHE and the leader of the Early Canadian and Environmental Data project.
Abstract: This talk examines the central role played by resource exploitation in the political economy of the Canadian Northwest in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in contrast to the role played by agricultural settlement. The new resource geographies that emerged embraced property regimes and economic relationships that encouraged the sedentarization of aboriginal peoples at the same time that they depended upon a transient, predominantly non-Native population for labour. This led to the segregation of native/non-industrial and non-native/industrial communities and the mis-representation of the former as embodying archaic relationships and a decaying social fabric and the latter as epitomizing the ephemeral dynamism of Canada in the modern age.

Citation: Thistle, John. “The Role that Non-humans had in the Settlement of British Columbia.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.

Citation: “Panel A: Discussion” in Panel: Settlement: An Environmental history Perspective. Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.

Citation: Peter Fortna. University of Alberta, ‘”Possessing No Local Knowledge of this Region”: Imperialism and Resistance in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.’ In Panel: Settlement’: Banff and the History of the West.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Peter Fortna Heritage Reserach Coordinator, Metis Local 1935, Fort McMurray, Alberta
Abstract: In the late nineteenth century, Yale students S.E.S. (Samuel) Allen and Walter Wilcox climbed in the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Lake Louise. For Wilcox the Rockies offered ‘exceptional attractions to those who enjoy natural scenery, sport, and camp life’ and for Allen the range provided for ‘those interested in mountain climbing . . . almost inexhaustible material.’ Their journeys ‘marked the inauguration of the last great era of Rocky Mountain exploration and discovery’ where previously unexplored peaks, valleys, and lakes were ‘discovered’ in the Canadian Rockies. Upon their return home the men proclaimed their findings in books and articles, presenting themselves as imperial heroes claiming the Canadian Rockies as their own late imperial conquests. The truth though is their climbs were less heroic adventures and more guided tours led by Aboriginal men. Drawing from both published and unpublished material produced by these two authors, this essay proposes to gain a clearer understanding of how mountaineers transformed their complex cultural encounters into distinct imperial identities.

Citation: Mathew Wangler “Tonic to the Work Weary. Early Banff and the Mind Cure Movement”. Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Matthew Wangler holds a M.A. in Canadian History from the University of Alberta. He has worked in the field of culture and heritage for ten years. His work has focused on religious and intellectual history. He is currently the Head of Alberta’s Historic Places Designation Program.
Abstract: The talk explores the dichotomies between wilderness and culture, desire and reality in the creation and development of Banff National Park. The talk critiques the historical and contemporary rhetoric of ‘wilderness experiences’ in Canada’s National Parks by examining the economic, philosophical, and bureaucratic perspectives that informed the establishment and early history of the park at Banff. The distinctively modern perception of nature in places like Banff is placed in sharp relief through an examination of premodern perspectives upon wilderness.

Citation: Wheeler, Lauren. “Imagining Place in Winter: Photographic Albums and Growing Up in Banff, Alberta in the 1920s” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Lauren Wheeler is a PhD student in environmental history at the University of Alberta. This presentation is taken from her public history masters work and discusses photographic albums, collective memory making, and skiing among a youth peer group from Banff Alberta in the 1920s. It touches is connected to an article titled “The Banff Photographic Exchange: Albums, Youth, Skiing, and Memory Making in the 1920s” in the forecoming collection The West and Beyond.

Citation: “Panel B; Discussion In Panel: Settlement’: Banff and the History of the West.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.

Citation: McCormack, Patricia. “The Invisible Parkland: Rethinking the Plains and Subarctic Culture Areas.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Patricia McCormick is a professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta

Citation: Massie, Merle. “Where the West Meets the North: Integrating the Provincial North into Western Canadian History.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Merle Massie is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Saskatchewan. Born and raised north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in the heart of logging and tourist country, she is interested in recreating the public image of Saskatchewan beyond the classic prairie identity of wheat fields and sky.
Abstract: This essay shines light on a fundamental problem in Canadian history: our tendency to create artificial ‘regions’ (i.e. the Prairies, the North, the Maritimes] whitewashes the nuance and variety within those regions, draws separations between regions as if they have no points of contact and convergence, but most importantly, renders invisible and unheard the stories of those places ‘in between.’ The podcast presents a case study of Paddockwood, Saskatchewan, a forest fringe soldier settlement and Depression re-settlement area whose identity is defiantly non-prairie. Local residents erected a commemorative stone to mark the old Montreal Lake trail, an overland freighting trail used in the first half of the twentieth century to take freight into northern communities and draw out forest and lake resources. The stone represents an understanding of Paddockwood’s past as a conduit into the north and showcases an example of connection and continuity between the north and the south.

Citation: Opp, James & Matt Dyce. “Photographic Currents and the Eddies of Memory: Re-framing the Athabasca-Mackenzie River Basin.” In Panel: “Northern Perspectives.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Matt Dyce (mdyce@interchange.ubc.ca) is a Ph.D student in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. He holds a B.A. in Canadian Studies from Trent University and a Master’s in History from Carleton.. His doctoral project considers the relationships between historical environments, spatializations of memory, and practices of colonial governmentality in the administration and re-settlement of the North-West from 1867 to the present.

James Opp (james_opp@carleton.ca) is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carleton University. He is the author of The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880-1930 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005) and co-edited with John C. Walsh, Home, Work, and Play: Situating Canadian Social History, 1840-1980 (Oxford, 2006). He has written a variety of articles on public memory, photography, and archives in western Canada.
Abstract: This collaborative paper looks at the production and circulation of images originally taken by Edmonton photographer C.W. Mathers on the Athabasca-Mackenzie river system in 1901, particularly the new meanings given to them by Ernest Brown after he purchased Mathers’ collections in 1904. Following the popular images through a variety of publications and other uses, and in comparing Mathers’ and Brown’s visual orderings of place and race, we suggest that photographs constituted an important site of engagement in the early-twentieth century where the often competing meanings of modernity and history were arranged and negotiated. In the course of retracing some of the historical pathways taken by Mathers’ photographs, our chapter reflects on the circulatory power of photographs to envision, remember, appropriate and join “history/memory” with “geography/place.”

Citation: “Panel C: Discussion in Panel: Northern Perspectives.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.

Citation: Dick, Lyle. “Vernacular Currents in Western Canadian Historiography: The Passion and Prose of Katherine Hughes, F.G. Roe, and Roy Ito.” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Lyle Dick is the West Coast Historian with Parks Canada in Vancouver. He is the author of 85 publications on topics in Canadian and American history, historiography, and Arctic history, including the book Muskox Land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact (University of Calgary Press, 2001), which was awarded the CFHSS’s Harold Adams Innis Prize in 2003, and Farmers ‘Making Good’ (Revised edition, University of Calgary Press, 2008), co-awarded the Canadian Historical Association’s Certificate of Merit in Regional History (Clio Prize) in 1990. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal The Public Historian(University of California at Santa Barbara), and a former member of the CHA Council and Chair of its Advocacy Committee. Currently, he is a member of the advisory boards of the Canadians and Their Pasts project and NiCHE. In 2008 he was appointed by the National Capital Commission to its External Committee of Experts on Commemorations for Canada’s Capital.
Abstract: The presentation examines the careers and works of some noted vernacular historians of Western Canada, including Katherine Hughes, a journalist, Alberta’s first provincial archivist and author of the first biography of Father Albert Lacombe; F.G. Roe, a homesteader, railroader, and author of the North American Buffalo; and Roy Ito, a Japanese Canadian war veteran, school teacher and author of several notable works on Japanese Canadian history. Drawing on their own personal experiences as witnesses to history, each of these authors brought commitment, compassion, intelligence, and skill to their respective studies on the past. Their works attest to the dynamism of the vernacular impulse and the importance of recovering and nurturing this strain to the revitalization and future viability of the practice of history in western Canada.

Citation: Adele, Perry. “What is Western Canada? De-territorializing Place” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: Perry Adele is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Manitoba.

Citation: Friesen, Gerald. “Five Generations of Historical Writing, 1900-2000” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.
Abstract: University of Manitoba

Citation: “Panel D” Western Canadian Studies Conference. Edmonton, AB. 20 June 2008.

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