Facebook Twitter Gplus YouTube E-mail RSS

#EnvHist Worth Reading: March 2014

Published on March 31, 2014, by in Uncategorized.

“reading – lectura” by Antonio Mantero

As many readers know, a lot of great articles, announcements, resources, and much more get posted to Twitter, using the #envhist hashtag. For four years now, Twitter users have been sharing environmental history content and we wanted a way to bring more attention to it here. This is the first article of what will hopefully be a monthly column of selected links from the #envhist feed. This is what was worth reading in March:

1. Events in the Collective Environmental Memory of Humanity [Video]

A couple of months ago, Jan Oosthoek’s Environmental History Resources website launched a YouTube channel. This is one of the most recent uploads and it highlights twenty-two key events in global environmental history that professional environmental historians regard as turning points in the relationship between humans and the environment. The quality is great and the video is certainly provocative. I am sure there are plenty of other turning points one could add to this list (so please post comments), but this seems like a pretty good start.

2. H-Environment Round Table Review: The Wired Northwest [PDF]

Jacob Hamblin has done terrific work for the past couple of years editing the round table reviews for H-Environment. The series is an innovative departure from the standard book review format. It convenes a panel of four scholars in a related sub-field to review a new book, followed by a response from the author. This edition of the round table review features Paul Hirt’s The Wired Northwest: The History of Electric Power, 1870s-1970s, a sprawling regional history of electrification. The reviewers include, Donald C. Jackson, H.V. Nelles, Adam Sowards, and Eve Vogel.

3. RCC Perspectives 2014, No. 1 – The Edges of Environmental History: Honouring Jane Carruthers

Based on the proceedings of a workshop, this issue of RCC Perspectives honours the career of Jane Carruthers, a pioneer of South African and world environmental histories. As editors Christof Mauch and Libby Robin state in their introduction, “Carruthers has been a great influence on the discipline of environmental history in South Africa and beyond.” This issue features essays by Harriet Ritvo, Thomas Dunlap, Tom Griffiths, Emily Wakild, and Lisa Sedrez among others.

4. Trading Consequences Official Launch

One of a handful of winners of the Digging into Data Challenge, the “Trading Consequences” project is a collaboration of environmental historians in Canada and  computer scientists in the UK. The project uses text-mining software to analyze trade and commodity flow patterns in the British Empire in the nineteenth century. A couple of the project leaders, Jim Clifford and Colin Coates, recently announced the official launch of the project, allowing users to explore the search and visualization tools that they have built. Readers should definitely try out the commodity search tool.

5. Stephen Pyne “Green Fire Meets Red Fire; Environmental History Meets the No-Analogue Anthropocene”

Writing on the Pinchot Institute for Conservation blog, fire historian Stephen Pyne explores the significance of historical perspective to understanding contemporary environmental circumstances in the Anthropocene. Pyne finds himself in sharp disagreement with “the most ardent Anthropocenarians,” who might suggest that “the present has so ruptured from previous times that the past can offer no meaningful guidance.” Instead, he argues, “there is good cause to view the uneasy detente between nature preservation and the Anthropocene historically.” Of course, Pyne uses fire as a lens to make this case. He astutely notes that fire is one of the defining characteristics of the Anthropocene. This is a fascinating read and certainly well worth it this month.


Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 42 Available

Episode 42: The Right to a Healthy Environment, 17 March 2014 [34:41]
Download Audio

Canadians value their natural environment. Nine out of ten worry about the impacts of environmental degradation on their health. Nine out of ten are concerned about climate change. Eight out of ten believe that Canada needs stricter environmental laws and regulations. And 95 percent of Canadians consider access to clean water a basic human right.

So, do Canadians actually have a constitutional right to live in a healthy environment? According to David Boyd, the answer is no (at least, not exactly), but he explains why they should in his new book The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution.

On this episode of the podcast, we speak with David Boyd about Canadian environmental rights.righttohealthyenvironment

Please be sure to take a moment to review this podcast on our iTunes page and to fill out a short listener survey here.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast and subscribe to our YouTube page here.

Works Cited:

  • Sean Kheraj, Canadian History & Environment
  • Borrows, John. Canada’s Indigenous Constitution. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.
  • Boyd, David R. The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.

Music Credits:


Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 42: The Right to a Healthy Environment” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 17 March 2014.


2014 Melville-Nelles-Hoffmann Lecture in Environmental History: Peter Perdue

MNH2014PerdueOn Wednesday, March 19, the Department of History at York University will host the 2014 Melville-Nelles-Hoffmann Lecture in Environmental History. This annual event brings leading scholars in the field of environmental history to Toronto to speak about their latest research.

Peter Perdue (Yale University) will deliver this year’s lecture with a focus on the history of the Chinese tea trade.  Professor Perdue is a leading scholar of modern Chinese and Japanese social, economic, and environmental history. He is the winner of the 2007 Joseph Levenson Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies for his book, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia.

His lecture, titled “Mountains, Caravans, Rivers, and Salons: China’s Multiple Tea Trades,” will explore one of China’s best-known export commodities. Prior to the late nineteenth century, China was the world’s predominant tea exporter and consumer. “But just as there are many kinds of tea,” Perdue explains, “there are many kinds of tea trades, within and beyond China.” His lecture will provide an overview of the many tea trades of China with special attention to the ecological contexts within which tea is grown. Tea demands a particular type of ecology and it is best grown in hill regions. This history of the Chinese tea trade then will follow this global commodity from highlands to lowlands to markets around the world. According to Perdue, his talk will focus on “local ecologies, state regulation of trade, global markets, and Chinese production systems.”

Join Professor Perdue and the Department of History at York University for this exciting and fascinating exploration of one of the world’s greatest export commodities, tea.

Wednesday, March 19 2014
4:15pm reception, lecture to begin at 4:45pm
Schulich Private Dining Room, Main Floor
Schulich Executive Learning Centre


Ten Books to Contextualize the Environmental History of Food and Agriculture in Canada

By Andrew Watson, Stacy Nation-Knapper, and Sean Kheraj


Hop pickers, Cooper’s farm, Bloomfield. Source: Archives of Ontario

Last year, Nature’s Past, the Canadian environmental history podcast, published a special series called, “Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues”. Each episode focused on a different contemporary environmental issue and featured interviews and discussions with historians whose research explains the context and background. Following up on that project, we are publishing six articles with ActiveHistory.ca that provide annotated lists of ten books and articles that contextualize each of the environmental issues from the podcast series.

On the sixth and seventh episodes of the series, we explored the environmental history of food and agriculture in Canada. We interviewed Margaret Derry about her book on chicken breeding, Art and Science in Breeding: Creating Better Chickens. We also convened a round table panel with the editors and authors of Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History. Food history is a growing field of study and it has many intersections with environmental history.


Nature’s Past Episode 36: Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues, Part VI – Agri-Food Systems I

Nature’s Past Episode 37: Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues, Part VII – Agri-Food Systems II

Here are ten books to contextualize the environmental history of food and agriculture in Canada:

Andrews, Geoff. The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

While the Slow Food Movement may not be a new concept for many readers, Geoff Andrews describes its formation and international growth via surprising paths. Begun as an Italian political movement responding to globalization and political corruption in the 1970s, it gained momentum in the following decade by responding to environmental and vinicultural catastrophes such as the Chernobyl disaster and the Narzole wine poisonings by encouraging mindfulness of food sources. The Slow Food Story follows the movement from these origins to its current incarnation as an international organization with nearly 100,000 members in more than 120 countries, including a branch in Canada, for which global food security and eco-gastronomy are now central foci.

Carter, Sarah. Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993.

Carter tackles the complex interactions between prairie indigenous peoples and the Canadian government at the end of the nineteenth-century, arguing against the explanation that agriculture failed on western Canadian Indian reserves because indigenous people were unfamiliar with agricultural labor. Instead, Carter demonstrates governmental reluctance and unwillingness to follow through on treaty agreements in direct contravention of its stated goal to encourage agriculture on reserves, and in spite of “early and sustained” indigenous interest in agriculture.

Cho, Lily. Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Cho writes about the diasporic experiences of Chinese people in small Canadian towns through the cultural mediation of food. In small town Chinese-Canadian restaurants, food acted as a filter through which the Chinese diaspora in Canada is understood. Cho also explores the ways in which Chinese Canadians interacted with non-Chinese Canadians through the food they created, made, and served.

Cooke, Nathalie. What’s to Eat? Entrées in Canadian Food History. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

Arguments about Canadian identity and cuisine are frequently made in as disparate places as beer commercials and church cookbooks. In What’s to Eat?, the contributors take on the daunting task of identifying Canadian foods and explaining how they influence Canadian identities. Divided into two parts, the first half of the book examines Canadian food experiences such as the Columbian Exchange, the creation of tourtière, and the use of turkey in Thanksgiving meals. The second half of the book explores how food has been used in projects of Canadian nationalism and regionalism, including the idea of a Canadian family meal. The introduction of What’s to Eat? also includes a comprehensive historiography of Canadian cookbooks.

Derry, Margaret. Art and Science in Breeding: Creating Better Chickens. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Exploring the history of chicken breeding in North America, Margaret Derry traces the change in breeding emphasis from breeding for pleasure, or show, to breeding for production, or commercial profit. Derry interrogates the role of genetics in chicken breeding between 1850 and 1960 to elucidate the genetic manipulation of chickens for their most desirable commercial traits. A prominent theme in Art and Science in Breeding is the ascendant role of multinational corporations in dominating the “broiler” industry in Canada and the United States.

Iacovetta, Franca, Valerie J. Korinek, and Marlene Epp. Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

This new and sizeable addition to Canadian food history contains twenty three essays on a hugely diverse number of topics, divided into eight chapters. The editors make clear that Edible Histories, Cultural Politics is not attempting to define Canadian food culture, but rather to demonstrate the utility of “food as a lens of examination” in Canadian historical analysis. In doing so, they show the many ways in which various subdisciplines of history come together in interrogating human experience through food.

MacRae, Rod and Elisabeth Abergel, eds. Health and Sustainability in the Canadian Food System: Advocacy and Opportunity for Civil Society. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.

This collection of essays, though occasionally acronym- and jargon-heavy, examines the large-scale patterns of twenty-first century Canadian food and agricultural policy, land use practices, production, and economics. The goal of the book is “to identify new ways for non-state actions to influence the evolution of sustainable and health-promoting food systems,” but the case studies provided do much to explain current Canadian foodways. The case study topics vary widely from GMO regulation, breastfeeding policies, and childhood obesity to reflections on renewable energy, pest management, and land protection and sustainability activism.

Russell, Peter A. How Agriculture Made Canada: Farming in the Nineteenth Century. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012.

Russell sifts through the historiographical static surrounding the history of farming and migration in nineteenth-century Canada. He reviews what some historians have deemed agricultural crises in Quebec and Ontario, returning to the work of Fernand Ouellet and finding value in his supporting research and arguments, while acknowledging Ouellet’s problematic theses. Russell seeks to demonstrate the ways in which economic, social, and political links bind the agricultural histories of Quebec, Ontario, and “the Prairies” through three major themes: links between regions, policy in relation to application, and ways to learn from our past.

Wilson, Catharine Anne. Tenants in Time: Family Strategies, Land, and Liberalism in Upper Canada, 1799-1871. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

Many books and articles have been written on nineteenth-century agriculture in Upper Canada, but Catharine Anne Wilson has approached the subject in an innovative way. Here the author examines the experiences of tenants, the one-quarter to one-half of the rural population who rented and farmed land, in this time and place. By researching the lives of non-owners, Wilson challenges liberal assumptions about land-owning farmers and argues that renting farmers were a very real part of the working reality of nineteenth-century Canadian political economy.

Winson, Anthony. The Intimate Commodity: Food and the Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.

Written nearly twenty years ago, The Intimate Commodity continues to be relevant in its explanation of how the Canadian food system is organized and how that organization affects the daily lives of Canadians and people around the world. Winson tracks the growth of the capitalist “agro-industrial complex” as the distribution of power shifted from farmers as individuals to the enormous corporations that are now largely in control of Canadian food systems, from production to consumption. As this transnational business rose, Winson argues that inequality increased, demonstrating that economic growth does not always lead to social betterment.

To listen to the complete podcast series, visit Nature’s Past.


Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region Book Launch: March 21


It’s book launch month in Toronto and I am very excited to announce the launch event for Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region. This is an anthology published by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History and NiCHE that focuses on various aspects of Toronto’s environmental history. I wrote a chapter on the life and place of domestic animals in nineteenth-century Toronto. You can read that chapter here.

I hope you can join us on Friday, March 21 to celebrate all of the hard work that went into publishing this fantastic new book in environmental history.


Inventing Stanley Park Book Launch at Founders College: March 4


Tomorrow, we will be hosting a book launch for Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History at Founders College (Room 305) at York University. The festivities begin at 3:30pm and I hope you can make it. All are welcome!


Ten Books to Contextualize Canadian Fisheries

By Andrew Watson, Stacy Nation-Knapper, and Sean Kheraj


Blessing of the fishing fleet, Lamèque, 1906. Source: Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

Last year, Nature’s Past, the Canadian environmental history podcast, published a special series called, “Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues”. Each episode focused on a different contemporary environmental issue and featured interviews and discussions with historians whose research explains the context and background. Following up on that project, we are publishing six articles with ActiveHistory.ca that provide annotated lists of ten books and articles that contextualize each of the environmental issues from the podcast series.

The fifth episode in the series looked at the state Canada’s freshwater and ocean fisheries. We spoke with Dean Bavington, Stephen Bocking, Douglas Harris, Will Knight, and Liza Piper about the history of Canada’s fisheries. We had a particularly interesting conversation that covered a wide spectrum of fisheries history and included a description of the major transformations of fisheries since Confederation.

Nature’s Past Episode 35: Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues, Part V – Fisheries, Regulation, and Science

Here are ten books that contextualize Canadian fishereis:

Bavington, Dean. Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010

Using the context of the North Atlantic cod fishery collapse in 1992 as the basis for raising questions about government regulation and scientific management of resources, Bavington tackles the tension between environmental decline and human control of the natural world. Scientific expertise and authority, along with neoliberalism and special interest policies, replaced local knowledge with market imperatives. Unable to reconcile those imperatives with ecological realities, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans tried repeatedly to devise regulations that would generate maximum sustainable yields. By placing emphasis on rationality, however, attempts at making dynamic ecosystems predictable rested on flawed logic, and did nothing to avert the collapse of the cod fishery.

Bogue, Margaret Beattie. Fishing the Great Lakes: An Environmental History, 1783-1933. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

While this book deals exclusively with the Great Lakes, Bogue touches on many of the themes that studies on saltwater fisheries deal with as well, including commodification, science, and policy. Bogue argues that an absence of regulation during the nineteenth century, at the same time as new technologies made it easier to harvest fish, resulted in a pattern of exploitation that ultimately undermined the fisheries economy by destroying the stocks. By taking a transborder approach, this book reveals that efforts to address declining fish stocks were dealt with very differently by the two countries, eight states, and one province that bordered the Great Lakes.

Gough, Joseph. Managing Canada’s Fisheries: From Early Days to the Year 2000. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2008.

Gough examines changes to Canada’s fisheries primarily from the perspective of government and politics. This approach provides insight into the ways successive regulatory regimes and state management have facilitated increasingly intensive exploitation while at the same time appealing to science and best practices. Although social and cultural aspects are given less attention, the organization of the book reveals that government influence of fisheries became more nuanced and bureaucratic over time. Informed mainly by work done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, this book focuses much more on Atlantic commercial fisheries than it does on the Pacific, freshwater, recreational, or indigenous fisheries.

Harris, Douglas. Fish, Law and Colonialism: The Legal Capture of Salmon in British Columbia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

In this comprehensive study of the legal history of Aboriginal fishing in British Columbia, Douglas Harris explores how colonial laws displaced Aboriginal laws during the early twentieth century. By demonstrating how colonizers (the canning industry, for example) benefitted from restrictive laws and licensing, Harris argues that the management and regulation of fisheries did not allocate access neutrally. Although regulation impeded First Nation fishing, Aboriginal fishermen resisted the state through the market economy, wage labour and politics. Harris makes it clear that colonial laws could be, and were, contested. Colonization was not a straightforward process.

Koenig, Edwin C. Cultures and Ecologies: A Native Fishing Conflict on the Saugeen-Bruce Peninsula. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

This book provides the context for the 1993 Fairgrieve court decision (R. v. Jones and Nadjiwon) to award the Saugeen and Ojibway First Nations priority over all other groups to fisheries off the coast of the Bruce Peninsula, as well as the on-going negotiations regarding rights, jurisdiction and management. Exploring the social, economic and ecological changes wrought by colonization and the imposition of the state, Koenig reveals how white interests in governance, conservation and commercial exploitation combined to reshape the way indigenous peoples related to Great Lakes fisheries. By taking an anthropological approach, Koenig provides the indigenous perspective in addition to archaeological and documentary evidence.

Newell, D. and R. Ommer. Fishing Places, Fishing People: Traditions and Uses in Canadian Small-scale Fisheries. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Unlike many other studies on fisheries in Canada, this collection of papers focuses on changes that have occurred to localized fisheries and the communities of people who depended on them. The role of the state, commercial enterprise and system-wide ecological change provide the broader context within which case studies from across Canada unfold. By acknowledging the ways these larger forces influenced shared histories at the local level, these papers reveal how particular communities experienced those forces differently. Fishing culture is given as much attention in this collection as fishing economy, and particular emphasis is placed on the debate around private versus common rights.

Parsons, L.S. Management of Marine Fisheries in Canada. Ottawa: National Research Council of Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1993.

Coming on the heels of the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery in 1992, this study commissioned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans represents the first scholarly attempt to explain why the fishery went from underdeveloped to overcapacity in twenty-five years. While acknowledging that government attempts to manage and regulate the fishery had failed, Parsons lists a variety of social, economic, political, and environmental variables that combined to frustrate attempts at preventing the collapse. In identifying the failures of both government and industry to prevent the collapse, this report informed much subsequent research on the need to balance commercial enterprise with ecological systems.

Rose, Alex. Who Killed the Grand Banks?: The untold story behind the decimation of one of the world’s greatest natural resources. Mississauga: John Wiley and Sons, 2008.

A fairly standard narrative about the worst effects of humanity’s rapacious appetite for natural resources, Rose takes the long view of the exploitation of the cod fishery of the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. Starting with the earliest fishermen during the sixteenth century, the book proceeds to outline subsequent decisions made by the Canadian government and commercial fishing industry that led to the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992. Rose provides an analysis that characterizes the collapse as the product of a myopic tragedy of the commons, and a catalyst for renewed attention to fisheries management research and activism.

Wadewitz, Lissa K. The Nature of Borders: Salmon, Boundaries, and Bandits on the Salish Sea. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.

By examining the history of fishing in the Salish Sea, Wadewitz brings together an analysis of the effect of colonialism on indigenous people, the politicization of coastal waters, the influence of new technology, and the commodification of nature. By juxtaposing the way indigenous peoples managed their coastal fisheries with the way the U.S. and Canada regulated and managed distinct commercial spheres, this book reveals that nature does not always conform to state-mandated political, economic, and social abstractions of space. The effect was not complete, however, as Wadewitz shows that many examples of fish banditry contested these official jurisdictions.

Young, Nathan and Ralph Matthews. The Aquaculture Controversy in Canada: Activism, Policy, and Contested Science. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

Young and Matthews trace the rise to prominence of aquaculture in Canada (shellfish, fresh water, and particularly salmon), and explore the impacts this industry has had on the environment, human health, resource rights, and rural development over the past twenty-five years. Situating the controversy in both a larger global context as well as the local, this book takes a sociological analysis of the role of relatively new science in shaping practice, policy and public opinion, while at the same time revealing the ways citizen activism has been mobilized to counter and defend the dominant narratives provided by experts.

To listen to the complete podcast series, visit Nature’s Past.


Canada’s Historical Newspaper Digitization Problem, Part 2


Man reading “The Standard” newspaper, 1940s. Source: City of Vancouver Archives

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a post called “Canada’s Historical Newspaper Digitization Problem” in which I agreed with the findings of a Higher Education Academy study that found that Canada lagged behind the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand in the digitization of historical newspapers. I found that Canada’s online historical newspaper archive is very limited, fragmented, and difficult to access. One of the reasons this became one of the most popular posts on my website was that I included an index of online sources for digitized Canadian newspapers. It turns out that there are a lot of people out there in search of historical Canadian newspapers on the Web and there doesn’t seem to be an adequate national index.

Over the past fifteen years, the limited and fragmented character of Canada’s online historical newspaper archive has had an impact on Canadian history scholarship. As Ian Milligan wrote in Canadian Historical Review last year, “It all seems so orderly and comprehensive.” Yet the incomplete record of digital newspapers in Canada creates an illusion of comprehensive research. With a few keystrokes, we can search any word in any newspaper. Right? As Milligan revealed, not only is the archive limited to a handful of newspapers, the Object Character Recognition software used to make the newspapers text searchable has numerous flaws and limitations. Milligan wrote this article, in part, to call upon historians to think critically about their methodologies when it comes to digital historical scholarship. But his article also raises the important matter of the sorry state of Canada’s digital newspaper archive.

So, how far have we come since I wrote that first post in 2011? I wanted to write this sequel post as a follow-up on the state of the Canadian digital newspaper archive. What follows is an updated list of online historical Canadian newspapers:

  1. NewspaperArchive.com – Just as it was three years ago, NewspaperArchive.com is behind a paywall. This collection includes mainly smaller newspapers from the prairies (and some from Newfoundland). The most valuable resource here seems to be the digital collection of the Winnipeg Free Press from 1874 to the present.
  2. Google Newspaper Archive – This remains one of the largest digital newspaper archives in the world and its Canadian holdings have expanded. I have found a series of Toronto newspapers added within the past year, including The WorldThe Daily Mail, and a small run of The Daily Telegraph. This is by no means a comprehensive collection, but it is good to finally see something other than Toronto Star. The best way to search this collection is by browsing the list of newspaper titles (although the keyword search is still serviceable).
  3. Pages of the Past (Toronto Star) – One of the most-used digital newspaper archives in Canada, Pages of the Past has now merged with ProQuest Historical Newspapers. The collection will continue to be limited to those with institutional access or private subscriptions, but the search interface is much improved and the load times are faster.
  4. Globe and Mail: Canada’s Heritage from 1844 – Not to be outdone by Toronto StarGlobe and Mail has also merged with ProQuest with similar technical improvements.
  5. British Colonist Archive, 1858-1920 – This collection is still available and still complete. This project is a real hallmark of newspaper digitization in Canada: comprehensive, high-quality, searchable, open access.
  6. Prince George Newspapers Project – This is another fantastic local digitization project with great historical value.
  7. Quesnel Cariboo Observer Archive – The Quesnel Museum has produced a wonderful digital archive for this newspaper. It is yet another excellent resource for BC history, now covering a period from 1908-2012.
  8. Bill Silver Digital Newspaper Archive – This collection has changed its URL, but this link should work. This collection features, The Vanderhoof Herald (1917-1920), Nechako Chronicle (1920-1983), and Omenika Express (1982-1989; 1991-2007).
  9. Jewish Western Bulletin Archive – Spanning a period from 1925-2004, this collection includes all issues and precursors of the JWB.
  10. The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project – Continuing with its great work, the AHDP has added a number of new papers and new issues to its growing collection since I last checked in. You can find a good range of newspapers covering the entire province.
  11. Peel’s Prairie Provinces – Here is another good source for Alberta and other prairie newspapers. The collection is hit or miss, like most others on this list, but it has a pretty good user interface. Also, it has the United Farmers of Alberta newspaper!
  12. Manitobia – Again, we find a great regional collection of digitized newspapers at Manitobia. The collection is not comprehensive, but there are a few gems in there, including the Nor’Wester for much of its pre-Confederation run.
  13. ProQuest Canadian Newsstand – For some reason, I forgot to include this longstanding resource on my previous list. Canadian Newsstand is a subscription-based archive of numerous Canadian newspapers going back to the 1970s. This is a very useful resource for researchers with an interest in late twentieth-century Canadian history.
  14. Paper of Record – This resource seems to be back. I once thought it had vanished from the face of the Internet when Google bought the company in late 2008, but it seems to have returned in the form of a subscription-based product. The coverage for Canada includes a number of newspapers that cannot be found elsewhere. Most provinces are represented (and even one territory!). The collection, like most, is eclectic. There are big chronological gaps here and there and the selection of newspapers spans small-town papers to some of the largest Canadian dailies.
  15. Early Canadian Periodicals – Though not strictly a digital newspaper archive, Canadiana has amassed a wildly eclectic collection of newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals for a period covering the late eighteenth century to 19oo. The final phase of the project will bring the collection up to 1920. This is by far one of the most ambitious Canadian history digitization projects. It is not hyperbole when Canadiana writes that this collection grants, “Canadians unparalleled access to their early print history.”
  16. Nova Scotia Historical Newspapers Online – In 2009-2010, Libraries Nova Scotia led a trial digitization project with regional archives and universities. Since then, they have built up a growing collection of digitized newspapers from Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, many of the links seem to be broken, but some of it still works and it fills in a terrible gap for Maritime newspapers.
  17. Memorial University Digital Collections – MUN has its own digital archive of newspapers, including some of the major dailies from St. John’s. This often neglected corner of British America may find its way onto the radar of more historians with such a digital collection.
  18. Our Ontario Community Newspapers Collection – A reader graciously shared a link to this collection of community newspapers in Ontario. Yet more evidence that great digitization work is happening at the local and community level across Canada. This work also includes many more newspapers here.
  19. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec Digital Newspaper Collection – For a relatively good selection of French-language newspapers from Quebec and other parts of Canada, you can find many here. Again, the collection is not comprehensive, but there is a lot of material in this collection.
  20. Island Newspapers (UPEI) – Finally, I want to round out this list with the complete 1890-1957 run of The Charlottetown Guardian, the major daily newspaper of Prince Edward Island. Here we have another effort to develop a comprehensive regional newspaper collection with plans for future expansion.

Three years later, the landscape of digital historical newspapers in Canada has expanded, but it looks much the same as it did before. The collection remains incomplete, fragmented, and difficult to access. Most of the great work done thus far has been ad hoc, local, and regional. The British Colonist and Charlottetown Guardian show two examples of regional newspaper digitization projects that have achieved something close to a comprehensive, searchable, and open access archive. Perhaps one day we will see a national group attempt something similar for the entire country. Given the extraordinary work of Canadiana and its early periodicals collection, I still have hope.

If you would like to add a Canadian digital historical newspaper collection to this list, please post your links in the comments section.


Nature’s Past Canadian Environmental History Podcast Episode 41 Available

Episode 41: Closing Federal Libraries, 3 February 2014 [45:45]
Download Audio


A dumpster at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada library in Mont-Joli, Quebec in an image sent by a federal union official.

In 2012, the Canadian federal government began closing and consolidating many of its departmental libraries. More than a dozen research libraries have closed at Parks Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration, Human Resources and Skills Development, the National Capital Commission, Intergovernmental Affairs, Public Works and Government Services, Canada Revenue Agency, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and Canadian Heritage (click here for a timeline of closures).

In December, the government began to close all but four of its eleven Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries. News reports across the country showed startling images of books and other documents lying in dumpsters with rumors that others may have been burned. The culling of these libraries involved what has been described as a haphazard free-for-all with members of the public and industry scooping up abandoned books and valuable so-called “grey literature,” unique internal government publications. The process of library consolidation and closure seems to have happened so quickly that books that were still out on loan were never recalled. And beyond the loss of material, we still do not know the extent of the personnel losses. As library staff get laid off, valuable human knowledge vanishes along with the books.

One thing that stands out in this troubling story is the degree to which the library closures have targeted scientific and environmental research branches of the government. These libraries housed historical research materials of great relevance to Canada’s environmental history. As such, they are likely to have a detrimental impact on our ability to know about the past.

We decided then to find out more about this issue by speaking with Andrew Nikiforuk, a writer and journalist for thetyee.ca who has written extensively on this topic. I also sat down with a panel of environmental historians to get their take on the potential impact these closures might have on Canadian environmental history.

Please be sure to take a moment to review this podcast on our iTunes page and to fill out a short listener survey here.

Visit the main page at http://niche-canada.org/naturespast and subscribe to our YouTube page here.

Works Cited:

Music Credits:



Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 41: Closing Federal Libraries” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 3 February 2014.


Does History Matter? A Roundtable on TVO’s The Agenda

stevepaikin-300x268Last night, I appeared on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. The episode focused on the question, “Does History Matter?” The premise of the program was that Canadians seem to be dissociated from history and that historical context is not adequately incorporated in public discourse and news media. We were asked to explain this problem and discuss why basic historical knowledge is important. The panel also included Chris Dummitt, Diane Pacom, Matt Gurney, and Richard Gywn.

This was my first time on the show and it was a fascinating experience. After hosting my own podcast for a few years, I greatly admired Steve Paikin’s hosting skills. It turned out to be an interesting and engaging conversation, but I’ll let you be the judge: