Book Review: “Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park”

Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park: Studies in Two Centuries of Human History in the Upper Athabasca River Watershed was published in 2007 on the heels of Jasper National Park’s centennial celebration. A collection of 9 academic works by an assortment of expert contributors, the book is edited by I.S. MacLaren, a professor at the University of Alberta.  For those looking for the best available information about how Jasper National Park came to be, Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park is the most thorough book available on the subject.

Planning to visit Jasper National Park this year?  This book might be of interest.   The book provides the historical perspective that general travel guide books are unable to fully explore. Culturing Wilderness looks in detail at what makes Jasper tick, readying the traveler for a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

A word of warning: this book is the real deal. It is thick, content rich and will take a while to get through. But reading is worth the reward. The reward is the gaining of a deep appreciation of how Jasper National Park came to be.

The book starts with a thoughtful foreword by the Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, Former Prime Minister of Canada, who has himself been involved in the creation of newer Canadian National Parks and “setting aside about 150,000 square kilometers for the people of Canada and generations to come.”

Chretien sets us up for the kind of history that unfolds throughout the book:

“Just as it is tough work making parks, it is tough to make parks work!” (Jean Chretien, Former Prime Minister of Canada)

The book goes on to document the tough work in making Jasper National Park as we know it today – Canada’s largest national park. It starts with an investigation into the early years, the 1800s before the park was formed. It looks at the early residents and visitors of the region and how they survived in the region’s harsh terrain.

I.S. MacLaren writes a piece about the 1846 artwork of Henry James Warre and Paul Kane. Both sketched the Jasper region in 1846. These works are the earliest surviving pieces of artwork capturing the Athabasca region. MacLaren compares and contrasts the artwork which includes mountain scenes and even sketches of Jasper Hawse’s House – the name that stuck when Jasper Forest Park was signed into being in 1907.

In a very detailed review of local and national policy-making, Peter J. Murphy traces the boundaries of Jasper National Park as the boundaries were defined and re-defined several times during the years following the park’s formation in 1907. In doing so, Murphy reveals the goals for Jasper as defined by several policymakers, and how the park fits in to the surrounding forest reserves, reserves whose reason for being differ from Jasper National Park.

In another fascinating piece, Murphy provides the text of an interview with Edward Wilson Moberly (1901-1992). Moberly recounts his family’s tough life in Jasper prior to 1909 when forced to leave the park and his tough life growing up and living just over the border, living off the land while spending many years working in the park. This interview is one-of-a-kind.

A piece by Pearlann Reichwein and Lisa McDermott opens the readers eyes to the story of Mary Schaffer who started as a Canadian Rockies traveler and then turned into an explorer, authority and a contributor to Canadian Rockies preservation. In many ways, Schaffer made Jasper National Park and the region what they are today.

The book also contains pieces about the history of tourism in the park and concludes with a serious piece about ecological restoration and the human impact on the Jasper National Park landscape.

The book is available on Amazon.com: Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park: Studies in Two Centuries of Human History in the Upper Athabasca River Watershed

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1 comment to Book Review: “Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park”

  • Michael Keith Yasheyko

    Thank you for your review. My only concern is with regards to your comment, ” The book goes on to document the tough work in making Jasper National Park as we know it today – Canada’s largest national park.”

    Is not Wood Buffalo National Park Canada’s largest national park?

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