Reviews / Comptes rendus - Ruddel, David T. Canadians and Their Environment

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Ruddel, David T. Canadians and Their Environment

Robert Griffin
British Columbia Provincial Museum
Ruddel, David T. Canadians and their environment. National Museum of Man Mercury Séries/Musée national de l'Homme, Collection Mercure, ISSN 0316-1854; History Division Paper/Division de l'histoire, Dossier, no. 35, ISSN 0316-1900. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1982. iv, 113 pp., ill. Free/gratuit.

1 The National Museum of Man's latest addition to its History Division Mercury Series examines the ways Canadians have coped with their environment. The book covers a wide range of Canadian history but concentrates on our frontiers. Men and women are portrayed not only labouring on the agricultural settlement frontier, but also on the fur, lumbering, mining, and urban frontiers. The author directed his study to emphasize "the detrimental impact on the environment and human health" of resource exploitation, the effects of which are to be seen in many of the illustrations used.

2 Based upon one of five thematic areas in the National Museum of Man's history exhibit, "A Few Acres of Snow," the book is most successful as an exhibit guide and supplement. The format of short text summaries combined with numerous illustrations and their captions does not lend itself to startling conclusions nor the in-depth synthesis of more formal Canadian histories, but it does allow an entertaining story to unfold for the non-professional reader. The short texts are well written and the many illustrations bring Canada's past to life. The bibliography, divided by subjects, is particularly useful; the individual is able to follow up his or her own area of interest. In addition, some of the illustration captions include a reference, an excellent means of encouraging someone to delve deeper into a specially interesting or important aspect. Ruddel has captured the flavour of Canada both in the text and illustrations.

3 Canadians and their Environment depends largely upon illustrations and captions to tell its story and therefore it is upon the quality of these illustrations the book must stand. Unfortunately it is here that several problems are apparent. The selection of the illustrations seems uneven at times; for instance, in the lumbering section there are four photographs of logging trucks operating in British Columbia but only two of steam engines, neither of which is representative of the era and one of which is incorrectly labeled (p. 68). The caption of the six animals on p. 22 provides only the names of five. In other instances the photograph citation has been missed (pp. 16 and 78, for example). In the photograph (p. 76) of the museum diorama of a mine cart at Glace Bay, N.S., we need to know that the cart is a replica, but I would sooner know why this mine was recreated than that the walls were made with a rubber mould. Finally, as aesthetically pleasing as the bird's-eye view of Los Angeles may be, it is difficult to understand why it is included in a book on Canadians and their Environment.

4 One technique used in this book that the reviewer found especially interesting was the interweaving of photographs of artifacts with other illustrations. The placement of the shipwright's tools with the historic photograph of the shipwright's shed makes effective use of this technique (pp. 46, 47). Again an illustration of rail tongs was placed beside a photograph of men laying railroad tracks (p. 41). In other cases, however, the purpose of the photograph is not clear. Does the photograph of the "reconstituted" tin shop (p. 30) relate to the illustration of the village of Chateau-Richer in 1787? Why is the view of the Quebec City jail adjacent to the interior scene of a pulp mill? There are many photographs that show tools and equipment but relatively few of artifacts. Photographs of artifacts could have been used more extensively. The lumbering section, for instance, a major section of the book, contains only three photographs of artifacts despite the abundant remains of this industry. It is an intriguing book to read, however, and I hope that it will prove an inspiration for additional use of the combination of photographs of artifacts with historic photographs.

Robert Griffin