Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - Patricia Jansen, Wild Things: Nature, Culture and Tourism in Ontario, 1790-1914

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

Patricia Jansen, Wild Things: Nature, Culture and Tourism in Ontario, 1790-1914

Hallie E. Bond
Adironback Museum
Jasen, Patricia. Wild Things: Nature, Culture and Tourism in Ontario, 1790-1914, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. 194 pp., 35 illus., paper $18.95, ISBN 0-8020-7638-6.

1 From Niagara Falls to the Thousand Islands, Muskoka, Lake Huron and the country in between, tourists in Ontario before World War I looked for wildness. Most saw only what they wanted to see and defined wildness in terms prescribed for experiences of it — variations on sublime, beautiful, picturesque or romantic. Patricia Jasen details how the search for wildness, however defined, formed the basis for the tourism industry in Ontario.

2 Jasen's book compliments other studies useful for the understanding of the history of tourism such as John Sears's Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (1989) and Philip G. Terrie's Forever Wild: Environmental Aesthetics and the Adirondack Forest Preserve (1985). While these other volumes are about America and have different focusses (Terrie is primarily interested in the history of ideas with reference to the Adirondack region of upstate New York, and Sears in a period earlier than the thrust of much of Jasen's book), all three examine the mindset of tourists. Examining many of the same sorts of evidence, Jasen and Terrie both conclude that people conceived of wildness in terms relating to the sublime, beautiful and romantic, terms inherited from previous intellectual trends. They also both document a hostility to uncultivated land. Terrie claims this is "peculiarly American," but Jasen demonstrates this as a general North American reaction. Jasen's book compliments Sears's as well, in documenting the importance of the North American landscape in defining both American and Canadian culture, and in discussing the relationship between consumer culture and tourism.

3 Wild Things is a useful tool for those studying the material culture of tourism not only because of its conclusions, but also because of Jasen's sources and methodology. She makes good use of the documentary evidence such as travel narratives, popular literature and guidebooks that has been so useful in the study of popular culture. About the travel narrative in particular, she states that it "constitutes a gold-mine of information about the mental world of tourists" (p. 27), and proceeds to demonstrate this. She makes less use than she might have of graphic resources such as engravings, paintings and sketches. If used with the same caution she applied to travel narratives, they might have supported her conclusions as well.

4 Using the documents created by and for the mass culture enabled Jasen to examine the place of several groups of people often ignored in historical studies. The boatmen of the St. Lawrence, for example, became almost a part of the landscape to nineteenth-century tourists; they were observed, and indeed sought out, for their contribution to the romantic image a trip down the St. Lawrence had acquired. Women, as well, are discussed in proportion to their participation in nineteenth-century Ontario tourism, which was nearly equal to that of men. Jasen concludes that women sought and found much the same experiences as men on their holidays, and that the circumstances of travel sometimes freed them from the normal constraints of Victorian society. Jasen's examination of the relationship of Native groups to the tourists is particularly valuable. She demonstrates that they often became, like the boatmen, part of the landscape and were sought out and commented on in that capacity. In addition, she gives examples of ways in which many Natives made the best of the situation presented by increasing tourism. Jasen admits her sources are mostly tourists looking at Natives and suggests more studies, mostly oral histories, to get at the slippery subject of what the Natives thought of the tourists. She might also have examined more closely accounts of how the Natives acted and what they did for — and to — the tourists. She did venture down this road a short distance in an example of a contemporary discussion of the stereotype of the "silent red man."

5 Jasen says little about several themes, which reading of Sears and Terrie suggest might have added to her story. She does not discuss the development of a wilderness aesthetic or the beginnings of a conservation movement beyond noting the establishment of Algonquin Park in 1894. There is very little about youth camps. The chapter "A Rest Cure in a Canoe" is a great deal about rest cures, but very little about canoes. Readers comparing the history and material culture of different vacation regions would be interested in more detail about the "mechanics" of the various types of holidays such as was given about steamer excursions and trips to Toronto Island. Jasen also seems to speak of the sportsmen (and women) and the sightseers as if they were one group with one background and similar purposes and expectations. This was not the case in the Adirondacks, and possibly not so in Ontario, either.

6 Material culture studies must be built on a solid foundation of the understanding of the cultural context in which the object was made. Patricia Jasen has made a valuable contribution to the small number of sources available students of the material culture of outdoor recreation.