Youth countercultures of the late twentieth century undoubtedly influenced the development of environmental thought and activism in Canada. Canadian Countercultures and the Environment offers a rich collection of essays that explore the scale and significance of that influence. The ten chapters cover case studies of counterculture activism and activities from the 1960s to the 1980s in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and the Yukon Territory. Overall, these examples show some evidence of a lasting influence of counterculture environmentalism while acknowledging limitations and failures. This edited collection is weighted toward case studies of counterculture activism and activities in British Columbia, one of the centers of the counterculture in Canada. In part, this reflected the migration patterns of US immigrants who fled to Canada as draft evaders during the war in Vietnam. They brought with them ideas associated with youth countercultures of the period and played prominent roles in subsequent environmental activism. This is evident in the chapters that examine environmental activism in the Gulf Islands and West Kootenay region, finding that counterculture activists built alliances with local white settler populations to resist different forms of industrial activity and ecological harm. One essay takes a closer look at the phenomenon of home birth in the Kootenay region, and the chapter on the Opportunities for Youth program on the Sunshine Coast is an especially important contribution that demonstrates the support of the Canadian government to counterculturalists in the early 1970s. Just two chapters focus on Canada’s most populous provinces, but these offer perhaps the best evidence of the lasting influence of counterculture environmental activism in Canada. The Is Five Foundation, a counterculture-influenced environmental group based in southern Ontario, developed the province’s first residential recycling program (outside of wartime). Cycling activists in Montreal in the 1970s pressured the local government to rethink transportation planning to include space for urban cycling. In both case studies, the activism of recycling and cycling advocates in Ontario and Quebec hardly seem radical today. As several of the authors in this collection note, many of the ideas of counterculturalists have entered the mainstream in Canada. The authors in this collection also show the limitations of counterculture ideas on environmental thought in Canada. The chapter on the Slocan Valley Community Forest Management Project shows the development of forward-thinking local resource planning that never materialized. The fascinating chapter on “The Ark” in Prince Edward Island, a publicly funded experiment in sustainable living via advanced technology, highlights another failure of counterculture activism to reshape environmental thought. And the oral history analysis of the children of the Back-to-the-Land movement in Prince Edward Island further reveals the limited long-term effects of this phenomenon because almost all of the interviewees opted to return to the urban mainstream. As with most edited collections, this book showcases just a sample of possible avenues of research. Future monographs on the counterculture and the environment in Canada will likely emerge from these chapters and provide more depth of analysis and answer further questions. For instance, the role of settler colonialism and race remains underexplored in this book. Most of the authors make note of the tension between back-to-the-land migrants, most of whom were white settlers, and the displacement of Indigenous people in Canada, but the chapter on the Yukon Territory is the only one to address the matter directly, proposing an intriguing idea of framing Indigenous activism as another form of counterculture. Much of the work on the counterculture and environmentalism in Canada still needs to critically assess the role of race. The alliances that counterculturalists were able to make with local settlers and their ability to buy “unoccupied” land were enabled by racial privileges of whiteness. That a large number of US immigrants were able to resettle in rural Canada and subsequently integrate with relative success and limited large-scale backlash was, in part, a function of white racial identity. This is most apparent in British Columbia, a province with a long history of anti-immigrant (especially anti-Asian) policies and racial segregation. Further research should examine more closely the racial privileges that shaped the counterculture in Canada. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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