Beyond Survival? Wilderness and Canadian Identity into the 21st Century


This paper provides a critique of the article by Emily Gibson[1] ‘Beyond Survival? Wilderness and Canadian National Identity into the twenty first century’. (Gibson) An illustration of Canadian Art and Literature that draws upon the theme of wilderness and the impact of the human footprint on the land.  The contemporary artists of Canada are rewriting narratives that associate the wilderness with the national identity of Canada. The purpose being to get the reader to re-examine the role of man living in co-existance with the wilderness and to realise the fragility of this setting.  It is the question of man understanding his role in the world and his relationship with nature.

Article critique

| Thesis – The article attempts to explore the impact that the increased human presence has on the natural environment and wilderness of Canada. Contemporary artists in Canada are evoking the public to think deeper about the relationship of man with nature.  Are we really a constructive part of it or an external influence that is helping to destroy it.  There are many examples in Canada like the Oil sands developments in Alberta or open cast mining that are destroying the landscape and environment in our thirst for natural resources. Although this has largely been written towards a Canadian academic audience it has universal appeal to environmentalist and those interested in the preservation of our planet.

| Contribution – The article makes a significant contribution to geography and the understanding of importance that artists, photographers, authors and journalists can contribute in raising awareness to the plight of our wilderness and environment. Canada is a huge country and this article demonstrates a wide range of significant concerns that are occurring across the entire spectrum of the nation.  Canada was heralded as a champion of conservation and environmental protection to a sceptical world. Reality demonstrates that we are little different to the rest when it comes down to exploiting raw materials from the earth in order to satisfy commercial greed.  The article makes the point of highlighting the concept of displacement of ethnic people i.e. First Nations peoples, that for centuries had learnt to live in harmony with the environment.  Art has helped to create an historical account of the splendour of nature and the wilderness and to assist in answering the question of Canadian identity.

|  The Research – Much of the research is focused upon that of historical and empirical research looking at the contributions from a range of published authors, academics and artists.  There is criticism about the mapping of the Canadian landscape and highlighting the way for heavy industrialisation and commercial development of the wilderness. Particularly in raw material extraction, building of dams  and open cast mining.  In many regards parallels can be drawn with what is happening in the industrialization of Brazil and the convergence into the Amazonian rainforests.

| The Argument –  Mainly based upon historical research and showing the contribution of artists, authors and others that have defined the development of the wilderness from that of an uncharted wild frontier, virtually untouched by man, to that of a country exploiting the wilderness setting on a grand scale.  It is the impact of modern engineering and technological change that has created such a profound impact on the land. Particular emphasis placed upon the analogies of the author Margaret Atwood – how can man avoid the fate of self-destruction by stopping his continued progress towards the destruction of an environment that was created for the very purpose of sustaining life on this planet. A rather bleak picture considering the wholesale level of destruction that is taking place across different countries throughout our planet.

| Alternate arguments – The biggest alternate way of arguing these points is by that of quantitative research.  There is enough material evidence to illustrate how our destruction of wilderness settings is contributing to such items as global warming and climate change. In addition how we are impacting the biodiversity of these regions and making extinct numerous species of animal and plant life by destroying the habitats in which they live.  Statistics, Experiment results and proven facts can be used to materially substantiate the points made to support this argument.

| Further topics –  Mankind’s footprint on the wilderness setting raises many additional areas for discussion including that of politics, environmental issues, international relations, public awareness etc.

Personal Opinion

Canada has maintained its position as a wealthy nation by the exploitation of its own natural resources and selling these to other countries. This has included Forestry, Oil sands, Open cast mining for coal, uranium, and potash etc., hydroelectric power.  In this regard Canada is similar to other countries like Chile, Brazil, and Australia etc. The world is at a tipping point with regard to the as yet unknown implications of global warming and climate change. We should be looking for more exploitation of  natural clean energy resources like solar power, tidal power, wind power etc. This however has been deemed unrealistic in terms of satisfying the needs of emerging world economies like that of India and China. It however may be achieved at a terrible cost with the destruction of rain forests, the tundra and other wilderness areas that cannot be replaced. This will equally eradicate animal and plant species from the planet.

Works Cited

Gibson, Emily. “Beyond Survival? Wilderness and Canadian National identity into 21st century.” British Journal of Canadian Studies Vol 22 Iss 1 (2010): 64-87. Journal.

[1] British Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol 21 Iss 1