Making recreational space: citizen involvement in outdoor recreation and park establishment in British Columbia, 1900-2000




Clayton, Jenny

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Studies of outdoor recreation and the social construction of wilderness have shown how urban consumption of wilderness areas dispossessed rural residents from traditional land uses. Though essential for understanding power struggles over land use, these studies pay little attention to rural involvement in creating recreational areas. In contrast, this dissertation focuses on how rural non-indigenous people used, enjoyed and constructed their own recreational hinterland. Set in twentieth-century British Columbia, where wilderness adventure is popular and where mountains, oceans and lakes lend themselves to romantic and sublime aesthetics, the case studies here examine rural recreation by considering the forms that “rural” has taken in British Columbia, the relationship of civil society to government, conceptions of Crown and private land as a commons, the production and consumption of recreational spaces, and ethics such as woodcraft, “leave-no-trace,” the “good life” and postmaterialism. The sources include interviews with participants in these activities and archival sources such as diaries, newspapers, government records on parks, forestry and transportation, and letters that citizens wrote to government. This material is set within the context of historical studies of outdoor recreation, the social construction of wilderness, automobiles and parks, the informal economy, and the contested commons. The first two case studies involve the imaginative transformation of mountain landscapes into parks and playgrounds to attract tourists at Mt. Revelstoke and on Vancouver Island’s Forbidden Plateau. During the Second World War, the province was reluctant to create parks for local recreation, but at Darke Lake in the Okanagan, the Fish and Game Club lobbied successfully for a small park, challenging the supremacy of logging as an essential war industry. After the war, the state’s view of parks shifted. The provincial government promoted recreational democracy, and offered parks as part of the “good life” to working families from booming single-industry towns, sometimes responding to local demands as in the case of the Champion Lakes. Inspired by the American Wilderness Act of 1964, some British Columbians sought to preserve large tracts of roadless, forested land. The Purcell Wilderness Conservancy (1974) in the Kootenay region resulted from a local trail-building effort and a letter-writing campaign. Beginning in the late 1980s, retirees in Powell River started building trails on the edges of town. This group is still active in ensuring that their forested hinterland remains an accessible commons for recreational use. The rural British Columbians discussed in these case studies consistently engaged with the backcountry as their recreational commons where they could combine work and leisure, harvest non-timber forest products, and promote tourism. Rural residents who were willing to volunteer and enjoyed some leisure time forged networks among tourism promoters and applied for government funding to create access to recreational space, and protect it from uses inconsistent with recreation, such as logging. British Columbians have claimed the right to access Crown land as a commons for recreation in a variety of ways over the twentieth century and these case studies show how rural agency has played a significant role in creating recreational space.



British Columbia, Outdoor Recreation, Parks, Twentieth Century, Environmental History