Land and Sea, a collection of environmental essays, has as the subtitle of this important book, Environmental History of Atlantic Canada.
This sums up the general message of the 12 essays and an epilogue, which illustrate various aspects of it.
Edited by Claire Campbell and Robert Summerby-Murray and published by Acadiensis Press, this 320-page book is available by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org at a cost of $29.95.
As environmental history is a rather new term, here is an illustration of it: One of the essays is about the use of mussel mud as fertilizer on the Island. It attempts to answer the following questions: what is mussel mud? How and where does it develop? When did its use as a fertilizer begin and approximately when did it end? And then, why did it end and what replaced it?
Not all the essays published here have clear-cut answers, or any answers at all. However all give us a better understanding of our region - its past, its present, and some of its possible futures.
We propose to discuss two of the other essays briefly:
Regenerating Devastated Landscapes... by Jacqueline D. Holmes and Justin B. Hollander; and A Landscape...with Figures, subtitled Tourism and Environment on Prince Edward Island is by Edward MacDonald. Holmes and Hollander are both involved in environmental policy, while MacDonald is a noted island historian.
The devastated landscapes referred to in the former title can be found frequently in cities as buildings are pulled down and replaced by vacant lots.
But they are also found in small towns and in the country, where local businesses such as cheese factories and stores once stood.
The authors discuss what should be done, and who should do it in order that these unsightly places might be put to good use again. While their concerns and suggestions are expressed in academic language, their message is simple: “community, flexibility, and creativity...(must be) the foundation of any policies related to brownfield redevelopment.”
This study alone makes inspiring reading for anyone who has ever looked at a vacant lot, and wondered what could be done.
“How many seasons will pass before the only place that the Island’s pastoral culture and landscape meet is within the glossy covers of the visitors’ guide?” asks MacDonald at the end of his essay.
After an outline of the history of tourism on the Island from the 1860s to the present, that is how he sums it up.
Among the points he makes in the process are the attitudes of L. M. Montgomery (she disliked what tourism was doing to the Cavendish area), the fact that people are seldom mentioned in the tourism literature and the influence of the car on the Island.
Behind his final question is the fact the 2011 census shows only 1,495 farms left, and “perhaps as much as three-quarters of the Island’s population lived in a rurban/urban environment.”
Every Islander should read this essay.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at 111 Sydney St., Apt. 17, Saint John, N.B., E2L 2L8, or call her at 506-693-5498.