Landscape Architecture in Canada

By Annau, Catherine | British Journal of Canadian Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Landscape Architecture in Canada


Annau, Catherine, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Ron Williams, Landscape Architecture in Canada (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014), 672 pp. 354 images. Cased. $65. ISBN 978-0-7735-4206-8.

The world's second-largest country by landmass, Canada is lauded for its majestic scener y and vast reserves of pristine nature. Canadians, however, have a very complicated relationship with the land. Given our seemingly endless winters, we largely huddle indoors in cities along the southern border, emerging in late spring, seeking canoes and cottages. We don't often spend a lot of time reflecting on the impression we have made on the land, much less the successful design projects that have shaped both our urban and rural environments.

Ron Williams is about to change all that. In his sweeping magnum opus, Williams tells Canada's 'history of landscape architecture from a broad geographical and cultural perspective' (p. 3). Beginning with a brief description of Canada's prehistoric, physiographic regions, he then demonstrates how Canada's landscape has been shaped by a succession of peoples, from Canada's First Nations to the first Europeans, to today. We learn that much of what we have come think of as 'natural' or 'untouched' has, in fact, been altered and designed. From the fur trade, through industrialisation, the settlement of the west, increased urbanisation, and finally to today's conservation and new urbanist movements, Williams's narrative focuses on the profound interdependence between economic development and the natural world. He outlines how Native peoples, while exhibiting a deep respect for nature, never had an 'attitude of nonintervention' (p. 26). He cites their use of controlled forest fires to remove underbrush, which improved their ability to both hunt and travel. In the seventeenth centur y, the first European settlers transformed the Annapolis Valley by building a system of agricultural dikes. …

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