Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada

Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada

Joanna Dean, Darcy Ingram, and Christabelle Sethna, Editors

Reviewed by Stephanie Eccles

Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada edited by Joanna Dean, Darcy Ingram, and Christabelle Sethna represents a collective effort to create a historiography of nonhuman animals and human subjects in Canada since Confederation, a topic wittily shorthanded as ‘Canamalia Urbanis’. Dean, Ingram, and Sethna assembled this collection to address what they identify as a lack of historical scholarly engagement regarding nonhuman animals and their relation to humans in urban spaces. Instructionally, a definition of urban is outlined for readers in the introduction chapter. Instead of urban as a metric for “population density and spatial geographical boundaries,” a more encompassing definition is subscribed to that considers “the ways humans and nonhuman animals coexist in industrial modernity” (15). Opening up the concept of urban more broadly creates conditions for historians to engage with the ‘animal turn’. Texts such as Animal Metropolis are tasked with the initial hurdle of demonstrating why such a turn matters. Dean, Ingram, and Sethna argue that historians are uniquely positioned to take on this task, as a key research focus in contemporary history is to locate marginalized individuals’ assertions of agency in consulted archives. Animal Metropolis accomplishes this task by meticulously showcasing studies from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Vancouver, and Canada more generally.

This text animates what are considered innocuous architectural designs of places so as to make visible the ways in which nonhuman animals were either active co-producers of that place or harmed in the process of place-making, rendering them mere simulacra in the modern era. For this book and animal studies more generally, Sherry Olson’s chapter offers the key concept of the ghostly figure. Olson theorizes how “phantom” animals “cast their shadows” in numerous ways (57). Ghostly metaphor lends itself to make sense of many case studies presented in Animal Metropolis. Take for example Rachel Poliquin’s chapter examining the tales of the beavers in one of the oldest parks in North America: Vancouver, British Columbia’s Stanley Park. In 2008, a single beaver returned to the park after decades of their ancestors’ absence caused by the relentless extermination programs that captured beavers to export, enclose or kill. Applying the phantom figure, beavers were historical actors in the design of the park as the park itself represents a violent form of architecture that evicted its natural inhabitants due to the beavers’ rigorous labour of place-making which failed to align with the human design of the park.

The eleven authors of this text contribute great insight into the depository of ‘Canamalia Urbanis’, however, fail to aptly capture or ground these narratives in legacies of colonialism. Approaching animal studies in settler-nations with a clear commitment to addressing how colonialism continues to enrol nonhuman animals, including their relationships to humans, is necessary in any historical endeavour such as Animal Metropolis. Much of what the metanarrative’s nonhuman animals serve in Animal Metropolis represents a particular story of Canada, one that fails to capture the plethora of nonhuman and human relations that constitute Canada. What this text does, however, is take steps in developing a critical lens for locating nonhuman animals in historical archives. Animal Metropolis writes the beginning of a historiography of nonhuman animals and humans in Canada that hopes to embolden further curiosity in looking for the presence of nonhuman animals in policies, architecture, domesticities, and places of consumption. Erring on the side of responsible scholarship, it is important to note that locating nonhuman animals is not enough. As critical scholars, especially those in animal studies, we must recognize our obligation is bound to more than research. As Animal Metropolis presents curious stories of nonhuman animals in Canada, readers and scholars should be inspired beyond pondering and ask with humility what responsibilities come with this knowledge.

Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada
Joanna Dean, Darcy Ingram, and Christabelle Sethna, eds.
Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2017. 358 pp. $34.95 paper.