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British Columbia, The Pacific Province: Geographical Essays

By Colin J.B. Wood

November 4, 2013

Review By Kenneth Brealey

UNTIL RECENTLY, geographers looking for a reasonably comprehensive, but decidedly current, introductory text or compilation of essays having a regional and/or thematic focus on the geography of British Columbia had little with which to work. Paul Koroscil’s edited 1991 British Columbia: Geographical Essays in Honour of A. McPherson was geographically uneven and narrowly focused, while Charles Forward’s 1989 British Columbia: Its Resources and People was, even by the early 1990s, increasingly dated. This was a serious omission, especially since almost every department of geography in this province has “the geography of British Columbia” as one of its core introductory courses! Now, however, this lacuna has been nicely filled by two new contributions. First off the mark in 2000, and reviewed in BC Studies 132, was Brett McGillivray’s Geography of British Columbia: People and Landscapes in Transition. Second, in 2002, and reviewed here, is this, the thirty-sixth publication of the University of Victoria’s long-running Western Geographical series and, thus, a work that adopts a rather different, and in places more conceptually demanding, framework than does McGillivray’s. 

Indeed, in terms of overall form and style, this edited compilation is virtually a carbon copy of Forward’s text. Seven of the book’s nineteen chapters – landforms and natural hazards (Foster), biogeo-climatics (Edgell), land-based recreation (Downie), climate (Tuller), marine-based recreation (Dearden), the Chinese community (Lai), and agriculture (the editor) – are effectively revisions of earlier chapters by the same authors in Forward’s collection; another eight – historical cartography (Keller), water (Smith), tourism (Rollins), minerals (Harris), energy (Newcomb), forestry (Vyse), fisheries (the editor and Corpé), and regionalism (the editor) – are also revisions but are written by different authors. New in this compilation are chapters on provincial geopolitics (Thomas), the space economy (the editor), land-use planning (the editor, Corpé and Jackson), and Native land claims (Duerden). Whether because they mostly dovetailed with my own interests, because they dealt with topics only addressed piecemeal in Forward, or because they deal with a truly postmodern set of geographical challenges, I also found these four chapters to be among the strongest in the collection. That said, the overall quality of these chapters is very good. They all display sound scholarship and are free of jargon. Tabular and graphic support is thorough and is displayed with a consistent style. Both in content and legibility, the cartography, in particular, is a huge improvement. I found no typographical errors, which, coupled with the above, reflects a careful editorial hand. In addition to the usual primary or secondary references, most chapters direct the reader to relevant Internet sites – an important addition that reflects a growing scholarly reliance on digital sources. 

If only because we have long needed a book like this, my quibbles with the collection are correspondingly few. While there is an introductory chapter, its discussion of the regional makeup of the province remains fairly standard and does not always seem relevant to many of the following chapters, in which the approach is largely thematic or topical. The ordering of the chapters is also curious. Doubtless the province is moving, if fitfully, away from a resource-based economy; however, chapters on forestry, mining, fishing, and energy are at the end of the compilation, while chapters on tourism and Native land claims come much earlier. I’d have reversed this order to make the causal geographical and temporal aspects of provincial change and continuity over the past fifteen years more explicit. In either case, a brief editorial preface would have helped. In addition, the book lacks an index, which lessens its utility as a quick reference guide. 

It is on this view, perhaps, that some comparisons with McGillivray’s text are in order. Instructors teaching the geography of British Columbia at an introductory level, and who need a relatively accessible text, more Spartan (and thus more readily grasped) graphic and tabular support, and a length that is just about right for a thirteen-week course, are probably best served by McGillivray. Those seeking a somewhat “thicker” text – whether for use in a more directed course on the geography of British Columbia or in more advanced courses in other subdisciplines seeking more theoretically informed “case studies” from British Columbia (such as in resource and environmental studies, recreation or political geography, and planning) – will get more out of this compilation. The nice thing is that we now have a choice. While it may not have been intended as such, I found this book a most welcome update of Forward s text, and one that will be welcomed by scholars and instructors both within and without geography.