We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.

Review

Stewards of the People’s Forests: A Short History of the British Columbia Forest Service

By Robert Griffin and Lorne Hammond

April 15, 2015

Review By Gordon Hak

The forest industry was the most important economic activity in British Columbia during the twentieth century. Oddly, except for some consideration of its founding, there has not been a major examination of an institution at the centre of it all, the British Columbia Forest Service. This gap has been addressed in Stewards of the People’s Wealth, a sympathetic account of the Service, an organization that has existed under a number of names since 1912. Intended for a broad audience, it is a celebration of  “over a century of service by the many women and men who served as stewards of British Columbia’s forests” (1).

As the authors recognize, this is no simple task. The Forest Service was and is involved in a wide array of activities, including policy generation, fire control, reforestation, revenue collection, range management, scientific studies, forest inventory, ensuring regulation compliance, community relations, and maintaining the forests and the industries based on it. In a chronological rendering, Griffin and Hammond provide insights into all of these topics, each of which could be the focus of a book on its own. A few emphases are prominent, namely the influence of the two world wars, the personalities of the first five foresters, the drama and danger of forest fires, forest policy changes, and the introduction of new technologies such as airplanes and helicopters in fighting fires and computerization in the offices. We also get glimpses into the organizational structure of the service and the relationship between headquarters in Victoria and the districts throughout the province. Griffin and Hammond draw on many oral interviews that they conducted, giving a human dimension to an institutional study.

In the end, what stands out in the history of the Forest Service, say Griffin and Hammond, “is the workers’ depth of pride in their past and in what has been achieved” (282), as well as the theme of constant change, which has accelerated in the past two decades (242). Digital technologies capable of amassing vast amounts of data and transforming the nature of jobs in the offices and in the field, along with climate change and new relationships with First Nations — all of which are noted by the authors — suggest that change is hardly over.

Academics might have liked more footnotes to allow the curious to find sources for future research, as well as engagement with the historiography that pertains to a number of Forest Service people and policies. The contents of the book also tantalizingly suggest links to big themes such as the emergence of “high modernism,” the character of bureaucracy, and the growth of the regulatory state. Such academic considerations, however, do not diminish the achievements of the book, which accomplishes its aims while at the same time prompting questions for future studies. Griffin and Hammond have produced a fine account that will satisfy Forest Service workers and their families, as well as those with a general interest in provincial forestry. The effective mix of institutional, personal, policy, and technological history makes for pleasant and worthwhile reading.

Stewards of the People’s Forests: A Short History of the British Columbia Forest Service 
Robert Griffin and Lorne Hammond
Victoria: Royal British Columbia Museum, 2014. ISBN 0-7726-6732-5.  304 pp.  $22.95