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Stephanie Pettigrew defending Ronald Rudin, Kouchibouguac: Removal, Resistance, and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.
My very first impression upon reading this book was, “This should be required reading for everybody who works for Parks Canada.” That was about halfway through the first chapter. By the time I reached the epic story of Jackie Vautour more on this in a second, I decided that the book should be required reading for anybody who works for a government agency. Now, almost a year after I first read it, I think it should be read by all Canadians, particularly those using the free Parks Canada passes. This book speaks to the impact of large government projects that prioritizes economic value over human value, one were where families are forced from their lands and deprived of their livelihoods.
Rudin’s book, which focuses on the expropriation of seven New Brunswick villages in the creation Kouchibouguac national park, intersects many aspects of Canadian history. Although it didn’t start out as an Acadian story, as the 1,200 residents included anglophones, Mi’kmaq, and Acadians, who made up the majority of the population, it became a story of Acadian resistance and the rise of a new Acadian nationalism and Jackie Vautour’s attempt to barricade the park in protest with disastrous results. Vautour was a polarizing figure in New Brunswick, and Rudin paints a vivid picture of how Vautour’s resistance not only aided the residence of the seven villages of Kouchibouguac eventually get better financial compensation, but also resulted in a shift in Acadian national identity. While the Acadian elites continued to see the identity of the community centred on Longfellow’s Evangéline and the virtues of patience and acceptance of one’s fate, many Acadians were becoming more and more frustrated with this idea. Expropriation was portrayed as a second deportation, and residents wanted to fight, not accept their lot with resignation.
Rudin describes how the expropriation, and the long-drawn out process of settlement negotiations and protests, had local and national implications. Despite it being a deeply local and often familial narrative, it had major consequences for the mandate of Parks Canada regarding the creation of new parks and the expropriation of existing communities. Before Kouchibouguac, Parks Canada had expropriated other communities in order to create our national parks and historic sites, but none had been as large as the 1,200 residents of the seven villages of Kouchibouguac. As a result of the protests and eventual enormous expense of the Kouchibouguac expropriations, Parks Canada change their policy, and expropriations would no longer be permitted in order to create parks – a powerful lesson in the power of protest.
Rudin’s book is also a story of class warfare. The expropriations of the Kouchibouguac area were considered acceptable by both the New Brunswick and the Federal governments, due mostly in part because the 1,200 residents were poor, and government statisticians had no way to track either their permanence or their economic activity. The inhabitants of the seven villages lived mostly by hunting, fishing, or growing and gathering, but when they sold the results of this labour there was rarely any record of it. Government agents therefore saw the expropriation as being for their own good; residents needed to be “rehabilitated” and forcing their resettlement in more economically-sound areas would achieve this. But the inhabitants didn’t agree – they did not see themselves as poor, or struggling. In their view, they had everything they needed, and were being forced to give it up. (Rudin p. 39)
Kouchibouguac is not a hefty tome that will have you struggling to get through it. Instead, it will leave you angry for the residents of the seven villages, cheering for the heroes of the expropriation protests, and shaking your head at the government officials of the time. In short, it’s a page-turner that hits on important themes of environmental, class, local and national history, and you should absolutely read it immediately. The breath and depth of only Rudin’s research, combined with his magnificent narrative style, makes this book, in my opinion, a sure-fire winner of the Sir John A. MacDonald prize.
Stephanie Pettigrew is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick studying the history of witchcraft in New France. She is also the project coordinator for the British North America Legislative Database (bnald.lib.unb.ca), which seeks to digitize all the pre-confederation legislative acts from the provincial legislative assembly.
Don’t forget to check out the other posts in our CHA Reads Series!!
- Series Introduction
- Mary-Ellen Kelm defending The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.
- Sean Carleton defending Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies.
- Samuel McLean defending Colonial Relations: The Douglas-Connolly Family and the Nineteenth-Century Imperial World.
- Joanna Pearce defending A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Québec.
- Stephanie Pettigrew defending Kouchibouguac: Removal, Resistance, and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park.
- Group Discussion on the Sir John. A Macdonald Prize shortlist.