Revisiting the Hinterland


Canada’s Tropical Hinterland


Figure 1: A poster stamp issued by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company to promote their service from Canada to the British West Indies. (Wikimedia Commons)

As Canadian nation-building relied on western and northern hinterlands for natural resource exploitation, Canada also capitalized on hinterlands outside of the Dominion, and in the West Indies.  Working with Andrew Smith (Management School, University of Liverpool), our research involves understanding the historical relationship between a northern industrialized nation to a tropical West Indian frontier in the mid to late nineteenth century.  We have examined the British North American Trade Commission to the West Indies, Mexico, and Brazil in 1866, and the connected environmental geographies of Montreal and the West Indies through the Redpath Sugar Refinery, as part of this theme.


Naturalizing Ontario’s North: Natural History on the Borderlands

Partnering with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), research on this theme involves investigating how the “near north” frontier became naturalized as a “gateway to the north” through the production of Ontario’s “natural” heritage by provincial organizations such as the Normal School, the ROM, and the University of Toronto’s Department of Biology during the interwar-period.  In the 1930s, the University of Toronto established a biology station at Frank’s Bay, Lake Nipissing, where many zoologists collected fish, mammals, insects, amphibians, and birds now housed at the ROM in Toronto.  This time period coincided with the displacement of Indigenous peoples and knowledges, an increase in immigration from non-British European countries, and scientific authority from the south.   As this project will demonstrate, all of these factors helped to naturalize settler-colonialism through connections to provincial faunas, and to erase First Nations presence such as at Frank’s Bay, a traditional Aboriginal burial ground.

sunset French River Jan 2013

Figure 2: Camping on the Dokis First Nation Reserve, French River (Nipissing’s MES/MESc Winter Camp, January 2014)

‘She of the Loghouse Nest’: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894–1992), Birds, and Scientific Authority in Northern Ontario”

Northern Ontario’s ecological past can be found in the vast natural history collections housed in museums across North America.  While most of these collections are associated with men of the fur trade, scientific expeditions, and settlement, a few women are present in the natural history archive.  For example, in 1927 Swedish immigrant Louse de Kiriline Lawrence settled in Ontario’s “Near North” and contributed significantly to the ornithology of the region.  Influenced by the Scandinavian naturalist tradition, de Kiriline Lawrence engaged in birding and bird banding in her new home, and became a leading authority on the breeding biologies of several northern Ontario bird species.  Working with my graduate student, Sonje Bols, this project builds on previous work in feminist historical geography to examine the role of gender in the natural sciences.  de Kiriline Lawrence gained authority in the field for her observations around her “Loghouse Nest” cabin as a woman.  She provided detailed observations of the nesting behaviours of birds, nest building, and the domestic responsibilities of the adult birds.  However, while de Kiriline Lawrence sheds light on the few women to enter the professional field of ornithology, she was also part of a settler culture that attempted to naturalize its presence on Indigenous lands at Rutherglen, an area now under a land claim by the Algonquin peoples.  This project therefore proposes an approach in critical historical ecological reconstructions that brings together feminist historical geography and decolonizing methodologies when using natural history specimens as primary source materials.