MB: living and writing the early days of parks canada

MB WilliamsMabel (MB) Williams was a file clerk when she joined the newly created Dominion Parks Branch, the precursor to Parks Canada, in 1911. Within a decade she was the agency's lead writer of promotional material, and the author of a series of guidebooks that would be the centerpiece for tourism promotion of the national parks, of the Canadian Rockies, and of Canada itself. Soon she was in charge of most of the bureau's publicity work in both print and film. But when her entire female staff was laid off early in the Depression, she resigned in solidarity. Williams spent the rest of her life struggling to make it as an author, succeeding only when she returned to the subject of parks.

MB: Living and Writing the Early Years of Parks Canada is an archive and exhibit that tells the story of an extraordinary, ordinary Canadian. In doing so, it deepens our understanding of a defining era in Canada's environmental history - offering insights, for example, about the development of the national park system and about the life of Grey Owl. What anchors the site is an unusually rich and varied collection of sources from MB's life: more than 30 personal letters, recently archived and as yet little used by historians; 9 published guidebooks, long out-of-print; and an oral interview from 1969, never before heard.

I have written about MB elsewhere, offering my own interpretation of her career. But I wanted to create a place where visitors could explore her written and spoken words for themselves. There are two ways to navigate the site. You can read through the narrative, a series of exhibits that together tell the story of MB's life, in documents. Or you can just browse the collection - reading, listening, and composing MB's life on your own. Either way, I hope you enjoy your visit. When you're leaving, be sure to Contact Us to tell us what you think.

Postscript, 19 Apr 2012: Sylvia Watson, MB's grandniece, has been gracious enough to share some additional material concerning MB, including some wonderful photographs, letters (including one from Grey Owl), and an article. They have been added to the Collection and interspersed in a few places through the Exhibits.

Alan MacEachern
Western University