MB: living and writing the early days of parks canada

JB Harkin to MB Williams, Nov 1941

Transcription / Additional Information

222 Clemow Ave

Nov 23rd/41.

My Dear M.B.

            What an assignment - to carry coals to Newcastle!

            I think the best way to answer your letter is to suggest you read a book entitled “Guardians of the Wild”, written by a person named Williams.

            The two societies you are to address expect you, presumably, to speak on wild life principally, with Parks only an incidental. Well, it seems to me the general Parks story should serve as a perfectly good introduction. You will re-call our first worry was to satisfy ourselves as to whether Parks were worth-while or not. And the worth-while-ness had to be measured in terms of human welfare, first spiritual; second mental; third, physical. No, not exactly the way, we really felt that these were so intimately mixed up in life, that they were mutually dependent. So all three were requisite. You did more than anyone else to provide the proof. And you convinced the rest of us Parks could pay great dividends in these terms.

            Our next problem was to sell Parks to our ministers, Parliament and the public. You were in the midst of those operations. There is no reason why we should not admit we figured that to get funds & public opinion behind Parks, (for development purposes) we had to first show the certainty of financial dividends. Hence our presentation of the values of tourist business. First we showed it in regard to Parks


themselves: you will recall the famous calculation of the export of Banff scenery and comparison with the return per acre from wheat exports. But Parks were remote from much of Canada and so with Parks as a basis we carried on a campaign to educate the people of Canada of the importance of selling the scenery of every part of Canada. It must be fresh in your memory how well this plan worked out, even if it did embarrass us with an avalanche of demands for new parks. And then we got our Parks working. But at the same time we never neglected the other kind of dividends; and the annual reports were used to present them to the public. Because they appeared sound - and perhaps because they were a novelty in a Govt publication - our contributions won great acceptance in the newspapers of Canada. The effect was specially obvious when our great 10 year fight against the power barons was in progress. Virtually all the press outside of Calgary was with us in the fight. (Of Course since then the fight we won has been fought over again and lost - Minnewanka is gone. But it was not our fault.) (I should not say “fought over again”, I fear).

            Let me get my breath again and get back to the system of Parks as we visualized them – viz as institutions primarily for the conservation of mankind. Because we wanted to conserve man we found it imperative (or at least important to preserve wild life.


Perhaps at the very beginning when we were feeling our way we simply recognized that wild things had an extraordinary attraction for humans and that [ ___ ?] they were, at least, an important factor in the tourist industry on which we were then specializing. If we were selling the wilderness we would not be giving full value (or get the best returns) unless we had an ample supply of W.L. So, we proceeded to see that all parks were made genuine sanctuaries. Your book has some good stories illustrating this.

            Wild things will not constantly remain in protected areas and so we naturally had to look for co-operation from the provinces controlling the areas surrounding parks. And just about that time the proposal for a migration Bird Treaty with U.S. began to get under way. Several Domn. Depts were concerned w/ it and the result was the appointment of a Domn. Advisory Wild Life Board. That Board first dealt with the Treaty and then began gathering a perspective on W.L. throughout the Domn. Each province legislated in W.L. from its purely provincial view point. The Board began a campaign to bring about co-operation and co-ordination among the provinces. It was felt that if justice was to be done W.L./and the country). W.L. must be dealt with from


a broad national perspective. It naturally followed that there should be Domn - interprovincial conferences and so these were instituted, the Domn undertaking all the cost of bringing official representatives of all the provinces each year. You cannot overstate the results, because they were most valuable. The exchange of views and experiences, the emancipating from purely local considerations and from jealousies etc., were most valuable, but not more so than the effect of the provincial officers and Domn officers all knowing each other, learning to trust each other, and developing the sense that they were all engaged in a great work, greater than if viewed only from their own local view point, more work which could promote the cause everywhere more effectively than could be done in any other way. I know I am involved here but what we arrived at & secured was a “one for all and all for one” result.

            I overlooked in the evolution that the first step outside parks W.L. work was our being assigned N.W. Game Act,


it coming to us because we were doing W.L. work in parks. I also overlooked the purely animal Parks, Buffalo, Elk Island, wh. also helped drive us into the wider field. The final act was the assignment of Migratory Bird Treaty Act to us for administration.

            Well, that’s the background of Parks W.L. activities. (Again I say “coals to Newcastle).

            Where did we go from there? 

            One of the first steps was the building of active co-operation with the U.S. Conservationists. Not only the Federal Govt officials but also state officials and game organizations and conservation leaders there like Hornaday, John B Burnham, American Game Protective Association, Isaac Walton League, etc. The aim was to bring about a North American perspective on W.L. problems. Such was vital for migratory birds; it was most helpful in regard to mammals as well.

            You are safe in stating that Parks Br. based its work on that conviction that human welfare demanded the perpetuation of W.L., that mankind would sustain a serious loss if W.L. disappeared. I will not elaborate the reasons and arguments in that connection. I think you know them pretty well; perhaps the greatest is the way W.L. attracts everyone (not just the hunter) to the wilderness. If you want more in this line I’ll dig it up for you.


            What have we done specifically to conserve? That means details of laws, regulations, education, enforcement laws, scientific study of W.L. conditions and development of solutions for problems.

            Education - Lectures, pamphlets, newspaper and magazine articles, moving pictures, junior Audubon Societies, etc. But the greatest & most valuable of all was perhaps the discovery & utilization of Grey Owl.

            As in the case of “export of scenery” an effort was made to the financial side of the public by shining that wild life constituted a great business fact, with millions invested in it and millions expended upon it each year. I must look up the figures for you. They are striking, we had to go on the old line of presenting the financial side to secure sympathy for the important side.

            I almost overlooked the sanctuaries. Huge ones in N.W.T.; scores of them in Prairie Provinces, quite a number on North Shore of Gulf of St. Lawrence.

            Re Migratory Birds. You know of the drought problems and botulism: lead poisoning disappearances of eel grass; disappearance of water feeding areas in south (cultivation) ditto re breeding areas in Canada.


            I wrote an article for the American Forestry Journal; will try to dig up a copy for you. It dealt with the attitude of pre-historic man towards W.L., animal statues in middle ages etc. and was designed to justify their idea of getting back to the old idea of man & W.L. being companions & friends etc. I think it wd be useful to you.

            I am not going to read this over. I just sat down & wrote. Probably if I read it I wd tear it up.

            Write me for specific things you may want. I started looking over some of my “book” notes on W.L. but they were so numerous that it wd be hopeless to start throwing them at you.

            This is just a preliminary, dashed-off thing. If it is of any help I will be glad.

                Sincerely Yours


Kind regards from both of us




JB Harkin, “JB Harkin to MB Williams, Nov 1941,” MB: Living and Writing the Early Years of Parks Canada, accessed April 24, 2018, http://mbwilliams.academic-news.org/items/show/50.


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