Historical Narratives

How we interpret and perceive current and future urban forests is impacted by a combination of historical and cultural narratives. These narratives are shaped by pre-existing notions of nature, tree and forests, their significance to personal, as well as, societal needs. The historical narratives may change or are repeated and influence the future planning and policies that state urban forests. In this panel discussion we hope to explore the role of history in forming today's urban forests. Topics may include and are not limited to, investigating pre-European settlements and villages; how narratives change through history depending on culture, the influence of narratives in planning theory and other themes found in historical sources that are being discovered.

Moderator: Colin Coates, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes, Canadian Studies programme, Glendon College, York University

Keynote speaker: Dr. Joanna Dean, Department of History, Carleton University, Canada - “Persistent Narratives in Urban Forest History”

The keynote talk will provide a survey of persistent narratives in urban forest history. The stories that we tell about trees are revealing of social and political tensions, but they also point to the difficulty of stepping outside of an anthropocentric frame of reference. Although the narratives are common to most North American cities, the talk will illustrated with reference to particular trees and woodlands on or near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Narratives include: The tree as other (the “natural” tree in the built urban environment); The tree as amenity (inequities in the distribution of the environmental benefits of urban forest canopy cover); If you go down to the woods today…(sexual danger and urban woodlands); Commemorative trees (trees as markers of time and history); Lollipop trees (images of trees and why it is that we forget that trees have roots); The invasion of the exotic (Dutch elm disease and Norway maples).

Dr. Joanna Dean is an associate professor in the History Department at Carleton University, where she teaches environmental and gender history. She became interested in the history of street trees while serving as the chair of Ottawa’s Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee. The materiality and agency of the tree is central to her work. She has used geospatial analysis of historical aerial photographs to reveal patterns of forest growth over time, read public works documents to understand the encounter of tree and built environment, and interviewed arborists about their experience grappling with unruly branches. She is currently exploring the way that we think about the trees that resist our intentions: the “nuisance” trees that grew too fast, the “weed” trees that appear along fence lines, and the “invasive” species that dominate the slopes of Parliament Hill. She has written numerous articles and papers on urban forest history and most recently curated an exhibit, “Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest,” on display at Bytown Museum in Ottawa. See www.carleton.ca/~jdean.

Kaitlin Wainwright, Program Coordinator, Plaques and Markers, Heritage Toronto - “Setting the Stage or Site of Memory?: Public History and the Urban Forest”

Historical plaques and markers provide the unique opportunity to engage the public in a historical narrative in situ. While these plaques are often placed on heritage structures, they increasingly recognize social, cultural, and natural heritage, and appear in landscapes as well as streetscapes, inevitably engaging trees as historical actors. This paper will argue that trees operate as either part of a mise-enscene—an active component of the setting in which the plaque and its historical narrative are found—or as lieux-de-memoire, a site of memory, through which a history is ascribed to the tree itself. This paper will further the ongoing discourse of trees as heritage and will consider in its research trees designated under a municipal by-law or the Ontario Heritage Act; commemorative trees, used for memorial purposes; instances of inclusion and exclusion of trees in heritage plaques; and the representation of trees in historical public art and monuments. With a geographic focus on Toronto and Ottawa, this paper will assess how trees and urban forests are directly commemorated through plaque projects and will compare how public history engages with trees through plaques and historical markers.

Kaitlin Wainwright is a graduate of Carleton University's Public History program, where her research analysed at the relationship between the environment and the site of the Canadian War Museum as an example of warfare, but also of urban renewal in 1960s Ottawa. She is currently the Plaques and Markers Program Coordinator at Heritage Toronto.

Jay Bolthouse, PhD Candidate, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Tokyo - “Building, Dwelling, Rethinking the Bower: An Explicitation and Politicization of Urban Forest Dwelling(s)”

Our approach to the political ecology of urban forests in the challenging climate of the present hinges on how we interpret the historical formation of arboreal urban space. Yet problematically absent from historical narratives of urban forestry is any explicitation of the field’s defining notion: the urban forest as holistic entity. Drawing on Sloterdijk’s reinterpretation of Being as being-in-spheres, the paper develops the concept of arborispheres—shady, interior-like spheres created by enveloping arboreal canopies—to shed light on the spatial history and politics of ‘the urban forest’. While an implicit arborispheric perspective appears in Harrison’s account of forests as “shadow of civilization”, that narrative sets human and forest spheres in opposition. The alternative developed here is of the voluminous expansion of the bower—the most intimate of arborispheres—to the larger urban forest and beyond. Importantly, what an explicitation of the bower highlights is a crucial tension, suggested by Heidegger’s identification of the etymological/ontological connection of building and dwelling, between urban forest as building embowering the city and everyday practices of dwelling in urban arborispheres. This tension is pursued historically through a comparison of the embowering efforts of B.G. Northrop—“father” of Arbor Day in schools and village improvement—and the political ecological praxis of Benton Mackaye—originator of the Appalachian Trail and “patron saint” of urban forestry. I argue that, while Northrop’s will to embower shepherds us toward the bower as cover for the Crystal Palace (i.e. Sloterdijk’s provocative metaphor for globalization) Mackaye’s Appalachian Trail represents a politics of dwelling that aims to crack the crystal canopy. While problematically overlooking the urban forest in favor of the Appalachian Ridge, Mackaye developed a spatio-temporal form of utopian praxis that offers insight for urban foresters looking to rethink and refunction the bower.

Jay Bolthouse is an American national holding under graduate and graduate degrees in geography from Western Michigan and Western Washington University, respectively. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Tokyo. His work is situated at the interface of critical geography, political ecology, urban planning and landscape architecture, and focuses more specifically on the historical geography of urban forests. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Tokyo, Bolthouse’s dissertation examines the development of “civic forestry” in New England, and beyond, through the lens of political ecology with the aim of developing critical historical perspectives on urban forestry and practical resources for bringing urban forestry and urban agriculture into fruitful planning dialogues. In recent years, he has published numerous papers on urban greenspace planning and presented this research at major international conferences.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo, Independent photo artist and writer, Research Fellow, Frank Iacobucci Centre, University of Toronto - “The Ancients — Trees that Predate the City of Toronto”

The City of Toronto can be traced back to a few blocks that were carved out of the wilderness at the dawn of the 19th century, when the natural environment was an undisturbed forest of green that seemed to stretch endlessly on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Of the millions of trees and shrubs that stood within the urbanized area of today’s city, only a few specimens remain. These remnants of the aboriginal forest are scattered throughout the city, in parks and ravines, in private properties, and along roadways. Each is a unique survivor of the inevitable calamities created by urbanization: from land clearing and construction to air pollution and the importation of pests. The exhibition will call attention to and celebrate these surviving “elders” of the natural world. As the oldest living things in our midst, they are sacred, a source of spirituality for many cultures in our diverse city. As symbols of the tenacity of nature against man‐made adversity, they are also environmental icons. Some are an integral part of our history, having inspired an anthem and our national flag.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo is an internationally recognized photo artist, writer and social historian who published seven monographs of his photography. He is widely respected for his empathetic work on social justice, including immigration, migrant farm workers, disabilities, the labour movement, and the environment. He has been commissioned for numerous publications, including four series of the prestigious Toronto Tree Portraits calendar, published by the Parks and Trees Foundation of Toronto. He exhibits regularly in Canada and abroad, and his work is included in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Library and Archives Canada, and other institutions. His most recent exhibition was “From the Land of Olive Trees to the Land of Maples”, part of the Tree Project at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in 2012. Vincenzo is a Research Fellow with the Frank Iacobucci Centre for Italian‐Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto.

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