Book details

Publication date: April 2012
Features: 3 maps, preface, notes, bibliography, index
Keywords: Canadian History;Environmental History
Subject(s): HISTORY / Canada / General, Canadian History / Environmental History, HISTORY / Social History, Social & cultural history, Canadian History;Environmental History, Canadian History
Publisher(s): The University of Alberta Press

A.A. den Otter. A.A. den Otter (1941-2014) was Professor Emeritus of History at Memorial University, where he taught in the Department of History from 1972 to 2007 and served as department head from 1988 to 1994. His Civilizing the West: The Galts and the Development of Western Canada received the Canadian Historical Association, Regional History Certificate of Merit and his The Philosophy of Railways: The Transcontinental Railway Idea in British North America was awarded the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada's Harold Adams Innis Prize. He lived in St. John's, Newfoundland.

"Enhanced with the inclusion of an extensive bibliography, footnotes, and a comprehensive index, Civilizing the Wilderness is an erudite and impressive work of seminal scholarship making it very highly recommended." The Midwest Book Review, July 12, 2012

"den Otter uses [Henry] Budd's poignant story and those of his Anishinaabe Methodist contemporaries Henry Bird Steinhauer (Sowengisik) and Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) as parables to illustrate the dual cultural identities produced by the civilizing crusade and its pernicious hypocrisy." Heather Robertson, Canada's History, February-March 2013

"The notion of 'civilization' that he explores is one that involved not only the 'civilizing' of aboriginal peoples, but also taming of the 'wilderness.' [Otter] examines the recorded views of individuals like missionaries William Mason and Robert Rundle and aboriginal converts Henry Steinhauer, Henry Budd, and Peter Jones in exploring how 'civilization' and 'wilderness' were mostly perceived in pre-Confederation Canada as binaries defined through conflict and tension.... Drawing on not only history but also Canadian literature, this is a thoughtful discussion of Native-newcomer relations and the transformation of the environment and economy in western Canada in pre-Confederation Canada. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." B.F.R. Edwards, First Nations University of Canada, Choice Magazine, March 2013

"The greatest strength of Civilizing the Wilderness is its rich and diverse selection of primary sources. Den Otter conducts a chorus of voices, mostly lesser-known figures that articulate varied perspectives on the 'civilizing-the-wilderness mandate.' Chapters often pair subjects: two sisters, two missionaries, two Native American preachers-with contrasting views of civilization and wilderness. Their accounts weave back and forth across decades, intersecting in locations and events.... Civilizing the Wilderness is a solid work of original scholarship that deserves to be on the shelf with any collection dealing with Canadian history or the history of North American settlement and the frontier. It is also profitable for those with an interest in environmental, economic, and social history." Shelly Sommer, Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, May 2013 [DOI:]

"In this collection of essays, den Otter (emeritus, history, Memorial University) draws on primary source accounts to investigate how the British in pre-Confederation Canada defined and understood concepts of civilization and wilderness, and how these conceptions affected missionaries' and traders' drive to civilize Natives and the wilderness. The essays profile specific figures and incidents such as William Mason and Robert Rundle, Bishop Anderson, the Sayer Trial, Governor George Simpson's civilizing mission, the 1857 Parliamentary Select Committee, and the Red River Métis." Book News Inc., 2013

"A.A. den Otter presents in this book the views of different people through history on how they understood and defined the words 'civilization' and 'wilderness' particularly in relation to Canada, but also the United States.... The civilizing of Canada that began in the nineteenth century was not only of the aborigines but also the land mass and its natural resources.... This is a useful and informative book for those interested in the environmental development of North America in general and Canada in particular, as well as those who study the history of Canadian natives and immigration." Paiso Jamakar, Biz India Online News [Full review at]

"Newcomers to Canada and Rupert's Land in the mid-nineteenth century brought with them an assortment of cultural baggage.... Moreover, what den Otter terms the 'civilizing-the-wilderness' impulse -- which he defines as the desire to transform the northern territories into 'productive' lands -- proved so compelling that many Aboriginal and Métis people adopted this mentalité as their own... Civilizing the Wilderness is a valuable addition to Canadian historiography." Jonathan Clapperton, BC Studies, Autumn 2013

"Reading den Otter's compelling and convincing narrative, one receives little sense that there was much philosophical opposition to the bulldozing of the landscape and the destruction of the natural wilderness." Wayne Grady, Canadian Literature 218, Autumn 2013

...den Otter’s exploration presents a major addition to the library of anyone concerned about understanding the fractured history of the relationship between Aboriginals and settlers in British North America and interested in the history of Aboriginal Canadians, missionaries, fur traders, and British North Americans. The sweep of his research and the scope of his interpretation articulate an important contribution to the discourse on a matter of vital interest to thoughtful Canadians and others attentive to the gathering energy of indigenous peoples worldwide. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 38:1 (2014)

Naomi McIlwraith, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

ISBNs: 9780888645463 978-0-88864-546-3 Title: civilizing the wilderness