New World Destruction of Canada’s Wildlife
History 1114: Stand Up and Be Counted (Environmentalism)
Professor Thor Frohn-Nielsen
March 18, 2014
The period of European exploration and Aboriginal-European contact opened a process of enormous environmental and cultural change in Canada. Fish, furs and forest products were major extraction industries that took advantage of the environment on the North American continent. Wilderness remained the obstacle to overcome. Sustained economic growth, not sustainable development had become the driving force in Canadian history. During this age of explosive growth and perceived infinite resources, not many paid attention to environmental issues. The focal point of this paper is to illustrate histories that speak as much for the earth and its creatures as it does for the humans that caused their extinction.
The Vanishing Wilderness 5
Buffalo Extinction 6
Frameworks of Absence: Birds 7
Aquatic annihilation: Oceans 8
Canadians will spend large sums of money in perhaps fruitless efforts to bring back that which they could now so easily retain.
Hunted trapped and poisoned for food, clothing, for their treasured fur or because they are a nuisance, the slaughter of wildlife occurred unregulated in early Canada. The Canadian landscape appeared as an inexhaustible storehouse of natural resources ripe for harvesting (that) form(ed) a major explanation for the ongoing environmental predation that began … in the sixteenth century . There were no government controls, no quotas to limit hunting or restrict it to certain areas. The attack was relentless, sudden in its swiftness, and foolish in view of its consequence.
The massive fur trade slaughtered millions of animals and destroyed fragile ecosystems just to line the pockets of merchants and provide Europeans with fashionable clothing. The quest for religious and political freedom is often cited as the reasons Europeans colonized North America but natural resources were another major draw. European discoverers and settlers of the New World were familiar with wilderness even before they crossed the Atlantic. Some of the acquaintance was first-hand since the late Middle Ages a considerable amount of wild country likely still existed on the Continent. There was an important resonance of wilderness as a concept in Western thought.
It seemed instinctively understood as something alien to man – an insecure and uncomfortable environment against which civilization had waged an unceasing struggle.
The Vanishing Wilderness
For the pioneer, wilderness preservation was absurd and completely countered the dominant European belief of transformation of the land. The wilderness was doomed.
European settlers in the early Seventeenth century encountered a North America covered with forests that were abundant in wildlife including deer, turkey, bear, wolf cougar and many smaller mammals.
The cougar, one of the largest of the North American cats vanished from the Canadian wilderness in 1899. Cougars once laid claim to the most extensive range of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They once roamed from the Yukon through the Rocky Mountains and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Although cougars prey mostly on deer, they will track down and kill domestic livestock. To protect their livestock, farmers would often shoot and kill any cougar that stalked their animals. Cougars were considered vermin and were killed whenever possible. The species fell victim to destruction from a relentless pursuit by cattlemen and bounty hunters. Habitat loss and persecution eventually reduced the lion's North American range to British Columbia, Alberta, and a small remnant population in southern Florida.
In 1783, a group of speculators formed the North West Fur