“their extermination supplies probably the best example known of the relentless power of man’s stupidity”

–Margaret Mitchell, The Passenger Pigeon in Ontario, 1935

On the afternoon of September 14, 1914, 100 years ago, Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Over the previous fifty years the combined forces of habitat loss and ruthless commercial hunting reduced her relatives and friends to grist in a slaughter mill. Flocks that had numbered millions of birds in the 1870s, by the 1890s might number less than 100 individuals. A total population that numbered perhaps three to five billion when Europeans first began arriving in North America, fell to numbers so low that, even when allowed by hunters and farmers to roost, could not sustain itself. The story of the passenger pigeon shows the extraordinary influence a species can have on ecology and culture (human and otherwise) and also the profound and tragic impact humanity can have on the natural world.

 

 

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James J. Audubon

 

A passenger pigeon measured 15 to 18 inches in length and weighed roughly 12 ounces. According to Joel Greenburg in his recent book, A Feathered River Across the Sky (Bloomsbury, 2014), it “looked like a mourning dove on steroids” (1). “The male pigeon possessed slaty-blue and gray upper parts and a throat and breast of rich copper glazed with purple, while the female was a much drabber version throughout, with beige replacing copper” (2). At one time, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in the Americas and may have constituted as much as 40% of North American bird life. Its migratory range stretched throughout the northeast and Midwest from Louisiana and Texas to Northern Ontario and Quebec. They lived in the sky, in enormous flocks that early observers described as blocking out the sun and taking two or three days to pass. When these flights alighted in trees either to forage for food (soft fruit, nuts and seeds, were favorites) or to nest, the destruction resembled that of a tornado or hurricane. The weight of all the birds bent branches low and shattered limbs. The birds themselves cleared the forest floor, leaving behind feathers and deep guano piles. The size of a roosting site depended on the flock, with recorded examples as large as 120 square miles and more. In short, the passenger pigeon was an extraordinary species, noted for its beauty and the undeniable impact it had on nature and people.

 

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Pigeons were a vital part of Indigenous peoples diets long before Europeans arrived. Because the birds migrated, however, they could not be relied on as a food source. Abundant one year, they might fail to appear entirely the next. Even so, the passenger pigeon not only entered into human diets, but also human cultures. Jesuit missionaries recorded the belief of some Huron/Wendat that at the feast of the dead souls left the cemeteries as turtledoves (pigeons). Amongst the Haudenousaunee, the pigeon dance opens the annual maple festival. Flocks provided an important seasonal food source in spring before the planting of new corn crops. The Mi’kmaq witnessed in the constellations a group of seven birds (stars) chasing Muin (bear) across the sky, one of which is pigeon (Ples). As the seasons change these seven stars gradually disappear and reappear just as the birds in their migrations do.

 

When Europeans began to arrive in North America, they too were fascinated with passenger pigeons. On July 1st, 1534, Jacques Cartier landed on Prince Edward Island and recorded what may be the first sighting of passenger pigeons by a European. Far to the south, Virgina settler Ralphe Hamor witnessed in 1615 “wilde pigeons beyond number or imagination, my selfe have seene three or four hours together flockes in the aire, so thicke that even they have shadowed the skie from us” (in Greenburg, 47). Two hundred years later, the flight of passenger pigeons still awed the famous America naturalist, James Audubon, for his observation point in Kentucky.

 

 As soon as the pigeons discover a sufficiency of food to entice them to alight, they fly around in circles, reviewing the country below. During their evolutions, on such occasions, the dense mass which they form exhibits a beautiful appearance, as it changes its direction, now displaying a glistening sheet of azure, when the backs of the birds come simultaneously into view, and anon, suddenly present a mass of rich deep purple. They then pass lower, over the woods, and for a moment are lost among the foliage, but then emerge again, and are seen gliding aloft. They now alight, but the next moment, as if suddenly alarmed, they take to the wing, producing by the flapping of their wings a noise like the roar of distant thunder, and sweep through the forest to see if danger is near (Ornithological Biography, 322)

 

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Like they did for the Indigenous population, these birds amazed the Europeans who saw them, but also set their stomachs rumbling. While Jacques Cartier observed, his countryman Samuel de Champlain, who followed in 1604 to what would become Canada, went hunting. At Goosefare Bay, off what is now southern Maine, he and his crew took “a goodly quantity” of the “countless numbers of pigeons” that had stopped there apparently to feast on red currants (Biggar, The Works of Champlain, vol. 1, 332). So began a slaughter that would continue for 300 years until not one was left. The birds proved easy to take. They showed little fear even when hunters entered their roosts, and men firing into dense flocks could not help but take many birds. Nets were deployed and other traps that used live captive birds as lures to draw passing flocks to land. So common and familiar was pigeon hunting at one time that even a century and more after the last great hunts of the 1870s and 1880s these captives survive today in our contemporary lexicon as “stool pigeons”—decoys and police informers. So numerous were the flocks that passed over colonial settlements, however, that no one could believe hunting would ever destroy the entire species.

 

stool pigeon trap

Stool Pigeon Trap

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Shooting: From The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News, July 3, 1875.

 

Yet, ever more efficient means of killing began to take a toll. In an unusual instance, a particularly alert gunner at Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) spotted a flock of pigeons crossing Lake Ontario in 1846 and, loading his canon with grapeshot, killed hundreds (Taylor, Narrative of a Voyage to Upper Canada, 171). It was the development of railways and refrigeration cars, however, the turned a food source into a commodity. Suddenly, fresh birds might be shipped from the roosts where they were taken to city markets in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Shipped and sold in bulk, purveyors could make a good profit on the relatively inexpensive birds. Professional hunters appeared who followed the roost flocks each spring and summer, invading pigeon cities and taking birds by the barrel-full. The expansion of agricultural settlement westward after the civil war added this work, destroying roosting habitat and ensuring a vigilant and watchful population that would report where and when the birds nested. The chicks, called squabs, were particularly valued as a delicacy. An 1871 nesting in Wisconsin, the largest ever recorded, covered 850 square miles and perhaps 136 million birds, not including squabs. Hunters took at least 1.2 million of them and likely many more than that (Greenburg, 135). Another nesting in Michigan in 1878 produced at least 1.1 million dead birds packed into barrels and shipped out by rail. This was industrial slaughter and by the 1880s flocks were dwindling. By the 1890s, passenger pigeon sightings were rare. Once the most common bird in North America, the wild pigeon had all but disappeared.

This disappearance did not go unnoticed at the time, yet, it seems people could not stop shooting the birds. A list of “last appearances in Ontario” gathered by the Royal Ontario Mudeum in the 1930s makes for grim reading.

1880—Grey County. “The last pigeons near the village of Leith (near Owen Sound) were killed by John Thomas, father of Tom Thomson, the artist. He killed two.”

1882—Essex County, Point Pelee. “…we often saw small flocks…running up to perhaps fifteen or twenty. I have one specimen from that trip, although we shot several.”

 

And from my own city of London…

 

1885—“The last record of birds that probably bred in the London district is that of 3 or 4 birds, a male, a female, and young, which were seen and the female and young shot…”

(Full list, Margaret Mitchell, The Passenger Pigeon in Ontario, 1935, 130—7)

 

Passenger Pigeons disappeared from the wild around the turn of the century, just about the same time that conservationists began to push for changes in law to protect migratory birds. The only remaining live specimens were thereafter found in zoos and perhaps remaining private collections. Martha died of old age, the last of her species.

martha

Martha, on display at the Smithsonian. Photo by Carl Hansen, Smithsonian Institution, 1985.

Many at the time refused to believe that people were responsible for the demise of an animal that had once appeared in such astonishing numbers. Disease and natural disasters such as forest fires were blamed. Some thought the birds had escaped their pursuers to South America or even Australia. But hunting combined with habitat loss as a result of forest clearing seem to have been the primary factors. The birds survived because their sheer numbers gave the species as a whole an advantage over any would be predator–except for humans who kill on an industrial scale. At some point, passenger pigeon numbers reached a threshold “below which they lost the capacity to make up for the high mortality rates they suffered” (Greenberg, 195). There were no longer enough eyes-in-the-sky to find food or good nesting sites. Individuals could no longer rely on the group for safety while they sat on their nests. Perhaps they stopped breeding altogether. Whatever the case, over hunting reduce passenger pigeons to the point where population collapse became inevitable. The spectacle of a flight of passenger pigeons, once an integral part of North American life, lost forever.

Joel Greenberg’s book, A Feathered River across the Sky, makes for compelling and tragic reading. His research and breadth of knowledge seems at points to almost bring the passenger pigeon to life again. To mark the anniversary of their extinction other artists and institutions are also paying tribute to these birds in ways that provide beautiful and grim reminders of how such folly and wanton destruction can happen.

 

Laurel Ruth Hope

Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons: Passenger Pigeon II

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Royal Ontario Museum: Empty Skies: The Passenger Pigeon Legacy

Mass MoCA: Eclipse

 

http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=934

Spanish Conquest May have Altered Peru’s Shoreline

Here is a very interesting article from Science Mag about a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows how the Spanish conquest of the Inca in 1532 impacted human interactions with the environment to the extent that the environment itself changed. In short, prior to the Spanish arrival, Inca fisherman along the coast deposited so many mollusk shells that a kind of armor formed that protected sand-dunes from erosion. When European war and disease caused the deaths of thousands and the dispersal and resettlement of the remaining Indigenous population the shoreline was left uninhabited, the protective ridges disappeared, and much of the dune-like shoreline eroded away. As in my previous post on the decolonization diet, here is further evidence of the impact that colonization had not just on people in the Americas, but also on the environment.

I am further reminded of a new theory about the causes of the so-called little ice age, a period of general climatic cooling in the northern hemisphere that stretched from the late middle ages into the nineteenth century. Conventional wisdom has tended to blame an increase in volcanic and El Nino activity for the end of the Medieval warm period, but a contributing factor of the worst years of the LIA in the sixteenth and seventeenth century may have again been Spanish imperialism. A Stanford geochemist, Richard Nelve suggests that the deaths of so many Indigenous peoples in the south and central Americas as a result of war, disease, and conquest resulted in empty fields, reforestation, and increased carbon sequestration that made an already cool climate colder until the onset of the Industrial Revolution began to inject new sources of carbon into the atmosphere.

At its height, the impact of the LIA was extensive and in many cases catastrophic. Scott A. Mandia, a physics professor at SUNY Suffolk, documents some of these changes here. For example, England’s growing season shortened by one to two months, and food shortages and rising prices throughout Europe resulted in political and social upheavals. The cod fishery all but disappeared in Scotland, only to reappear in the warmer waters of the grand banks off the coast of Newfoundland – another example of environmental connections to colonization as Europeans, this time French and British, began to war with themselves and indigenous peoples for control of this important resource. French settlers in Quebec wrote of the mountains of snow that piled up in the streets. Winter began at the beginning of October and did not let go until late in May. And poor growing seasons exacerbated by disease resulted in food shortages that severally impacted Indigenous peoples.

Human history is full of examples of just how much our activity impacts the environment and conversely just how much the environment impacts us.

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Engraving showing the frozen Montmorency Falls on the Rivière St-Charles, near Quebec City, 1781. James Peachey

 

Decolonizing Diet

When Europeans began coming to North America they brought with them much more than just their culture, languages and lifeways. They also brought their flora and fauna and changed the very landscape of the Americas, its ecology and its biology. One of the first things French settlers did in Acadia and the Saint Lawrence Valley was plant gardens. These gardens can be clearly seen in early drawings of the the habitations they built at Port Royal and at Quebec in 1605 and 1608 respectively.

port_royal_planancienPort Royal Habitation (Gardens in foreground)

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Quebec Habitation (Gardens front left)

These were test gardens, planted and maintained in order not to learn to cultivate local plants (such as the three sisters cultivated by the Wendat and Haudenosaunee, corn, beans and squash), but rather to discover if European varieties could flourish in American soils. In 1972, historian Alfred Crosby published The Columbian Exchange, in which he argued that these gardens were just one part of a comprehensive effort on the part of settlers to create neo-Europes in the Americas. Europeans re-imagined and repurposed American environments to make them more familiar, more welcoming and more hospitable to themselves and in doing so fundamental transformed, over time, almost every region of the continent. They carved out fields, established villages, planted wheat, imported livestock, and perhaps most successfully, weeds and vermin, that were unknown in the Americas previously. Colonists reorganized new world ecologies and landscapes to suit their food needs and their aesthetic purposes, which is to say they set about making the ‘new’ world look, taste, smell and feel like the old. Because Europe and North America exist in relatively similar climatic zones, European plants and animals did quite well in their new homes. Slowly European landscapes expanded to cover more and more American soil. One need only look at the ubiquity of dandelions, native to Eurasia, to understand the extent, both intended and unintended, of European biological imperialism.

This form of colonization was not unique to North America. South America, Australia and New Zealand all were transformed by the ability of European biology to adapt to new areas with the help and encouragement of European settlers. The ability of Europeans to bring their lives with them gave them an advantage over indigenous populations wherever they went. It reduced the need to adapt both physically and culturally to new lifeways, new foods and new disease environments. Europeans simply brought these things with them and forced others to adapt to their ways.

This was not an easy process and it did not take place over night. The stories of early settlement are filled with failures, starvation and suffering. Initially, Europeans relied on help from local populations. Indigenous peoples, often driven by an ethics of incorporating outsiders as a way of pacifying them, tended to welcome the newcomers, providing them with food and aid. At Jamestown and Plymouth, the English died in the first winter of settlement before they began to plant American corn and other local foods (an event celebrate each year at Thanksgiving). Dutch settlers along the Hudson River also took up planting corn. When Indigenous peoples in these regions began to die in the 1630s from European diseases, settlers simply took over abandon fields and began planting them, initially on native patterns, but over time transforming them into  Dutch, English or French countryside with an American twist.

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French settler field patterns along the St Lawrence River

By the 1640s settlers in New England and New France were cultivating wheat rather than corn. A period of adaptation was required for both Europeans and their accompanying plants and animals to take hold, but once they did the process was not to be reversed. Not only did Europeans revert to familiar diets, Native peoples in the Americas soon began to adopt the foods of the newcomers, as more and more of their land was taken up for the farming of European cereals and livestock. In the twentieth century, the industrial production of cheap processed foods made this change near total, and rates of diet-based diseases such as diabetes and obesity soared amongst Indigenous peoples unaccustomed to high fat, high sugar foods.

That colonization is an ecological and biological process as well as a political and culture one is being driven home through the Decolonizing Diet Project at Northern Michigan University. The purpose of this project is to develop diets based only on traditional pre-contact Anishinaabe Ojibway foods from the Great Lakes region. “Traditional” for this project means no pre-contact foods: beef, mutton, goat, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, butter, cream, wheat flour, rye, barley, black-eyed peas are all out. No processed foods even if the base is corn or potatoes. Drinks consist of water and herbal teas. Chocolate is not on the list unless it is unsweetened or sweetened with honey (of the Melipona bee–honey bees are indigenous to Europe) or fruit.

This is not a simple or trendy paleolithic diet. It is as much about community and decolonization as it is about food. It asks people to consider not just where food comes from, but also what it means culturally and how it has changed and evolved historically; the impact it has had both positive and negative on people and the environment. At a time when eating local has become a mantra of the environmental movement, it asks, “what is local?”  What does it mean to ‘eat local’ when most of what we in North America understand as local ultimately came from somewhere else?

The DDP group site contains numerous useful resources including grocery lists, meal plans and recipes: wild blueberry pudding; Sweat potato and wild leak soup; pumpkin blueberry muffins; crockpot cranberry turkey; sweet potato pancakes; corn silk tea; minty wild rice salad; great northern bean casserole; baked lake trout; bison burger; hominy grits, etc.

Some participants have decided to convert entirely to a decolonized diet, others have proceeded more slowly. The diet certainly isn’t for everyone. The import of the project is found in the awareness it raises of just how fundamentally, down to a biological level, colonization has changed the Americas and the people who live here. Thinking about ecology and environment as subjects of historical forces of colonialism reinforces how empire remains a part of day-to-day life for everyone in North America. In just 500 years, the landscape we live in has been completely transformed not just in appearance, but also in the kinds of life it sustains and how it does so.

Great Barrier Reef obituary

The Guardian has published on its website an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef that traces the history of the reef from its creation, through its initial discovery by Europeans in the 18th century, to its reinvention as a tourist site and now a dumping ground for Australia’s mining industry, and finally its impeding demise due to climate change. It is a beautiful and terrible account of the impact of human activity on one of the most amazing and significant ecological formations on earth. Great Barrier Reef Obituary

Walking the (pipe)line

Yesterday was such a “beautiful” Vancouver day that I decided to go for a walk on Burnaby Mountain. I had heard a story on the radio that morning about Kinder Morgan’s plans to twin their TransMountain Pipeline, which carries  crude oil from Alberta oil fields to the Westridge Marine Terminal on Burrard Inlet. I decided to find the pipeline route and follow it.

Kinder Morgan’s plans, if approved by the National Energy Board, would triple the current capacity of the 60-year old pipeline and increase tanker traffic off the west coast an estimated 7 times. The Cities of Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver and Burnaby have all sought intervener status at the hearings into the project. Burnaby, especially, has come out in opposition to the project because of the risk of spills and effects on the community. In 2007, a spill released 250,000 litres of crude oil, 70,000 of which ended up in the ocean. The map shows the existing pipeline in blue and the proposed new expansion in red.

The line is easy to find. Since the 2007 spill, the company has been required to clearly mark it’s route.

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It passes along major road ways, under recreation trails and through parks. At one point, it even seemed to pass beneath an elementary school.

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It crosses several watercourses, some one which are included in efforts to revitalize salmon spawning streams in the area.

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And at one point, a recreation trail that shares its name with the pipeline passes along the perimeter of a holding facility.

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This pipeline has become such a part of the landscape that in now defines the route that roadways take, and the ways that residential neighbourhoods have developed on the slopes of Burnaby Mountain. Homes line the spill way below holding tanks presumably filled with oil.

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The pipeline itself dates from the very origins of the development of an oil industry in Alberta, and the first efforts to move hydrocarbons from the land-locked interior to global markets. Realizing that I was stand just feet above moving sludge that had come across the Rocky Mountains somehow made immediate the history of oil in this region, but also the current debates about what to do with this resource today. There is no doubt of the impact of the pipeline on the local landscape, and any expansion is bound to effect the communities the new line passes through in incalculable ways. It is easy to read this history imprinted on the landscape, and also to recognize the impact and threat that further development poses even beyond the effects of tar sands development on global warming. This stuff is in our backyards, and beneath our playgrounds and schools, not just in Burnaby, but along all major pipeline routes such as Line 9 in Ontario.

On April 12, there will be a public walk along the pipeline route organized by Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE), the goal of which is to increase public awareness about the impact of the pipeline by making its physical reality a social one too. Everyone is welcome.

Louisbourg Soldiers’ Bread

A couple of years ago I spent a week on an archaeological dig at the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Louisbourg was a French fortified town founded in 1713 to protect the North American fishery and serve as a western Atlantic entrepôt in France’s imperial network, linking colonies in the Caribbean with Canada and France itself. The town grew very quickly both as a fishing station and trading port, but also as a military installation that allowed France to control access to the Saint Lawrence River. As such, it attracted the attention of both the British and American colonists who conquered it, twice. The first conquest, carried out primarily by American militia, occurred in 1745 and resulted in a three-year occupation before the town was returned to France. The second, carried out by the regular British army and navy, occurred in 1758. The French population was deported to France and ten years later the British leveled the town.

Louisbourg Harbour, 1758

Louisbourg Harbour, 1758

Afterward, a small fishing village slowly grew up beside the old town, but the site of the fortress itself remained largely untouched until the 1960s when the Canadian government decided to resurrect the town as a national historic site and reconstruct a significant portion for visitors to experience life in an eighteenth century colonial centre.

The Dauphin Gate

The Dauphin Gate

Louisbourg Harbour Light

Louisbourg Harbour Light

Archaeological work as been ongoing since then and in 2005 a public archaeology program began for amateurs like me to get their hands dirty.

Participants in the program worked primarily in the De la Vallières yard. De la Vallières was a successful trader in the town and the yard behind his house served as a warehouse and place of business for himself, his employees, and customers. The area is therefore full of archaeology that provides evidence of the kind and extent of trading carried out in the town. Fragments of wine bottles from France, Britain, New England and Spain have been found there. Pottery and ceramics of varying quality from the mundane to the best Chinese porcelain have all turned up in Louisbourg, illustrating the range of goods and the breadth of trading relationships that linked Louisbourg to the globe. Most abundant are the remains of clay pipes used by workmen on a daily basis and tossed away, crushed underfoot as people went about their activities. We also found the remains of a shattered mortar bomb lobbed over the city walls by British siege forces in July of 1758. The De la Vallières yard was a place of business, of leisure time, of trade, and also of war. The dig was a fascinating and invaluable experience.

Digging in the De la Vallières Yard

Digging in the De la Vallières Yard

The people who participated came for all kinds of reasons. As a historian who mostly reads about such things, digging in the ground, uncovering the daily lives of people from 300 years ago, put flesh on the bones of history. Another participant was interested in costume, and was there to learn more about how people dressed at the time and also how the museum today uses costume to create and enhance the experiences of present-day visitors. Another person seemed to be a kind of serial public archaeologist, traveling from dig to dig in the summer months. And then there were the two women in a Winnebago traveling around and looking for unusual and interesting things to do.

In addition to the dig, however, the public archaeology program provided an opportunity to experience all aspects of life in the reconstructed city. For example, archaeologists, historians, and plant biologists have worked together to reconstruct eighteenth-century kitchen gardens from documentary and seed evidence. The photo on the banner of this blog is of one of these gardens. And the food. Using French recipe books and commissary records from the French military, historians have reconstructed, and chefs have remade, the food Louisbourgeois would have eaten. Parks Canada has posted some of these recipes on their website and when I got home I began making eighteenth-century soldiers’ bread.

Each member of the Louisbourg garrison would have received a daily ration of salt pork stew and one six-pound loaf of  bread every four days. Since these were the days before preservatives and Wonderbread, a loaf would have been stale by the second day and hard as rocks by the fourth, so soldiers teamed up into groups of four to share one fresh loaf everyday. It wasn’t a lot, but it got them through.

I am far from an experienced baker, but this bread is the easiest I have made. And it takes very little time (not counting the time needed for the dough to rise). Originally, the king’s bakers in Louisbourg would have used stone-ground whole wheat or rye flour. I have used everything from stone-ground hard flour from the Arva Flour Mill just outside London, ON, to regular grocery store white flour without any trouble. Though, I have had the best results with organic, local flour.

Ingredients

  • ½ tbsp | 8 g of dry yeast
  • 1½ cups | 350 ml of lukewarm water
  • ½ tbsp | 4 g salt
  • 3 cups | 750 ml stone-ground whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup | 250 ml stone-ground rye flour

Directions

  • Follow the yeast package directions to get started. Mix in a large bowl: the yeast preparation, any remaining water and one third of the flour. Beat for at least 100 strokes. Cover and let rise for ½ hour.
  • Beat down and fold in the salt. Add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time until a workable dough forms that is not too stiff. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead until smooth, about 5 or 6 minutes, adding flour as required to prevent sticking. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Depending on the weather, this could take between 4 and 12 hours. Punch down, let rise again until double in bulk. (A second rising improves the texture and taste. This step may be skipped). Punch down and turn dough out on floured surface and knead slightly. Divide dough into 2 equal portions and shape into rounds. Let these rise until the surface of the dough yields to the touch, about a half hour. Place on greased baking sheets and bake in an oven pre-heated to 400°F (200°C) for 25-30 minutes.

Credits

Recipe tested by Chef David Fairbanks, Algonquin College of Hospitality and Tourism. This traditional recipe was submitted by Parks Canada staff.

Making the Dough

Making the Dough

Rising

Rising

Kneading

Kneading

For good directions on how to Knead, go here.

Ready to Bake

Ready to Bake

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

So simple.

Unfortunately, as I was baking my latest loaf and writing this blog post, it became apparent to me that the Public Archaeology program at Louisbourg no longer exists. It seems it last ran in 2012. I have written to Parks Canada for confirmation, but as yet have received no reply. Since 2012, the only reference I have been able to find to any archaeology taking place at Louisbourg whatsoever, cites the construction of a new coastal trail done without the input of archaeologists and that managed to destroy a coastal fishing shed and house. For some years now it seems the only scientific excavations taking place at Louisboug, with the exception of the work in the De la Vallières yard, have been of the rescue and site protection variety. As the sea slowly and steadily erodes the site, much archaeology is lost each year and along with it, knowledge.

There has been much attention recently on federal cuts to science and research in Canada, and efforts by the present government to suppress knowledge it finds inconvenient (as I have discussed before). Parks Canada has not been spared these cuts and it seems Public Archaeology and, indeed, most archaeological work at Louisbourg  has fallen victim. It is not only science the Conservatives dislike, but also human sciences, at least those that do not uphold their nationalistic, militaristic, and imperial view of Canada. Rather than research and knowledge creation, Parks Canada now focuses on visitor experience. Where once Public Archaeology filled the August calendar at the Fortress, now there is a rock concert. Not exactly the kind of rock I would hope to find at Louisbourg.

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Neil Young’s “Honour the Treaties” Tour, Science, and the Tar Sands

Living sustainably in the 21st Century not only means making your own beer at home, but also doing something about the toxic brews others are creating out in the wider world.

One of my favourite musicians, Neil Young, has begun a new cross-Canada tour to promote awareness about the Tar Sands and Indigenous rights, called the ‘Honour the Treaties’ Tour. Neil discusses the tour and the ideas behind it in his own idiosyncratic way with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC radio here.

The point of the tour is to highlight broken treaties with the First Nations population of Canada and of Alberta in particular, the impacts of Tar Sands development on the First Nations population, and the environmental impact this industry has on us all in Canada and around the world. This is a reminder that, to paraphrase the findings of the Ipperwash inquiry into the shooting of Indigenous activist Dudley George in Ontario in 1995, “We are all treaty peoples.” Whether Indigenous or not, all Canadians are signatories to the treaties made between the crown and First Nations and all of us have a duty to uphold them.

Neil also raises the issue of science on the heals of an excellent documentary by the CBC program The Fifth Estate that documents the Canadian Government’s assault on science and knowledge in the interest of policy–specifically its single-minded quest to develop the Tar Sands and the broader resource economy in Canada no matter the social and environmental costs. The documentary is streaming here and is well worth a look. In reality, this assault on knowledge has been going on for years, and what The Fifth Estate has highlighted is just how easy it has been for the government to carry out these programs of destruction with the tacit approval of the population because most people just don’t know what is happening. This research, the accumulated knowledge of decades, belongs not to the Conservative Party of Canada, not to Stephen Harper, but to Canadians. Replacing it when these guys are gone will be a herculean task.

And by the way, Fort Mac really does smell–of sulfur and gasoline, like Neil says in the interview. A bit like the devil might smell.

On the other hand, the maple beer smells excellently, and tastes even better. Good news!