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Canada Day Talk Features UAlberta Press Author PearlAnn Reichwein

Paris Lectures on Canadian Mountain Studies Features UAP Author PearlAnn Reichwein

In Paris, historian PearlAnn Reichwein gave an international lecture on Canadian Mountain Studies on July 1. Her plenary address to the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport (ISHPES) annual congress meeting focused on the topic “Climber’s Paradise and Canada’s Mountain Parks: Adventure and Conservation in the 20th Century and Beyond.” In it she explored the history of Canada’s national mountaineering club and broader issues of national park and conservation history as it relates to global sustainability. “Physical educators, recreation, sport, and tourism all have a role to play understanding mountains and sustainability,” she stated. “With the largest national park system in the world, Canada has much knowledge to share but also needs to rethink its current directions for the future.”

“People are interested to hear more about nature, outdoor pursuits, and what Canada has to contribute, in so many ways, to further international discussion,” said Reichwein, an associate professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. “I was delighted to spend Canada Day talking about Canadian Mountain Studies in Paris with colleagues from around the world. We have a lot to share in conversations about mountains around the world.”

Mountaineering and Tourism

Invited to l’Université de Paris-Est Marne (UPEM) as a visiting professor for the month of June, Reichwein gave several research lectures and visited the French Alps. She travelled to Chamonix and was fresh off the Aiguille du Midi (3842m), observing mountaineers and industrial tourism in action. Steady rain in the valleys did nothing to deter her from seeing Mt. Blanc, a birthplace of mountaineering and alpine tourism. “Clouds lifted off suddenly and islands of peaks towered above a sea of clouds – Mt. Blanc, the Grandes Jorasses, and le Dent du Géant – in absolutely brilliant snow and sunshine. Every direction was dazzling and took my breath away. Climbers winding down ridges were miniscule on the glacier as birds soared high above,” said Reichwein. “Caspar David Friedrich’s painting of ‘A Wander above the Clouds’ (1818) came to mind. He got it right in so many ways – visually and philosophically. To see it myself in the Alps was a moment of clarity.”

Mountaineering culture and history significant in Canadian landscapes are the subject of her research and lectures given in Paris. They also pointed to international connections in a global mountain world. “Canada has long been part of an international mountain world and I learned more to understand past and future trends.”

Collaborations with colleagues at UPEM were rewarding where she lectured in French to members of the departments of history, geography and urban studies on topics central to her research program in Canadian Mountain studies. Another talk addressed graduate students in the first ever International Summer School in Sports Science at UPEM, hosted by the department of Sciences et Techniques des Activités Physiques et Sportives (STAPS) and organized by historian Dr. Pierre-Olaf Schut. Memories of the Yukon St. Elias Centennial Expedition in 1967 and mountaineering commemorations of Canada’s 100th birthday was the focus. “Understanding memory and nationhood in commemoration embodied by mountaineers has public relevance as Canada ramps up its 150th anniversary in 2017. We need to listen for the many voices and silences of commemoration.”

National Parks and the Future

Her visit to Mt. Blanc, on the border between France and Italy, also underscored differences. “The Alps are highly engineered for industrial tourism, covered with commercial lifts and service infrastructure. National parks and conservation came late to France and most of the Alps are open for development. Canada’s national parks and protected spaces are world renowned for wild lands and wildlife. It’s what people love. Mountains are also habitat and essential as water towers. It takes public debate and strong public land management to ensure parks are protected for future generations, not loved to death or overdeveloped.”

Her research explains many shifts in Canada’s history of mountain parks and protected areas, and times the pendulum of public debate swung toward conservation advocacy. “It is due for a major correction to shift renewed emphasis back to fundamental mandates for conservation and ecology in Canadian national parks,” she comments as to the current situation of Parks Canada’s approval for glacier skywalks, ski hills, hotels, via ferrata, and cycling infrastructure. Tourism and service expansion has to have limits for good reason, particularly with national parks in Alberta as a hotspot for visitation and current development controversies.

“Do we really want the Canadian Rockies to be another French Alps when it comes to overdevelopment? I think Canadians and international visitors see the differences and value the public protection Canada affords within its national park system and governance. We need to keep it top of mind to serve future generations. Unique ecosystems, communities, and regional economies are at stake. To get it right takes ongoing dialogue and sound management to preserve public stewardship as required by law.”

Sustainability Lessons

Mountains are not for mountaineers alone. Mountain lovers come in all forms and ages, and can all play a role to improve sustainability and conservation practices. Taking on-the-ground lessons home from special places like national parks or urban natural areas ties back to living local and thinking global. Often enough active citizens are key to such achievement and Reichwein serves on the U of A’s Sustainability Advisory Committee and is proud of recent advances in campus sustainability.

Her research figures in University of Alberta’s multidisciplinary Canadian Mountain Studies Initiative and involves teaching graduate students across campus as well as internationally. Climber’s Paradise: Making Canada’s Mountain Parks, 1906-1974 (2014) was published by University of Alberta Press and awarded many accolades from a Canadian Historical Association Clio Prize to finals at the Banff Festival of Mountain Film and Book Festival, an IndieBest honourable mention for Ecology and Environment, and AAUP’s book design awards. It also garnered her Faculty’s Research Award of Merit for 2015.

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