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Oct. 26, 2018

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The Environmental Conservation collection at the Laurier Archives is a rich resource for students and scholars looking to delve into the history of environmental conservation in Canada. As such, researchers from a variety of disciplines – environmental studies, history, political science, geography, have consulted the collection over the years.

However, it is not often that you get a doctoral student in design utilizing the materials in the Laurier Archives.

Enter Julia Smachylo, Doctor of Design candidate at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, and recipient of the 2018 Joan Mitchell Travel Award.

Working at the intersection of political ecology, environmental studies and urban planning, Smachylo identified the Laurier Archives as an essential trove of records as she completes her dissertation on the changing political landscape of environmental management, and how that influences the spatial manifestation of the forests and cities of southern Ontario.

Smachylo describes this part of the country as “a region faced with competing pressures for urban growth and environmental management” that serves as a unique case study when examining the “trajectory of forest conservation incentive programs in North America.”

In order to, in her words, “trace the evolution of environmental stewardship practices” in Ontario, Smachylo first consulted the George Priddle fonds.  The records of Priddle, a former Laurier professor and chairperson for the Ontario Provincial Parks Council, shed light on the development of provincial parks in the 1970s. Smachylo believes that Ontario Provincial Parks Reports and other material in the fonds showcase a “shift between public and private responsibilities” in terms of natural resource management, signifying a dynamic paradigm shift in practice and philosophy.

Smachylo was also committed to consulting the papers of three diverse but prominent organizations – the Beaver Valley Heritage Society, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation. The BVHS material afforded insight on forestry practices in the region and the complexities, both philosophical and practical, that arise when governmental stewardship and that driven by citizens come into contact. Smachylo also explains that the CELA material provided “key insight into the reasons behind shifting responsibilities pertaining to land stewardship during a critical moment of program restructuring in forest management in southern Ontario.”

The Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation fonds, a relatively new addition to the Laurier Archives, were a particular boon to Smachylo who found the administrative records to be particularly illuminating of forest stewardship and restoration initiatives. She was also pleasantly surprised to find a variety of maps in the fonds which she believes will provide an additional element to her research.

Smachylo plans to include this wide variety of material into her doctoral dissertation after her “invaluable” visit to the Laurier Archives. She came seeking insight on the “changing actors and knowledge” at the nexus of politics, environmentalism and urban planning – and she found it.

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