Sustainability Through the Decades: Conservation in the 1900’s

Sustainability Through the Decades: Conservation in the 1900’s

Concerns about future generations and the longevity of our planet have been a continual conversation, sparking protest and action throughout the decades. While our grandparents may have been fighting for conservation and protesting anti-nuclear movements, our parents were perhaps more focused on leading anti-fur revolutions or saving trees from excessive logging. More recently, millennial and Gen Z populations have become highly concerned about single-use plastics, mass extinction, and climate change. While sustainability focuses may be continually evolving and growing across generations, the mission has remained the same: collective organization in the face of current environmental dangers.

We’ve been very interested in this concept of intergenerational sustainability, wondering how various generations approached their own eco-movements. This mentality has sparked our new blog series titled, Sustainability Through the Decades. Each month, we’ll outline a decade or two and highlight a key sustainable movement of that generation. To begin this series, we’re considering the 1900s conservation movement in Canada, led by individuals who wished to protect the biodiversity of the natural world and promote sustainable lifestyles.

In the early 1900s, Canada’s natural resources were facing rapid depletion. Rising industrialization and urban expansion fueled the decrease of these resources as colonists viewed the vast landscapes of Canada as inexhaustible. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the gradual change of landscapes from wilderness to farmland, prompted communities to consider the benefits of preservation. One specific industry tackling these conversations was forestry. On the front lines of foresting, lumbermen saw first-hand the rapid depletion of Canadian forests. As a result, these workers advocated for controlled foresting lands – maintaining others for growth and sustainability while allocating certain areas to resource accumulation.

Around the same time, Canada began to consider the importance of protecting larger swaths of land across the country, to maintain diverse untouched ecosystems. In 1885, Canada developed its first national park, Banff. While the initial intention of this decision may have been more closely tied to economic value, relying on the ability to welcome tourists who may be traversing the newly built Canadian Pacific Railway, its development sparked a variety of National Parks, which later led to the Canadian National Parks Act of 1930.

There were a variety of other conservation movements tied to the 1900s. These included the development of a bird sanctuary in Saskatchewan, the re-population of bison which were placed in national parks, and the development of antelope reserves (which have since been abolished). 

Across these conservation efforts, the intention may have differed in various movements from protecting natural species to creating untouched locations for tourism; however, the value of conservation during these decades was significant in maintaining a variety of Canadian landscapes and building an ecologically diverse future. Thank you for joining us in exploring sustainability in the 1900s. Next month we’ll explore the 1960s and consider the anti-nuclear movement and Canada’s Greenpeace collective.


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