Harm's Way: Disasters in Western Canada


291 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-091-2
DDC 971.2




Edited by Anthony Rasporich and Max Foran
Reviewed by Frits Pannekoek

Frits Pannekoek is the president of Athabasca University, and the author
of A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance of


Disasters are a key part of Canadian popular culture, but there has been
little analysis of how and which disasters have touched the Western
Canadian psyche. Max Foran and Anthony Rasporich, both professors at the
University of Calgary, have pulled together an impressive selection of
specially commissioned papers by leading Canadian historians. They range
from the expected (Patrick H. Brennan on Regina’s 1912 cyclone, J.M.
Bumsted on the Red River floods, Janice Dickin on the great influenza
epidemic) to the unexpected (Clint Evans on the more subtle disaster of
weed encroachment).

The West has been particularly vulnerable to ecosystem disaster, and
the disappearance of the buffalo is one disaster that should have
merited its own chapter. Of course, the greatest disaster was the
decimation of the Aboriginal populations in the 18th century through
small pox. A significant part of this book is devoted to agricultural
disasters. Foran’s outstanding analysis of the 1952 outbreak of
foot-and-mouth disease offers insight into the likely outcomes of
today’s BSE crisis.

The essays are not intended as “amusing doomsday scenarios for the
morbid imagination” but rather as events that shaped the “folk
narrative of experience and mythology of survival in western Canada.”
Foran and Rasporich point out that disasters have not been part of the
official regional or national narrative, but have instead been relegated
to the purview of the amateur local historian. Their book should
stimulate considerable reflection on how disasters—the stuff of local
histories—shaped the region.


“Harm's Way: Disasters in Western Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14796.