Openings: A Meditation on History, Method, and Sumas Lake
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
J.H. Galloway is a professor of geography at the University of Toronto.
This rather curious book (with an unhelpful title) deals with the
draining of Sumas Lake, in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, in the
1920s. As a result of the draining, the lake floor became rich farmland
and local mosquito infestation was reduced (the lake had been a major
breeding site). The author is not satisfied with the discussions of this
event that have been published in local and provincial histories. She
considers them one-sided, emphasizing “progress” and paying little
attention to what was lost by the drainage of the lake. It had been a
place of recreation for settler British Columbians and an economic
resource for the indigenous population. Fair enough: there is always
room for new interpretations.
But Cameron has not written a revisionist history. Instead she has
given us a book about the problems of writing such a history. As her
subtitle has it, this is a “Mediation on History, Method and Sumas
Lake.” One aim “is to demonstrate that the honouring of place, no
matter how changed, provides one positive opening for interconnected and
engaged history.” She begins with a long play on the meanings of the
words openings and opening (in the singular it is the title of her first
chapter). The second chapter, “Listening for Pleasure,” is a
discussion of oral history, illustrated with examples of people’s
recollections of Sumas Lake. In “Margins and Mosquitoes” she
comments on the archival record, and in “Memory Device” returns
again to recollections.
It is difficult to know what to make of this work. The methodological
comments are not very original. Cameron does not provide a rigorous
counterpoint to the type of history that dissatisfies her. This is
neither an environmental history nor an account from an indigenous point
of view. Through photos and the recollections she reports, there emerges
a sense of the place that the drainage of the lake destroyed.
Postmodernist history, perhaps?