Views of the Salish Sea: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Change around the Strait of Georgia
Howard Macdonald Stewart
Reviewed by Richard M. Hutchings
Books can be deceiving. The “Salish Sea” is all the fashion today, and like all new things its overuse and abuse is predestined. As a place name, the Salish Sea refers minimally to the contiguous transnational body of water defined by the Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound (Washington State, 2017). More broadly – and more practically – the term refers to the Salish Sea basin, including both watershed and sea (Stefan, 2009a, 2009b). Despite all the excitement about the Salish Sea, in both academic and public spheres, there are surprisingly few books written on the subject, and this is not one of them.
Views of the Salish Sea (2017, Harbour Press) is the published version of Howard Stewart’s PhD dissertation (Department of Geography, University of British Columbia) (Stewart, 2014). The title of his dissertation, Five Easy Pieces on the Strait of Georgia—Reflections on the Historical Geography of the North Salish Sea, indicates to me the stand-alone “Salish Sea” moniker was added after the fact, likely by the book’s publisher to enhance sales. Regardless, the term Salish Sea is used in context only once in Stewart’s entire dissertation (2014:10) and not listed at all in the published version’s detailed index (287). This begs the question, if not about viewing the Salish Sea, then what?
A more accurate title for Stewart’s book would be “An Illustrated Maritime History of the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada, 1850-1980.” Unlike a holistic Salish Sea view, Views of the Salish Sea is limited by the self-imposed frame that is the colonially-defined “Strait of Georgia,” an exclusive, marine-centric approach that eschews that which is not provincial, Canadian, or corporate, including non-shoreline places, the southern half of the Salish Sea, and perspectives and uses outside of the historical mainstream. This is evident in the book’s three central themes: British Columbia, Canada, and industry, which constitute authorized heritage discourse (Smith, 2006). Stewart does try to challenge the dominant narrative, but only in a limited sense. But this still doesn’t answer the question of what this book is about.
The book contains seven chapters: (1) The Sea as Barrier, the Sea as Highway; (2) Empty Land or Stolen Land? The Colonial Strait; (3) Mining and Forestry; (4) Fish and Oysters; (5) The Strait as Waste Dump; (6) Recreation; and (7) Conclusions and Reflections. According to Stewart, “to really understand the Strait of Georgia as a highway or a barrier, an empty space or a stolen space, a resource mine, a waste dump or a recreational space, we need to know the other four stories and how all five relate to each other” (255).
Views of the Salish Sea is what I call a “hybrid” book, making it all the more difficult to pin down. Notably, the 274 page body of text includes 100 historic black and white photographs and maps, making it much more than your typical academic history book. Indeed, although annotated – some chapters significantly more than others – it is written and produced as a coffee table book for a general (non-academic) audience. It nevertheless addresses a range of themes and debates applicable to all.
Freelan, Stefan. 2009a. The Salish Sea and Surrounding Basin [Map]. Electronic document, https://huxley.wwu.edu/files/Freelan_SalishSea_250.pdf.
Freelan, Stefan. 2009b. The Salish Sea (and surrounding Basin). Electronic document, http://staff.wwu.edu/stefan/Maps/Salish_Sea_Details_11x17.pdf.
Smith, Laurajane. 2006. Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge.
Stewart, Howard MacDonald. 2014. Five Easy Pieces on the Strait of Georgia—Reflections on the Historical Geography of the North Salish Sea. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia. Electronic document, https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0166077.
Washington State Legislature. 2017. Chapter 237-990 WAC, Appendix—Determination of Geographic Names. Electronic document, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=237-990.