Waiser, William Andrew 1953-

views updated

WAISER, William Andrew 1953-

(Bill Waiser)

PERSONAL: Born June 6, 1953, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; son of Thaddeus and Jean (Ritchie) Waiser; married Marley English, August 22, 1975; children: Jess, Mike, Kate. Education: Trent University, B.A. (with honors), 1975; University of Saskatchewan, M.A., 1976, Ph.D., 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Canoeing, running, gardening.

ADDRESSES: Home—6 Arnason Cres., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7H 4MB, Canada. Office—Department of History, University of Saskatchewan, Arts Building, 9 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A5, Canada; fax: 306-955-6348. E-mail[email protected] usask.ca.

CAREER: University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, term lecturer, 1980-83, assistant professor, 1984-87, associate professor, 1987-90, professor of history, 1990—, graduate director, 1987-90, department head, 1995-98. Parks Canada, Prairie and Northern Regional Office, Yukon historian, 1983-84.

MEMBER: Canadian Historical Association (member of council, 1996-99), National History Society (Canada; member of board of directors, 2001—).

AWARDS, HONORS: Queen's fellowship, Canada Council; finalist for Governor-General's Literary Award for nonfiction, 1997, for Loyal till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion.

WRITINGS:

The Field Naturalist: John Macoun, the Geological Survey and Natural Science, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Saskatchewan's Playground: A History of Prince Albert National Park, Fifth House Publishers (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1989.

(Under name Bill Waiser; editor, with Dave De Brou) Documenting Canada: A History of Modern Canada in Documents, Fifth House Publishers (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1992.

The New Northwest: The Photographs of the Frank Crean Expeditions, 1908-1909, Fifth House Publishers (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1993.

Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western Canada's National Parks, 1915-1946, Fifth House Publishers (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1995.

(Under name Bill Waiser; with Blair Stonechild) Loyal till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion, Fifth House Publishers (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1997.

(Under name Bill Waiser; with Paul Dederick) Looking Back: True Tales from Saskatchewan's Past, Fifth House Publishers (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 2003.

(Under name Bill Waiser) All Hell Can't Stop Us: The On-to-Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot, Fifth House Publishers (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 2003.

Chair of advisory board, Canadian Historical Review, 2000-03.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A centennial history of the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, completion expected in 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: William Andrew Waiser is the author of several books which cover aspects of Canadian history. One of his earliest books, Saskatchewan's Playground: A History of Prince Albert National Park, provides a history of the development of a Canadian national park. Waiser covers many of the issues and opposing viewpoints that had to be dealt with as the park developed over the years, and his chapters are formed around each of these issues. For example, one chapter covers the politics of park development and relates how supporters made great progress towards their goals by lobbying certain influential people. The book also covers park topics such as wildlife management and differing expectations for public use of the park. During the summer months of the 1930s area residents had adopted the habit of setting up shacktent communities, or large enclaves of tents with wood walls and roofs, in the park. After World War II the Park Service began to change their management philosophy and attempted to get rid of the tents, which were no longer considered attractive. As Waiser relates, the disagreement was not fully settled, although some acceptable compromises were worked out. C. J. Taylor of the Canadian Historical Review found some of the coverage of the topic biased toward a human standpoint as opposed to a plant or animal frame of reference; for example, development is portrayed as positive. Taylor, however, called the park biography "among the best."

Waiser continued to explore the history of Canadian land use in The New Northwest: The Photographs of the Frank Crean Expeditions, 1908-1909. Crean, called a "hard drinking Irishman" by Gord Struthers of Canadian Geographic, was hired by the Canadian government to explore the possibility of land settlement in western Canada. Shortly after 1900, homesteading opportunities were becoming increasingly rare for immigrants to the country and the government was interested in finding other alternatives. Rumors circulated about land between Hudson Bay and the Rockies that was supposedly fertile for farming. Crean led two expeditions to the area and came back with positive but erroneous reports of the area's potential for agriculture—many of his conclusions were based on secondhand information and inaccurate photographs. The government enthusiastically received Crean's conclusions since they were what the government had been hoping to hear. Later forestry and soil reports actually showed the area to be poor for agricultural settlement.

In his review for Canadian Geographic, Struthers noted that he was impressed by the inclusion in the book of ninety-three black-and-white photographs from Crean's expeditions. While Struthers admitted that Waiser had relied on dull governmental reports for most of his information because Crean's journals were lost, Struthers called the book a "fascinating sliver of Western Canadian History." A Canadian Literature reviewer commented that the photographs portray "images of hard travel, of people in transition" which mirror the hopeful expectations prior to World War I.

Waiser continued on the topic of Canadian parks in Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western Canada's National Parks, 1915-1946. The book offers a unique view into park development labor methods and the creation of park facilities that many of today's visitors take for granted. In 1911 the first commissioner of parks, James Harkin, decided to use cheap labor to carry out park projects such as road improvements or facility construction. Many of those who were chosen to take part in this labor were society's undesirables, including the homeless, those without jobs, pacifists, foreign workers, and those who were considered subversive. According to Waiser these workers were housed in facilities akin to concentration camps. Workers were paid twenty-five cents per day, got little to eat, lacked warm clothing, and sometimes had to tramp miles through deep snow to get to work. Waiser's account of this time is based on research and actual interviews with people who were part of the park work camps.

R. W. Winks of Choice noted that a comparison by Waiser between the Canadian use of park labor and what other countries did to develop parks would have been of interest. Sid Marty of Canadian Geographic felt that the book gives surprising insights into Canadian classism and racism and called Park Prisoners a "lively, thought-provoking, and well researched history."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Beaver: Exploring Canada's History, February-March, 1997, p. 41.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1995, p. 286.

Canadian Geographic, May-June, 1994, Gord Struthers, review of The New Northwest: The Photographs of the Frank Crean Expeditions, 1908-1909, p. 100; May-June, 1996, Sid Marty, review of Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western Canada's National Parks, 1915-1946, pp. 93-94.

Canadian Historical Review, June, 1992, C. J. Taylor, review of Saskatchewan's Playground: A History of Prince Albert National Park, pp. 263-265; March, 1997, pp. 130-132.

Canadian Literature, summer, 1995, review of The New Northwest, pp. 165-166.

Canadian Materials, May, 1994, p. 89.

Choice, September, 1996, R. W. Winks, review of Park Prisoners, p. 200.