The Object's the Thing

The Writings of R. Yorke Edwards, a Pioneer of Heritage Interpretation in Canada

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Pub Date May 07 2021 | Archive Date Jul 30 2021
Royal BC Museum | The Royal British Columbia Museum


R. Yorke Edwards was a pioneer in the field of heritage interpretation in Canada. First with BC Parks and then with the Canadian Wildlife Service, throughout the 1960s Edwards developed an approach to the interpretation of natural and cultural history with a focus on the “real thing”—the object, the place, the process, the person—in front of a visitor. Almost everyone who has visited a Canadian park or museum has been touched by Edwards’s legacy—but few know his name.

R. Yorke Edwards was a pioneer in the field of heritage interpretation in Canada. First with BC Parks and then with the Canadian Wildlife Service, throughout the 1960s Edwards developed an approach...

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ISBN 9780772678515
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Featured Reviews

Much of the aspects we love about Canadian society exist because of the tireless work of dedicated public servants whose contributions are often lost to history; this book is the story of one such person. Through a collection of essays and Edwards' own writings, this text serves as an essential read for anyone interested in environmental history, history of the public service, pedagogy, and Canadiana.

The book itself is beautifully put together, the type faces and page arrangement are well designed and the entire book reads as a labour of love, perhaps to its own detriment. The author and contributors are, on the whole, unable to remove themselves from memorializing Edwards and they speak of him as if he could do no wrong, bestowing on him a level of sainthood that is, hilariously, somewhat of a tradition within Canadian historical biography. Also of note, there were several mentions of Wikipedia and other digital sources that are referred to in a way that is most inappropriate for a work of this nature. I was surprised to come across these uses and they suggested a lack of familiarity with digital sources, and put into question the professionalism of the text.

Despite the critiques, I am glad to have read this work. The work of dedicated civil servants is oft overlooked for more flashier figures in history, but it is the labour of love from these unsung heroes that often give us the programming and infrastructure we come to treasure.

*I received a copy of this book via Net Galley in exchange for a review*

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I received an electronic ARC via NetGalley.

This is an enjoyable book that, as the full title suggests, brings together a collection of writings by R. Yorke Edwards, one of the leading figures of nature interpretation in Canada in the 20th century, as well as some biographical information on his life.

For the most part, individual writings do not receive their own introductions. This makes sense and works, format-wise, because many are quite brief--there are articles aimed at both general and more specialist audiences, papers presented at conferences, information aimed at park staff, etc.

The writings are of their time--not everything is ageless, and things are up for debate. There is much written elsewhere on whether the idea of nature and "the wild" as untouched by humans ultimately a myth. But it is clear that Edwards cared deeply for the natural world, and that he wanted to share his love of it with others and expand the knowledge of the public so that they, too, would care. That is much of what interpretation is, at its best--and it shines through in many of the selections in this book.

Naturally, themes tend to echo through multiple sections. While some are more enjoyable than others, taken as a whole, they offer an interesting look at one portion of the development of interpretation in Canada. As a reader with some background in interpretation in the United States who has also visited parks in Canada, it's interesting to see how ideas and methods were exchanged between the two countries as modern interpretation was really developing and growing in parks.

It's an interesting book, and I'm looking forward to the next time I get to see interpretation in Canadian parks first-hand!

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