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Canadian History Week: Prize-winning historical research at Laurentian University

Congratulations to Dr. Mark Kuhlberg, Full Professor in the Department of History, for winning the Political History Group Book Prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association for his book In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894-1932, published by The University of Toronto Press, 2015. Dr. Kuhlberg’s book was selected out of over 30 nominated titles for the prize.

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Current research project: Dr. Kuhlberg is writing a book about the early history of forest entomology in Canada. Between 1927 and 1930, our country led the world in conducting experiments in using chemicals dumped from aircraft to kill forest insects. While this is a remarkable tale that has never been told, the surprising aspect of it is the fact that roughly half the projects were carried out to satisfy the demands of recreationists. They espoused a love of “wilderness” and literally demanded that deadly toxins be used to destroy the bugs that threatened the health of their beloved trees. In taking this stand, they could not see the irony of arguing that the best way to “save” the parts of nature they cherished was to kill the elements of it that they despised.

Dr. Kuhlberg is also overseeing a project to help Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2017. He will be working with several students to produce roughly a dozen vignettes that highlight the Ministry’s greatest achievements over the last 50 years.

In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894-1932 (UTP, 2015) chronicles the rise and fall of Ontario’s pulp and paper industry between 1894 and 1932. In doing so, it demonstrates that we have long misunderstood the relationship that developed between the mill owners and the provincial government. It has been argued for over four decades that the politicians at Queen’s Park – and all provincial capitals in Canada – fell all over themselves in trying to help the paper makers establish and expand their operations. This book makes clear, however, that this was hardly the case. The provincial government had many reasons to offer the pulp and paper industry a cool reception and relatively little support as it established itself in Ontario. These included the drive to colonize the province’s northern reaches, the politicians’ existing loyalty to the lumbermen and the pulpwood exporters, and the dangers inherent in being associated with “big business” during an era when “titans of industry” were hardly beloved by the general public. Most importantly, the politicians saw the province's pulpwood and water powers first and foremost as commodities to be used for political gain. Doling them out according to patronage considerations was thus the goal, and a remarkable tale – often involving corrupt dealings – was the result. For these reasons, this book offers a remarkable new perspective on the dynamics that shaped relations between industry and government in Ontario’s forests.