While serving as history curator at the Royal B.C. Museum for more than 30 years, Dr. Robert Griffin wrote many articles on the forest and mining industries. Upon retirement, Dr. Griffin co-authored (with Nancy Oke, a research volunteer at the Royal B.C. Museum, and Greg Evans) Feeding the Family: 100 Years of Food and Drink in Victoria (RBCM 2011). The book includes more than 200 photos.

In 2014, Dr. Griffin and Lorne Hammond co-authored Stewards of the People's Forests: A Short History of the British Columbia Forest Service (RBCM 2014), about the men and women who have worked in the management of B.C.'s forests. The book covers the creation of the British Columbia Forest Branch in 1912 - renamed the Forest Service in 1947 - to the announcement by Premier Gordon Campbell on October 25, 2010 that the BC Forest Service would be disbanded and its duties divided between the Ministry of Forest Lands and Mines and the Ministry of Resource Operations. It relates not just the big stories involving major personalities, such as H.R. MacMillan, Ernest Manning, C.D. Orchard and Ray Williston, but also the foresters, rangers and firefighters on the frontlines striving to protect BC’s forests. Told through excerpts from research and interviews the authors conducted as well as snippets of information from radio shows, government records and obscure newsletters (such as what it takes to make a Forest Ranger in the comic "Recipe for a Ranger") ultimately the book demonstrates the evolution of British Columbians’ relationship with their forests.

In 2016, Rick Rajala and Robert Griffin’s The Sustainability Dilemma examined issues that arose for the Forest Service, the forest industry and British Columbians in general over a roughly 60-year period, starting from 1930s. Chiefly it presents different viewpoints as to how the BC Forest Service managed forests before the word ecology gave rise to sustainability concerns. The authors seek to highlight historical events that have been largely forgotten by the public and mostly unexamined by scholars. In doing so, they unveil some of the larger power dynamics beyond the efforts to practice sustained-yield and multiple-use forestry methods.


The Sustainability Dilemma (RBCM 2016) with Richard Rajala

Stewards of the People's Forests: A Short History of the British Columbia Forest Service (RBCM 2014) $22.95 978-0-7726-6832-5

Feeding the Family (RBCM 2011) $29.95 978-0-7726-6343-6

[BCBW 2016]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Feeding the Family: 100 Years of Food and Drink in Victoria
Stewards of the People's Forests: A Short History of the British Columbia Forest Service

The Sustainability Dilemma: Essays on British Columbia Forest and Environmental History (RBCM $34.95)
Review (2017)

from Graeme Wynn (Ormsby Review 2017)
The Sustainability Dilemma: Essays on British Columbia Forest and Environmental History (RBCM $34.95) explores and revisits contested issues, policies and campaigns concerning the management of B.C. forests and the forest industry’s impact on freshwater ecosystems.

To do so, authors Robert Griffin and Richard A. Rajala plunge into a vast assortment of departmental files, parliamentary debates, official records, and contemporary commentaries pertaining to the forests of B.C.

Beginning with Royal Commissioner Gordon Sloan’s support for forest management on “Sustained Yield” principles in his Royal Commission report of 1945, and proceeding through the expansion of pulp-milling operations in the 1960s, to consider controversies over extensive clear-cutting in the 1970s and 1980s, they offer an account centred on the political debates over, and policy choices pertaining to, provincial forests during these years.

In broad outline, this is a familiar story, rooted in political economy but with evident “political-environmental” dimensions. Jeremy Wilson, Gordon Hak, Patricia Marchak, Roger Hayter, and others, have provided (inevitably incomplete) interpretations of it in the last 30 years or so.

Both Griffin and Rajala completed doctoral dissertations on B.C.’s forests. Griffin served as history curator at the Royal BC Museum with special interest in the mining and forest industries for more than thirty years, and Rajala, an associate professor in the history department at UVic, has devoted his scholarly career to understanding B.C.

Both know the province’s archives intimately and here they join together to focus on “historical events… [that] have been largely forgotten by the public and largely unexamined by scholars.”

The Sustainability Dilemma is a book in two parts, each reflecting the particular interests of its authors. Griffin wrote the three chapters that make up the first third of the book. The first of these traces B.C. forest policy through the labyrinth of regulations produced by efforts to implement the guiding principle of sustained yield while meeting industry’s diverse needs, responding to shifting government directives, reflecting different regional conditions, and doing so with inadequate information.

Griffin’s second chapter limns industry’s response to the government’s sustained yield policies by tracing the efforts of the Western Plywood (later Weldwood, then West Fraser) Company to establish a dominant position in B.C.’s central interior, and his third chapter centres on Forest Minister Ray Williston’s introduction of Pulp Harvesting Areas to promote economic development through the construction of pulp mills. Here Griffin again focuses, by way of illustration, on the Weldwood company’s efforts to build a mill in Quesnel.

Rajala follows, filling out the remainder of the book with a pair of case studies focused on the impact of the forest industry on freshwater ecosystems. Dealing with the controversial Stellako River log drives in the central interior in the 1960s and the Riley Creek/ Rennell Sound landslides on Haida Gwaii in the following decade, these are long (over 100 pages each) and detailed exegeses.
Griffin has the lighter touch. His 30- to 50-page chapters move the story along and, in my view at least, his discussion of the Western Plywood/ Weldwood ventures is a valuable contribution to understanding the development of the forest industry in B.C. in the third quarter of the twentieth century.

Read The Sustainability Dilemma for a deft interpretation of the reasons for, and the challenges posed by, the rise of the pulp and paper industry, and for the book’s “definitive” accounts of the Stellako and Riley Creek controversies. Admire and ponder its many illustrations. But always remember that history is at its best, most powerful, and most useful when it fires the imagination rather than when it rests content with recounting facts.


Historical geographer Graeme Wynn has had a career-long fascination with and involvement in environmental history. He was editor of BC Studies (2008-2016). In 2017 he will become president of the American Society for Environmental History for a two-year term.