After a quick summary of the area's geological and Aboriginal history, Mason dedicates the bulk of her attention to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. we learn of fur trading, gold rushes, shipwrecks, ranching efforts, rcaf bases, resort tourism, hippies, and, finally, Long Beach's transition into Pacific Rim National Park in 1971.
in chapters 12 and 13, the authors trace the changing politics of who gets to "speak" for the Bow, from governments that placed abstract boundaries over the river for the benefit of private use in the first part of the century, to First Nations, farmers, activists, and scientists who, since the 1960s, forced governments to regulate river use. First Nations viewpoints, which are mostly derived from secondary sources and government files, and the parts of the book that draw closer to the present, where archival access restrictions limit the amount of available material, could have especially benefitted from such an expanded research methodology.
Pyne is a master historian whose command of language is elegant and evocative, and he uses it to great effect in each section to describe recurring and intertwining themes -what he calls "nested narratives" - such as climate, fire as a historical agent, and humans and the institutions they have created to manage fire. we learn of the constant battle between fire and ice to form Canada's fire rings (to which global warming adds an interesting new twist); Canada's most famous fires, such as the 1825 Mirimachi fire in New Brunswick or the 2003 fires near Kelowna; and of how a continuum of fire witnesses and "experts" - including naturalist Henry Hind (whose description of prairie fire as "an awful splendour" provides Pyne's title), Canadian geological surveyor Robert Bell, and "tracer index" creators James Wright and Herbert Beali - described and tried to grapple with Canadian wildfire.