Tracing the Roots of the Environmental Movement in Canada

One of the major challenges facing a historian is tracing the origins of an event. I've assigned myself the task of determining when and why the environmental movement started in Toronto. There are a lot of ways to look at this. In my work I differentiate between the development of an "environmental ethos" and the "environmental movement." For example, Jennifer Read argues in "'Let us heed the voice of youth': Laundry Detergents, Phosphates and the Emergence of the Environmental Movement in Ontario" that environmental values were in place in Ontario by the mid-1960s. That's wonderful, but without a concerted effort to effect change we don't have much of a movement.

I begin my study by examining The Air of Death, a controversial CBC documentary that was broadcast in October 1968. It caused such a sensation that it became the subject of two high profile investigations. Industry's efforts to discredit the film, producer Larry Gosnell, host Stanley Burke (pictured above), and the CBC itself ultimately inspired a reaction among Torontonians, and resulted in the formation of the city's initial environmentalist organizations. It is here, I argue, that we see the birth of the movement.

I recently completed revising the latest draft of my chapter on The Air of Death. I'll be presenting this at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, scheduled to occur in Ottawa this coming May. If you happen to be around I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.