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The Canadian Spirit of John Muir

presentation by Connie Bresnahan

CHI 1996 John Muir Conference

"The Canadian Spirit of John Muir" :
The Influence of the Canadian Wilderness upon John Muir, and the influence of Muir's philosophy upon the beginnings of the Canadian Conservation Movement.


During his life, John Muir spent two uniquely different periods of time in Canada. Although he traveled in Canada on more than two occasions, the most profound experiences in the Canadian wilderness occurred during his two year sojourn in Ontario from March 1864 to March 1866 and during his two trips up the Stikine River into northwestern British Columbia in 1879.

This paper will address Muir's stay in Ontario and his adventures up the Stikine River from a Canadian historical perspective. Further, the paper will discuss how these uniquely Canadian experiences influenced Muir in the direction and nature of his life's work.

Within a Canadian historical perspective, this paper will discuss the characteristics of the people, the lifestyle, and the land of the Bruce Peninsula in Upper Canada, and the raw physical beauty and frontier mentality of the Stikine River region during the waning days of the Cassiar Gold Rush. The Muir who sailed aboard the "Cassiar" to the Gold Rush town of Glenora B.C. In 1879 was a profoundly different individual in many ways than the young man who resided in Meaford, Ontario. Included in this paper will be a discussion of these differences and how Canadian wilderness experience had a part in Muir's expanded focus.

The paper will also address the profound influence that the ideology and writings of Muir had upon the conservation philosophy of James Bernard Harkin, credited as the Father of Canadian National Parks. Harkin played a critical and primary role in the formation, organization and vision of national parks in Canada, and paid tribute to Muir by quoting directly from Muir's writings in his departmental correspondence. The strength of Harkin's philosophy has been instrumental in shaping National Parks of Canada policy to the present. This is testimony to both Muir and Harkin's vision, and an indicator that an appropriate environmental philosophy for a world heading for ecological crisis may well be the greatest gift from Muir.

1996 John Muir Conference

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