Following the settler trail: Lauren Harding, Walking the wild coast: territory, belonging, and tourism on the West Coast Trail, PhD dissertation, University of British Columbia, 2020


Abstract: This dissertation describes the results of ethnographic research on the wilderness tourist attraction known as the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It investigates settler-colonial views of and experiences in a space that is claimed by the Canadian state and is
also part of the traditional territories of indigenous peoples. The entanglement of wilderness tourism and settler-colonialism is analyzed in the contemporary Canadian context where, it is argued, Canadian nationalism and indigenous reconciliation are in conflict. Particular attention is paid to the complex ways a space is constructed as wilderness (and therefore a-cultural and ahistorical) through both material and representational actions of the settler-colonial state. The trail is a 75 kilometre backcountry hiking trail managed as the West Coast Trail Unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It is co-managed by Parks Canada and the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations. Fieldwork was conducted from 2013-2014, where the investigator based herself in the settler community of Bamfield and repeatedly hiked the length of the trail interacting with both visitors and locals. Qualitative data was collected through interviews and participant observation with both locals living on and near the trail and hikers recreating in the national park. This thesis posits that Canadian settler-colonialism venerates not only idealized images of a national landscape but also the active engagement with nature through recreation. It is contended that within this active, corporeal, and material engagement there is potential for challenges to static colonial narratives of wilderness that mask Indigenous territory.

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