Squaring Palliser's Triangle: The Normalization of Nature in the Canadian Dry-land Prairies 1860-1940

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Stefanik, Justin Alan




Located within the Northern Great Plains, with an area that intersects the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, Palliser’s Triangle is the driest region in the Canadian Prairies. This arid expanse, first reported by early explorers of the North American West and later mapped and confirmed by the Palliser Expedition Report of 1860, holds an important place in Canadian geography. This research asserts that the colonization of Palliser’s Triangle was more than simply putting people on land that “should never have been broken” (Gray 1967: 7); it involved the systematic production of normality through multiple political technologies. This critical analysis unsettles Palliser’s Triangle through an investigation of nature’s normalization. I employ Foucault’s conception of normalization and its hallmark, homogenization through individualization, to re-politicize Palliser’s Triangle’s colonization and settlement. Normalization, I argue, was produced through the individualization of nature, a shift of the spotlight from a delineated problem region to illuminate identifiable and locatable problematic farms and individuals. In doing so, individual parcels of land and the character of male farmers who managed them were made increasingly visible, strategically shifting attention away from the larger political economy of dry-land settlement. The triangulated “micro-physics” (Foucault 1977: 26) of the ‘soul,’ space, and the norm in Palliser’s Triangle settlement pitted the multiple forces of individualization against myriad forces that resisted being individualized including various Aboriginal peoples, male farmers, women farmers, soils, climate factors, weather patterns, flora, and fauna. This research illuminates the exercises of power that enabled and maintained a precarious settlement in the dry-land prairies despite nature’s resistance.






Carleton University

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