A Failed Attempt to Circumvent the Limits on Academic Freedom: C. D. Howe, the Ontario Forestry Board, and Window Dressing Forestry in the Late 1920s


  • Mark Kuhlberg McMaster University


History, Forestry, Mark Kuhlberg, HIC, 2002


Canada's professors recognised and generally accepted the limits placed upon their academic freedom prior to the Depression, limits which dictated that academics refrained from commenting on "politically sensitive" issues. Their acquiescence in this regard, however, did not preclude them from attempting to effect political change using alternate means. For example, C. D. Howe, dean of the University of Toronto's Forestry Faculty during the inter-war period, steadfastly respected the contemporary parameters on academic freedom - in his case this meant abstaining from openly attacking the Ontario government's anaemic forestry policy, and he ensured that his colleagues followed suit. At the same time, Howe believed that he and his graduates would be able to fundamentally influence the state's forestry policy if they were able to penetrate the government's bureaucracy, thereby effecting change from within instead of criticising from without. Howe seemingly achieved his goal in 1927 when he was appointed chairman of the Forestry Board, a body the government had created to advise it on silvicultural matters. Moreover, during the Board's few years of active existence, the politicians enacted several forestry statutes which apparently boded well for the management of woodlands in Ontario. Unfortunately for Howe, these gains proved to be chimerical. The government virtually ignored the Board's recommendations, it ended up having little influence over the important legislation executed during its reign, and the laws themselves dealt only tangentially with forestry. Ultimately, Howe's plan for circumventing the limits on his academic freedom proved unable to bring about the ends he sought.

Author Biography

Mark Kuhlberg, McMaster University

Mark Kuhlberg (cmkuhlberg@hotmail.com) is a historian in Toronto whose doctoral dissertation examines the Ontario government's policy towards the province's pulp and paper industry between 1894 and 1932. He has published numerous articles dealing with the province's forest history, and he is now teaching part-time at McMaster University and working as a consultant specializing in First Nation timber and flooding claims. He has spent the past twenty summers working in the silvicultural industry in northern Ontario.