This digital archive showcases the fascinating work of Mabel “MB” Williams, a female civil servant who was instrumental in the development of Canada’s national parks system in the early 20th century.
Mabel was a clerk for the Department of the Interior in 1911, when she was asked by JB Harkin to work in the newly created Dominion Parks Branch. Mabel was tasked with researching land leases, and gathering data and information that would inform the direction of the Parks Branch in its first years. With the rise of the automobile industry and tourism throughout the 1920s, Mabel soon found a talent for writing promotional material, guidebooks and even scripts for travel documentaries.
Mabel worked for the Parks Branch until the Depression, when she resigned after her female coworkers were among the first to be laid off. She moved to England to pursue a career in writing, but her contribution to Canada’s national parks were not forgotten or overlooked.
The project was led by Dr. Alan MacEachern (Western University) and the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE), and features a collection of Mabel’s personal letters, correspondence, complete published guidebooks, and photos. The archive also features a time-stamped oral interview with Mabel (recorded in 1969), in which she provides a first-hand account of the first years of the Park’s Branch and her own remarkable experiences.
Visitors can explore Mabel’s story by browsing the materials, or by following along the narrative as a series of exhibits.