Awful Splendour

A Fire History of Canada

By (author) Stephen J. Pyne
Categories: Nature
Series: Nature | History | Society
Publisher: UBC Press
Hardcover : 9780774813914, 584 pages, November 2007

Table of contents

Foreword: Mon pays c’est le feu / Graeme Wynn

Author’s Note: A Boreal Burning Bush

Prologue: White Canada

Book 1: Torch


Fire Rings of Indigenous Canada

Fire and Frost: Tundra

Fire and Water: Boreal Forest

Fire and Grass, Fire and Leaf: Great Plains Prairies and Great Lakes Forests

Fire on the Hills, Fire on the Mountains: Acadian Woods and Cordilleran Forests

Fire and Fog: The Incombustible Fringe

Tongues of Fire: Black Spruce and High Plains

Conflagration and Complex

Book 2: Axe

Creating Fuel

Fire Frontiers of Imperial Canada

New Found Land


The Canadas

Far Countries

With Fire in Their Eyes: Gabriel Sagard and Henry Hind

“Burning Most Furiously”

Book 3: Engine

Containing Combustion

Reconnaissance by Fire: Robert Bell and Bernhard Fernow/ xxx

Fire Provinces of Industrial Canada

Dominion of Fire: Canada’s Quest for Fire Conservancy

Sea and Shield: Fire Provinces of Eastern Canada

Fire’s Lesser Dominion

Tracer Index: James G. Wright and Herbert B. Beall

Plain and Mountain: Fire Provinces of Western Canada

Prosperity and Peril

Two Solitudes: C. E. Van Wagner and Donald Stedman

Revanchism and Federalism

Fire’s Outer Limits: Fire Provinces on the Fringe

Internal Combustions

Epilogue: Green Canada

Continental Drift and Global Warming

Fire Geography of Green Canada

Fire’s Reconfederation

Settlement Symmetries, Then and Now

Counting Carbon

Virtual Fire

Slow Burns, Fast Flames

Fire and Ice


Bibliographic Essay



Fire is a defining element in Canadian land and life. With few exceptions, Canada’s forests and prairies have evolved with fire. Its peoples have exploited fire and sought to protect themselves from its excesses, and since Confederation, the country has devised various institutions to connect fire and society. The choices Canadians have made says a great deal about their national character. Awful Splendour narrates the history of this grand saga. It will interest geographers, historians, and members of the fire community.


There are a few scholars who dominate a field as Stephen Pyne does with the history of fire. Since the publication of his classic Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire in 1982, Pyne has published over half-dozen books on fire in world environmental history. […] Pyne is at his best when he shows the role of the state in fire protection, and specifically, the perennial debates between provinces and federal government on such matters. Stephen Pyne is a gifted writer and pays careful attention to narrative through which, he shows clearly the pivotal role of fire in shaping the Canadian landscape.

- Robert Wilson, Syracuse University

Awful Splendour bravely goes beyond all of the fire studies, incorporating their separate insights into exhaustive original research to form a sweeping narrative that examines the roles of fire and humans as agents of historical and environmental change. […] The strength of Awful Splendour lies in the prodigious narrative talents of its author. Pyne is a master historian whose command of language is elegant and evocative, and he uses it to great effect in each section to describe recurring and intertwining themes – what he calls “nested narratives” – such as climate, fire as a historical agent, and humans and the institutions they have created to manage fire. […] These “nested narratives” are told in a poetic style that is all Pyne’s own and that lends a powerful sense of detail to his larger narrative. […] Awful Splendour is a formidable and impressive book that complements Pyne’s other Cycle of Fire works, and it is sure to be a must-read for Canadian environmental historians, historical geographers, and forestry and wildlife specialists.

- Philip Van Huizen, University of British Columbia

It is the tenth book about fire authored by Pyne…, a historian with ample personal experience fighting wildfires. Pyne set out to create a somewhat encyclopedic repository of major themes, institutions, individuals, and events. His success at this goal will make this volume a good reference source.

- M. G. Messina, Texas A&M University

Stephen Pyne has written a most detailed account of fire in the ecological and cultural history of Canada from pre-historic times up to the climactic year of 2003 with a look beyond.

- Roy Strang

Fire is a defining element in Canadian land and life. With few exceptions, Canada’s forests and prairies have evolved with fire. … This book narrates the history of this relationship and will be of interest to geographers, historians, and members of the fire community.

- APADE, 2007

Awful Splendour: A Fire History of Canada is […] a jargon-free, scholarly account of how forest fires occurred in Canada during the previous centuries, and how institutions (and the people behind those) have dealt with that reality. It is not meant to be a general book about the history of Canada, but it will be useful for professionals and students in environmental history, forest studies, physical geography, and Canadian studies.

- Yves Laberge, Universite Laval