When we were asked to write a Foreword for this e-book, we experienced some trepidation. Our research indicated that Forewords are usually written by "someone that the general public recognizes more readily than the actual author," by "an expert in the field, a celebrity."1 This was certainly the case when we asked John Warkentin to write a Foreword for a book on the geography of Manitoba that three of us "Brandonites" co-edited a decade ago.2 But the Everitt-Stadel duo are not that distinguished—and certainly no more so than John Welsted. In fact, as retirees or virtual retirees we feel at times quite extinguished. But we owed it to John W. to do our best and do our duty—and we felt we knew the subject matter as well as anyone else. The three of us had been at Brandon University, together, since the early 1970s; immigrants from Europe in one of the proud traditions of Manitoba. John W. arrived in the late 1960s and Christoph and John E. a few years later. We taught together, researched together, traveled together throughout the Province (always doing fieldwork, of course—the bane of the geographer is that he/she is forever working) and sometimes publishing together. Much of our research was on Manitoba topics, as this "laboratory" was close to home, but had been, we felt, neglected in the geographic literature. We were not sure how to approach this challenge; however, John Welsted "had a dream."
For at least twenty years John Welsted had had a vision of writing the definitive book on the geographical diversity of Manitoba. Twenty years ago there was little written on the province in either the popular or the academic literature that could be easily located and effectively used in undergraduate classes. Teaching the geography of Manitoba meant a time-consuming reliance upon personal fieldwork and often obscure and out-of-date sources, which could only be reproduced by the limited photocopying technology of that time. Visual expressions of the province needed extensive personal slide collections and somewhat limited black and white air photo collections. The situation was unsatisfactory, but there were few other options.
This shortage of resources and research had meant that many superficial observers had stereotyped Manitoba simply as a prairie province, or at most had emphasized the macro-scale landscape contrasts between the Hudson Bay Lowlands, the Canadian Shield, and the Parkland/Prairie region. However, John Welsted, with his wide experience of fieldwork and map and air photo interpretation, had discovered, and became enthralled with, the geographical identities and intricacies of the province's natural and cultural environments. He dedicated himself to the production of a richly illustrated volume, written by the best and the brightest of Manitoba geographers. He hoped that it would define Manitoba's geography, and become a model for provincial geography textbooks across Canada. The fruit of this quest was the publication in 1996 of The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People (Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press), with over forty geographers having been cajoled into working on the project. John W. acted as the principal editor (with the authors of this Foreword, Christoph Stadel and John Everitt, as co-editors). In many ways it has become the model that was intended, with volumes subsequently appearing from other provinces, such as British Columbia and Saskatchewan: but it was clear to us--the editors--that something was still missing.
Along the way something unforeseen had happened. Financial reality had impinged upon academic dreams. The book was well illustrated with maps, thanks largely to the skills and dedication of Weldon Hiebert at the University of Winnipeg, but it contained a limited number of black and white pictures and only sixteen colour photos. While The Geography of Manitoba could be considered as the "state-of-its-art," John Welsted still felt that it could be improved by the inclusion of a more visually oriented aerial perspective—always a focus of his teaching and research. Consequently John W and John E gained a small grant in 1997 from the Brandon University Research Committee (BURC) to get this new project up and running. This time the aim was to produce a volume of maps and air photographs that would supplement and complement the original book. Once again the project "grew (or 'growed') like Topsy", and it became a retirement project for John W, long after he had moved from "the relatively level centre of the North American continent"3 to the rain-drenched mountains of Victoria, British Columbia. But it still proved to be very expensive to collect, collate, interpret, and print visual images. In addition to the BURC grant, John used many of his own resources to collect, collate, and interpret, but the final production remained as an enigma.
But then John Everitt, inspired by the changes in technology and in particular computer technology, approached Robert Annis, Director of the Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Brandon University. He suggested that the RDI produce an e-book on Manitoba from the Air. This could on the one hand become a more modern and easily accessible form of publishing, providing knowledge about the geographical environments of Manitoba for a wider public—at their proverbial "fingertips"—and at the same time alleviate the financial issues. It would also be relatively easy to change, update and add to as the geography of Manitoba developed over time. Bob picked up the ball and ran with it. It soon became a group project. Computer-whiz Dion Wiseman, a member of the RDI Board and of the Department of Geography at BU (and John Welsted's replacement at BU), was enlisted. He then gained input from some of his students and from some members of BU's Information Technology Services. The result is Manitoba From the Air: A Geographical Interpretation.
As indicated earlier, "The Air" was a long time in coming. It involved a meticulous scrutiny of a huge number of air photographs by John W. and could only have been done by someone with his vast experience and professional expertise. The result is another "model portrait" of a Canadian province. The presentation approximately follows the model of the previous textbook, in order to encourage the use of the latest work as a supplement and complement to the original book. Thus most of the nineteen chapters in Manitoba from the Air have their counterparts in The Geography of Manitoba. But "The Air" also depicts new and often intriguing images of landscape features, at times familiar to the reader, but at other times unknown features and areas. John Welsted introduces the reader to the rich geomorphological and hydrographic legacy of the Pleistocene glaciation and the various glacial, fluvioglacial and glacio-lacustrine erosional and depositional forms; he also covers hills, valleys and shoreline features, as well as variations in the vegetation cover. In addition, the human impact on the landscape is manifested in images of the agricultural and non-agricultural land use, in the form and structure of farmsteads, villages, towns and cities, and in other features of the "material culture." Yet, this is not a mere aerial "photo gallery." The images are supplemented by concise comments and analyses. In this way, a scientific yet easily comprehended landscape interpretation is given to students, academics, and to other keen Prairie aficionados. It will undoubtedly bring back many landscape memories to the author himself who has exchanged the prairies for coastal environments, as well as to the co-writers of these lines who have moved (or are about to move) from the Canadian plains to the European Alps, and the sun-drenched slopes of the Caribbean respectively.
As we said earlier, "The Air" was a long time coming, and in many ways it is a still a work in progress. Although its images cover many of the major features of Manitoba, there will always be room for additions. Fortunately, the electronic production system of the book will allow for such changes much more easily than has the "hard copy" of The Geography of Manitoba! In addition, the geography of Manitoba is changing and the e-book will need ongoing updates. What will the new "Duff's Ditch" look like and how will the new Hydro developments in Manitoba's North change the geography of that region? What will be the geography of 21st Century First Nations communities, and how will global warming be shown in Manitoba's landscapes. Perhaps John Welsted will be working on this project for many years to come!!
1 Ami Hendrickson "Foreword Thinking—An Introduction to the Introduction" and "Foreword March—How to Write a Fantastic Foreword" in Muse Ink, a blog located at http://museinks.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_archive.html.
2 John Warkentin "Foreword" in John Welsted, John Everitt and Christoph Stadel, eds. The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People, 1996, (Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press): xiv-xv.
3 John Warkentin "Foreword" in John Welsted, John Everitt and Christoph Stadel, eds. The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People, 1996, (Winnipeg: The University of Manitoba Press): xiv-xv.