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Selling British Columbia

Tourism and Consumer Culture, 1890-1970

by (author) Michael Dawson

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2013
Social History, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2013
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  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2005
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2004
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Selling British Columbia is an entertaining examination of the development of the tourist industry in British Columbia between 1890 and 1970. Michael Dawson argues that in order to understand the roots of the fully-fledged consumer culture that emerged in Canada after the Second World War, it is necessary to understand the connections between the 1930s, 1940s, and the postwar era.


Cultural producers such as tourism promoters and the state infrastructure played important roles in fostering consumer demand, particularly during the Depression, the Second World War, and throughout the postwar era. Dawson draws upon promotional pamphlets, newspapers, advertisements, and films, as well as archival sources regarding government, civic, and international tourism organizations. Central to his book is an examination of the representation of popular imagery and of how aboriginal and British cultures were commodified and marketed to potential tourists. He also looks at the gendered aspect of these promotional campaigns, particularly during the 1940s, and challenges earlier interpretations regarding the relationship between tourism and nature in Canada.


Historians have tended to focus on either the first wave of consumerism from the 1880s to the 1920s, or else on the era of economic expansion that followed World War Two. As Dawson shows, the 1930-45 period in particular was an important and dynamic one in the creation of Canadian and British Columbian consumer culture.


Michael Dawson’s highly readable and engaging account of the development of the British Columbia tourist industry will be welcomed by British Columbian and Canadian historians, as well as other scholars of tourism and consumerism.

About the author

Michael Dawson is Professor of History at St where he teaches courses on Canadian History, the global history of sport and tourism, and the comparative history of national identity and popular culture in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.In 2014 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Michael Dawson's profile page


  • Winner, Third Prize Book Award, BC Historical Federation

Editorial Reviews

One of Dawson’s more significant contributions to the history of tourism is his analysis of BC tourism activities during and after World War II. Dawson’s study, with its eight decades of coverage, shows how consumer culture was established in BC and, in the process turned tourism into an industry.

Enterprise & Society, June 2005

In tracing its modern origins to the depression, Dawson asks readers to see the deep political forces behind what most have described as economic or cultural ... As a result, he reveals the phenomenon as contingent in a new way, effectively historicizing tourism and asking readers to re-think analyses that treat it as monolithic or static.

American Historical Review, February 2006

He provides the most thorough examination yet of the shift from tourist trade to tourist industry in Canada, and raises important questions about the emergence of consumer capitalism. Selling British Columbia is obviously necessary reading for anyone interested in Canadian tourism; it also merits serious attention from those concerned with advertising, publicity, and promotion, business and industrial associations, and business in twentieth-century Canada generally. One hopes that his approach and suggestive findings will stimulate both methodological debate and further explorations of tourism and consumption by social, cultural and business historians.

Canadian Historical Review

In this interesting book, Michael Dawson studies the rise of a tourist economy in British Columbia over the course of the twentieth century. This is an important discussion, making Selling British Columbia a must-read for historians interested in either consumer history or twentieth-century Canada. Who would have thought that provincial government could be so engaging a topic?

BC Studies, No. 146, Summer 2005

These stories make for an interesting read, especially in light of the political and economic activities that surrounded major tourism events prior to the 1970s. Readers currently working in BC’s tourist industry, as well as a more general readership, will find the events captured in Dawson’s work to be informative.

British Columbia History, Vol. 38, No. 4, 2005

Other titles by Michael Dawson