A Critical Review of The Green Necklace
Walter Volovsek's The Green Necklace: The Vision Quest of Edward Mahon is a thoughtful and lovingly written biography of an important British Columbian entrepreneur, businessman, and developer who played an important part in the settlement and growth of what became (urban) North Vancouver and (rural) Castlegar. While the book provides a detailed account of the life and work of one man, whose career Volovsek conveys with great respect and admiration, it also contributes much to our understanding of the development of both North Vancouver and Castlegar.
Mahon's work is perpetuated in North Vancouver's "Green Necklace", a string of green spaces that still forms an important part of the community; and in Castlegar itself, which was named after the Mahon family estate in Ireland. The Green Necklace provides a rare opportunity to speak to both rural and urban development through the story of one promoter who had high hopes for both areas. Volovsek provides a historical narrative of both rural and urban development in British Columbia, something that few works of BC history can claim. So often, local histories ignore the broader context in their aim to give voice to rural areas, and urban histories neglect to mention their rural hinterlands.
Volovsek shows that in the late nineteenth century, when mining was booming and hopes for British Columbia were at their highest, Mahon saw the potential for growth both in the West Kootenays and on Burrard Inlet. Through an exploration of Mahon's life and times, the broader impact of the CPR's monopoly, the Great Depression, and the Lower Mainland's long-term prosperity and growth, Volovsek explains how North Vancouver came to grow and develop while Castlegar's growth was stagnant. In doing so, Volovsek has written an intriguing book that, while somewhat romanticized, provides an important history of North Vancouver and a clear account of the development of the Castlegar town site, a story hitherto completely unknown.
Takaia Larsen for BC Studies: The British Columbia Quarterly