Disasters that Shape Us
TEXT AND MAP BY JAMES MACDONALD AND KATIE STRANG
Seemingly spontaneous, unexpected natural disasters occur worldwide on a daily basis. In many cases, these events have shaped how we inhabit a place—indeed, whether or not we inhabit it at all. They can also have a profound effect on our collective consciousness, particularly in terms of how we prepare for potential disasters. The events that shock us most and affect the greatest number of people tend to illicit a more powerful response— whether that means disaster preparedness, natural resource management, legislation, or the relocation of settlements.
This map is a representation of historical events requiring an emergency response, compiled by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Although the ministry’s geo-located tracking began only in 2010, their database includes recorded emergencies dating back to the mid-19th century. These are events that caused significant structural damage, community evacuation, or the involvement of MNR emergency response personnel. Most of the events fall into the expected typologies of natural disaster— forest fire, flooding, erosion/landslides, tornadoes, dam failures, droughts—but there are also data points for disasters such as the E.coli water contamination in Kashechewan First Nation, a mine tailings leak near Sault Ste. Marie, and various communication network failures across the province.
While our capacity to respond to and mitigate the effects of disasters has improved over the years, it’s important to recognize patterns in places where geography or climate serve to make emergencies cyclical, even if those recurrence intervals strain our collective memory. Modern mapping can illuminate trends, and traditional knowledge can extend understanding beyond written records.
As climate change makes extreme weather patterns more commonplace, it becomes vital that we shift our understanding away from viewing these events as spontaneous. By taking a long view of changes in our environment, we can understand when adaptation is necessary to create resilient landscapes and communities. It’s simply a matter of seeing the warning signs.
BIOS/ JAMES MACDONALD GRADUATED FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO’S MLA PROGRAM AT THE JOHN H. DANIELS FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, LANDSCAPE, AND DESIGN IN 2015. SINCE GRADUATING, HE HAS BEEN WORKING AS A LANDSCAPE DESIGNER IN TORONTO WHILE PURSUING RESEARCH CONCERNING CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION.
KATIE STRANG IS A TORONTO-BASED DESIGNER AND MEMBER OF THE GROUND EDITORIAL BOARD.