Last week I visited my family’s lake cottage in New Brunswick, and did the usual dash in to the nearest town, Nackawic, for food and drinks. I grew up in Nackawic, and left in 1991 for university and beyond. After 26 years it is often an uncomfortable outing, undertaken with stealth: I’m always worried I’ll see someone I should know but whose name eludes me. This trip was happily anonymous. I was able to linger in my annual nostalgia trip: peering in the window of the bowling alley (which seems to have shut down without removing its Open sign); popping in to the post office where I was a frequent customer in the days well before digital (sending letters to many penpals, collecting stamps , and returning Columbia House monthly choices to avoid billing).
At the checkout of the grocery store, I spied a headline on the regional paper, the Bugle-Observer, “Good News for future of Forest City Dam – maybe” (sadly paywalled). Anything dam-related catches my eye, so I grabbed it to read at the cottage, which has no TV or internet access. The future of the small dam that holds back the enormous East Grand Lake on the border between Maine and New Brunswick at Forest City is at question, motivating owners of the 2,000 cottages around its perimeter to organize to keep the water levels up. Under the fold was another story related to dams, also written by Doug Dickinson. A fellow named “Hoot” was being inducted into the Atlantic Salmon Hall of Fame, and he “still names his favourite fishing spot as the long-gone Hartland pool” on the Becaguimec Stream that drained into the St. John:
That all changed after dams were constructed on the St. John River. Smith said the salmon fishing was still good after the Tobique Dam was built, but declined after the Beechwood Dam was finished. The Mactaquac Dam put an end to the Hartland Salmon Pool.
One of my new research interests is the use of digital archives to understand cultural change in regions that have faced infrastructure change like hydroelectric dams and related inundation. Newspaper archives is one of those I’d like to explore in this way, so we can look back and understand how host communities are affected over time, and how they adjust. This newspaper would make for an interesting case: 50 years later dams are still front page news. What else hasn’t changed? The third front-page article: Meet Miss New Brunswick 2017″.
The Mactaquac Dam spillway, New Brunswick, on a foggy morning.
NB Power’s preferred Mactaquac Dam decision was handed down near Fredericton this morning. That decision is the late entrant among the options: to prolong the life of the dam as close to its original 100-year life as possible through maintenance and replacement in situ. Discussed today as the cheapest of the four options ($2.9 to $3.6 billion), the project has been given the oddly Soviet title of the Mactaquac Life Achievement Project. A new web experience awaits the curious who visit mactaquac.ca today, including backgrounders such as a paltry two-pager on First Nations engagement, the first output we have seen from that consultation other than this under-the-radar announcement via the NB Media Co-op. Kingsclear First Nation, whose land is a long sliver pointing directly at the dam, is deeply disappointed. Improvement is planned in multi-species fish passage, though not to the satisfaction of WWF, but the problem of inadequate upstream flow will still challenge any fish that survive the trip. No new river crossing for vehicles will be required, as the dam wall will continue to serve as a bridge. Many upriver locals will be pleased at this outcome, though expect frustration to be voiced at the the stress and disruption of the debate given such a status quo result. Let’s watch the budget evolve, and do it all again in a few decades. There is unlikely to be much money available to invest in renewables until then.
Yan Chen, MES 2016
Yan Chen defended her innovative SSHRC- and NSGS-funded MES thesis masterfully on Friday. She gleaned youth landscape values from a year’s worth of Instagram images from a 5-km radius of the actual and proposed headponds, respectively, of the Mactaquac and Site C dams. Being the first defense since a large new class of MES students started in the fall, the room was packed with supporters. Committee member John Parkins skyped in from the University of Alberta, and Faculty of Management colleague Jennifer Grek-Martin examined the thesis, which included wide-ranging discussions on landscape, sense of place, aesthetics, digitalism (our new religion as described by Yuval Harari), and virtual/augmented reality. It was everything you hope a defense can be: Yan spoke strongly in support of her work, and creatively about its potential implications and improvements. I look forward to getting her papers out in the literature, and building on it with a SSHRC Insight Grant that went in on Monday, led by colleague and expert in making Big Data matter, Mike Smit.