Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: inundation

More spring flooding on the Wolastoq

Flooded islands from Springhill Road, foggy Easter Sunday morning

Flooded islands from Springhill Road, foggy Easter Sunday morning

Another long weekend, another trip to Fredericton. Feeling lucky to get through on the Trans-Canada, particularly upon return, given flood stage at Jemseg. Despite the impacts to many up and down river, Fredericton still throws an impromptu ‘flood fest’ at such times, with residents driving downtown to view the swollen river and flooded infrastructure. Based on the art installation showing the levels of past floods (see upright posts, below), unlike last year this one will not make the history books. [Update Apr 25: I spoke too soon. Fredericton has now broken records and the highway is closed at Jemseg]

Impromptu flood fest at the Fredericton waterfront, Easter Sunday

Impromptu flood fest at the Fredericton waterfront, Easter Sunday

The newly renovated Beaverbrook had its flood gates up, but we were able to drop in to see the wonderful show by Ian MacEachern, The Lost City, documenting the vibrant community before and during urban ‘renewal’ in Saint John in 1968. Interesting to see this in the context of Halifax’s Cogswell Interchange renewal process: we’re pulling down the highway interchange created after slum clearance around the same time here.

Ian MacEachern photography show on urban renewal and dispossession in Saint John at the Beaverbrook

Ian MacEachern photography show on urban renewal and dispossession in Saint John at the Beaverbrook

Front row to flooding at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

Front row to flooding at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

The Bugle-Observer

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″.

Miller’s Valley and more

A particularly beautiful book cover eased the hesitation at buying hardcover.

A particularly beautiful dust jacket eased my hesitation at buying hardcover.

A Saturday Globe review for Miller’s Valley caught my eye, and when I discovered I was 46th in line to borrow the book at the Central Library, I headed to the marvellous independent bookstore Westminster Books during a weekend trip to Fredericton to buy my own copy. The book tracks the coming of age of a girl in Pennsylvania as she watches government pressure inexorably lead to the inundation of her family’s farm for the ‘public good’. The flooding plays the same role in this book as in many others I’ve discussed here and in recent papersshorthand for obliteration, loss, injustice, and forgetting – but what distinguishes it is in demonstrating the capacity to adapt over time, nonetheless. A few excerpts from the last page resonate particularly:

I don’t really miss the Miller’s Valley I used to know, the one in which I grew up, my very own drowned town. It’s been gone a long time now… They’re talking about having a big celebration for the fiftieth anniversary… and that’ll clinch it. If something’s been around fifty years, it’s been around forever. Most people think it’s always been there. They run fishing boats and go ice skating and sit in folding chairs and look out over the place where we all lived and it’s just water to them, as far as the eye can see. I guess it’s just water to me, too. … When I talked to Cissy about Andover, when I was a kid, I thought her life, her past, her childhood, all of it was buried down there under the water. I didn’t understand that it was above the surface, in her, the way mine is in me. … Lots of people leave here, that’s for sure, but people stay, too. And some are like me. They circle back. (p. 256-7)

Hand-drawn map by Joe George of a transect from the Woolastook campground in NB over old homesteads flooded by the Mactaquac Dam.

Hand-drawn map by Joe George of a transect from the Woolastook campground in NB over old homesteads flooded by the Mactaquac Dam.

In this same weekend I visited Joe George at COJO Exploration, who had spent the day scuba diving in his quest for the old townsite of Kingsclear, now under the Mactaquac headpond. His hand-drawn map from the dive shows the foundations, wells and other infrastructure he swam over, trying to avoid stirring up sediment in the low-visibility (2 ft) conditions. Looking at old maps, he reckons the well (“still water in it!”, he joked) belonged to the Long family. Joe is hoping to set up a recreational scuba track – as he showed me, basically a high-viz yellow cable – to allow visitors to explore the drowned town. He also hopes, however, to find some relics of life there, to share with either prior residents or local museums.

Dams are in the news, either in terms of removal (see a discussion here about opening the gates of the Glen Canyon Dam), or protests about construction. For instance, a public letter signed by Canadian scholars protests about Site C’s approval as a violation of process and treaty rights. An early-stage proposal for a dam on the Eldred River near Powell River BC is being protested by rock climbers (on the basis of a long-standing base camp) and foresters (the transmission infrastructure associated with independent power installations affects forestry and thus jobs), possibly the first time that those two bodies were on the same side of any issue.

Mactaquac bathymetry

Bathymetry of the Mactaquac headpond, NB, by the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, revealing the former townsite of Culliton, near Nackawic, including its road and rail bridges.

Bathymetry of the Mactaquac headpond, NB, by the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, revealing the former townsite of Culliton, near Nackawic, including its road and rail bridges.

The Ocean Mapping Group at UNB has released the Mactaquac bathymetry (depth of water) in a wonderful Google Map interface. A Nackawic resident sent it to me this morning with a story of how moving it was to see the former features revealed. I have been waiting a long time to see this, too, and it impresses with crisp 1.66 metre resolution detail. Little sedimentation is evident up against the dam wall, and islands, towns and former river channels remain intact. It will be interesting to navigate it in parallel with our storymap of pre-dam airphotos, to decode some of the more curious shapes. The ‘illumination’ applied to provide a 3D effect has the visual effect of making it look inverted, (i.e. causeway lower than water channels). But this is a marvellous dataset which will enable important visualization work in the consideration of options for the Mactaquac dam.

More dam fiction

The edition of The Winter Vault I borrowed from Halifax's new Central Public Library.

The edition of The Winter Vault I borrowed from Halifax’s new Central Public Library.

I was moved to borrow Anne Michael’s second novel, The Winter Vault, from the Halifax Public Library after Graeme Wynne’s mention of the book (along with The Sentimentalists) in his introduction to Daniel Macfarlane’s Negotiating a River about the building of the  St. Lawrence Seaway. The book is poetry, really, so do not read it with the expectation of being able to recognize the pattern of kitchen banter from your own life. However, it fits remarkably well in my informal collection of books in which water inundation stands as shorthand for loss, grief and the difficulty of an authentic recovery (whether you cling to the past or invent anew without an eye to that past).

A young engineer is apprenticed to the art of dam-building by his father, and his work on the St. Lawrence Seaway after the loss of that father is a tribute to the older man. He meets his wife-to-be in the dry once-riverbed as she collects plant species, and starts to feel the violation of his work, ecologically but also for residents of the seven Lost Villages. He atones by takes a job relocating the Abu Simbel temples in the erstwhile Nubia, to save them from the rising waters of the Nile during construction of the High Aswan Dam. This, too, feels like a violation, as most certainly do the sterile villages constructed for the displaced Nubians. For the Nubian culture, the Nile was the lifeline, and the inundation severed it and scattered this nation in all directions. Of one of the soon-to-be lost Nubian villages, the heroine, Jane, observes:

Here was a human love of place so freely expressed, alive with meaning; houses so perfectly adapted to their context in materials and design that they could never be moved. It was an integrity of art, domestic life, landscape … it was Ashkeit they should be salvaging; though it could never exist anywhere else, and if moved, would crumble, like a dream. …no landscape alone could arouse such feeling.  (p. 131-133).

In the final act of the book, these two erasures are juxtaposed with the destruction and reconstruction of Warsaw in the Second World War, as remembered by Polish-Canadian survivors. Of the reconstruction of the ‘Old Town’, in cartoon form, the guerilla artist Lucjan describes:

Walking for the first time into the replica of the Old Town, said Lucjan, the rebuilt market square – it was humiliating. Your delirium made you ashamed – you knew it was a trick, a brainwashing, and yet you wanted it so badly. … It was a brutality, a mockery – at first completely sickening, as if time could be turned back, as even the truth of our misery could be taken from us. And yet the more you walked, the more your feelings changed … you began to remember more and more. Childhood memories, memories of youth and love … (p. 309)

The characters are not quite people, but ideas. Despite the difficulty this brought for my complete immersion and empathy, the ideas themselves were engrossing, especially for those interested in the impacts of dam construction and removal.

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