Dams on Our Northern Rivers: An Engineer’s View

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Dams on Our Northern Rivers: An Engineer’s View

Rushing rivers in Manitoba are majestic, life giving, and potentially useful in ways that may come at a cost. In a recent essay, (“Nelson River Hydrometric Survey with Manitoba Hydro in Summer, 1964,” (2016).), Brian Grover writes from the viewpoint of an engineer on developing rivers in Manitoba to produce electricity. Grover, now in his 70s, shares his experiences as a young surveyor on the Nelson River in the summer of 1964.

He didn’t question possible environmental effects of the project at the time and, as with many controversial issues, there are no easy answers today. But Grover wishes to spark thinking and discussion about the challenging conditions which affect First Nations in northern Manitoba, some as a result of the dams.

Brian Grover with members of the survey team

Brian Grover with members of the survey team

Grover also writes about his respect for four Cree boatmen (Charles Osborne, Lazarus Monias, John Monias and Jack Miley McKay) from Cross Lake (Pimicikamak) who were key members of the survey team. Part of a long tradition of First Nations offering assistance to those new to the area, Grover recognizes how these Cree men made it possible for the team of nine men from Winnipeg to navigate and survive for three months.

Grover describes (though did not fully appreciate at the time) the differences in standard of living of those in the northern parts of Manitoba (especially on First Nations reserves) from those in the southern cities. He compares living conditions—including homes, education, income, diet, drinking water, health care and life expectancy—as more typical of developing countries.

In his essay, Grover notes the changes in Cross Lake since the time he visited in 1964. He writes of the clean, fresh water in the Nelson River in 1964 which they drank straight from the river. Now the dams have put the quality of water in the Nelson River at risk.

From the air

From the air

The Cree men Grover remembers working with have since died, but this past summer he met with their sons in Winnipeg, sharing pictures and stories of the time. Jackson and William Osborne “informed me that their father was shocked, towards the end of his life, by the devastation and destruction of land and water resources in the region around Cross Lake. Charlie told his family that he regretted having done this work, and would not have done so if he had understood the consequences which followed.”

Grover began to reflect on the issues of dams in the north partly due to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which “compelled me (like many other Canadians) to recognize that racism and wrong-headed policies have guided decision making about Aboriginal people in Canada from our nation’s earliest days—up until the present.” Another prompt for his essay includes the tragic news of the recent suicide crisis in Pimicikamak.

The beauty of northern Manitoba

The beauty of northern Manitoba

Grover brings up questions about power dams and northern Manitoba, wondering if the government approving the many projects had predicted the environmental problems, or considered methods to ease the impact. He hopes such questions help provide answers so First Nations can enjoy the same quality of living as other Canadians, and on protected lands that retain both their beauty and bounty.

If you are interested in reading Brian Grover’s essay in full, please contact info@mfnerc.com.
And please feel free to comment below.

 

 

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