It's All Happening so Fast

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It’s All Happening So Fast

A Counter-History of the Modern Canadian Environment

Edited by Lev Bratishenko and Mirko Zardini Canadian Centre for Architecture Jap Sam Books


After the enviroment Mirko Zardini

55 69

NRX/NRU, 1952– The DEW Line, 1954–


103 115

Project Oilsand, 1958–1962 Grassy Narrows, 1962–


139 155

The Cod Collapse, 1968–1992 Superstack, 1970–


191 201 217

Black Goo, 1973 The Berger Inquiry, 1974–1977 James Bay, 1971–


247 265 277

Persistent Organic Pollutants, 1989–2001 Schmeiser v. Monsanto, 1998–2004 Lac-Mégantic, 2013


307 321 335

The Peace–Athabasca Delta, 2013– Mount Polley, 2014 Fracking Earthquakes, 2015–


361 362 364

Biographies Copyrights Acknowledgements

Charles Wilkins Margo Pfeiff

From commodity to community? David R. Boyd & Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson Brian Brennan Martha Troian

How did you begin? Elisa Birnbaum & Bill Darnell David Cayley & Dean Bavington Elizabeth R. DeSombre

Has environmentalism failed? David Suzuki & Graeme Wynn Douglas Coupland Chris Windeyer Caroline Desbiens

Are Canadians confused? John Ralston Saul Terry Fenge Emily Eaton David Gray-Donald

Who makes the house? Taiaiake Alfred & Marianne Nicolson

Slogans for the 21st Century Douglas Coupland

Edward Struzik Christopher Pollon Andrew Nikiforuk

After the environment

Mirko Zardini

Ather the environment  Disaster

Disaster: Sometimes the course of things does not unfold as expected. Events surprise us, moving in unforeseen directions that deviate from the path we had envisioned based on experience or rational thinking. Most of the time, our predictions are based on a limited understanding of the interrelations of complex systems and a poor capacity to assess the risks associated with our actions. Sometimes these actions introduce a dramatic rupture in the usual course of things. We generally call this a disaster.






1  View of a neighbourhood in Deep River, Ontario, a town designed by architect John Bland to house workers from nearby nuclear laboratories at Chalk River, c. 1956. John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, Rare Books and Special Collection, McGill University Library 2  D. A. Keyes and Gordon W. Hatfield with a model of the NRX, the first reactor to ever undergo a partial meltdown, 1955. Photograph by Chris Lund. 18.8 × 18.8 cm. Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board fonds e010956337 3  Flooding caused by the La Grande 2 dam, part of the James Bay hydroelectric project, Quebec, September 1979. Photograph by Claus Biegert 4  Port Radium and Great Bear Lake area, Northwest Territories, c. 1940. 18 × 24 cm. Library and Archives Canada, Eldorado Nuclear Limited fonds e011183238

Ather the environment  Disaster

We can look at our modern relationship with the environment as a sequence of man-made disasters— a continuous succession of crises, each disturbing a fragile balance between economic interests, social and cultural values, and the environment, with each new surprise requiring an effort to repair the damage. Today there is a constant demand to manage our disturbance.






5  Stanley Burke interviewing a farmer in Dunnville, Ontario, about pollution during the filming of The Air of Death, a film directed by Larry Gosnell, 1967. Photograph by Ryan O’Connor 6  SAGD Pipeline, Suncor Firebag Project in the Alberta oil sands, Fort McKay, 2015. Photograph by Louis Helbig 7  Northwest Passage!, a promotional Arctic oil transportation board game distributed by Humble Oil, a company that later became part of Exxon, 1969. 25 × 45 × 5 cm. CCA BIB 195331 game 15 8  The “Giant’s Steps” spillway at the La Grande 2 dam, James Bay, Quebec. From Hydro-Québec : l’héritage d’un siècle d’électricité (Montreal: Libre expression, 1989). CCA ID PLB TK27.Q8 H9 CAN; ID:96-B732

Ather the environment  Progress

Progress: Nevertheless, we are happy prisoners of our way of life and are not yet able to think of other ideas of progress than those conceived centuries ago and renewed in the postwar years. The Western idea of progress was born out of an indissoluble faith in our goodness and our modern capacity to continuously improve our quality of life. In his inaugural address on 20 January 1949, US president Harry Truman proclaimed the dawn of a development age that promised universal prosperity through progress in scientific thought and industrial production. This promise was made to a burgeoning middle class; today, as we witness an accelerating shift toward polarized wealth and more frequent outbursts from an increasingly unsympathetic environment, we look upon Truman’s prophecies with some uncertainty.






9  Sam Tata. Children at a playground in Deep River, Ontario, 1958 10  Robert Del Tredici. Cameco Uranium Conversion Plant, Port Hope, Ontario, April 2008. Collection of the artist 11  George Hunter. Noranda’s Hallnour mine and housing, Porcupine area, Ontario, 1964. 20.5 × 25.4 cm. CCA PH2009:0006:033 Gift of George Hunter R.C.A. 12  Detail from The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. Painting by Grant Tigner, from The St. Lawrence Seaway: The Realization of a Mighty Dream (Montreal: Seagrams Limited, 1954). CCA ID:88-B12931

Ather the environment  Progress

Human influence over and regulation of environments have drastically expanded to sustain our idea of progress. Among the most visible signs of human occupation are the grand infrastructure projects that extract and distribute the resources we feverishly consume. Often, this material occupation traverses and transforms vast territories that exist outside of public consciousness and far away from urban centres. Canada is a striking example of environmental conquest across enormous and remote territories, and of the oversights, complications, and costly mistakes embedded in the process. Today, it offers a remarkable contrast between the idealized vision of a pristine natural environment and the reality of a land stripped of all value except an economic one—an exemplary case study in the history of “progress.”





13  Lake 227, which was used to prove that phosphorus is the limiting factor in the eutrophication of lakes, and Lake 305, Experimental Lakes Area, Kenora District, Ontario, n.d. 14 Hydro-Québec’s Manic-5 Dam was part of the biggest hydroelectric generating system in the world when it was completed. It is now called the Daniel-Johnson Dam, Manicouagan Regional County Municipality, Quebec, 1968. Drawing by Lili Réthi for Surveyer, Nenniger & Chênevert Inc. Archives d’HydroQuébec 15  Cougar using one of forty-four wildlife underpasses to avoid a roadway in Banff National Park, Alberta, 2011

After the environment  Slow violence

Slow violence: Some signs are difficult to recognize even when they are close by: air and water pollution make themselves visible only in their most dramatic instances. Disasters emerge as one of the possible effects—sudden eruptions from a continuous flow of slow structural violence that threatens the land, air, and water through a constant increase of pollution, greenhouse gases, and deforestation. Most of the time, danger insinuates itself outside our ordinary perception, and only after a great deal of gradual change does it become apparent that breathing is more difficult than it was before, or that the water coming out of household taps is not fit to drink. Trusted infrastructures become a threat to our survival. 18





16  Blake Fitzpatrick. Bird House/Radon Detector, Port Hope, from the series Uranium Landscapes, 1995. 50.8 × 60.9 cm. Collection of the artist 17  A chemical sensor, part of the Wet Deposition Network measuring acid rain, c. 1980. 8 × 12 cm. Sudbury Environmental Files, Archives of Ontario 18  A street sign during the E. coli outbreak that killed seven and sickened two thousand in Walkerton, Ontario, 26 May 2000. Photograph by Kevin Frayer  19  Blake Fitzpatrick. Port Hope Field, Chalk River Laboratories, from the series Uranium Landscapes, 1993. 101.4 × 191.9 cm. Collection of the artist

After the environment  Slow violence

After some investigation, we might discover the unanticipated result of our earlier actions. We may realize that even the most ideological landscapes— the pristine North and the great boreal forest—have not escaped contamination by the modern project. Popularly perceived as untouched, these landscapes have in reality become sites for militaristic occupation, geopolitical games, and resource exploitation.





20  Spraying the forest, possibly to stop the spread of insects, c. 1940. Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Forestry Association fonds e011183239 21  William Notman & Son. Bow River and Twin Peaks, Banff, Alberta, 1889. 18.6 × 25.6 cm. CCA PH1980:1223 22  Donovan Wylie. Untitled (4), North Warning System, 2013. 101.6 × 134.6 cm. Stephen Bulger Gallery

After the environment  Almost a perfect place

Almost a perfect place: Until we experience a shock or tipping point, it is easy for ordinary life to disguise extraordinary risks. Wartime industrial production was intimately linked to the protection of national identities and North American ways of life, and postwar industrial production maintained the tie. Named “almost the perfect place to live” in a September 1958 issue of Maclean’s magazine, the town of Deep River, Ontario, epitomized the connections between nuclear risk at Chalk River Laboratories and the lives of workers and their families living in the town built to house them. It demonstrated the two interdependent sides of Canada’s modern nuclear program: technological advancement and its associated risk, and patterns of everyday life and consumption.






23  Sam Tata. Teens sitting, and a woman with bicycle, Deep River, Ontario, 1958 24  Gabor Szilasi. Workers’ housing on rue Vaudreuil at the corner of rue Burma looking northeast, South Arvida, once one of the largest aluminum production centres in the world, Saguenay, Quebec, 1995. 38.6 × 49.4 cm. CCA PH1995:0081 25  Gabor Szilasi. View of a park and rue Moritz, looking east toward the Alcan smelter, Sainte-Thérèse d’Arvida, Saguenay, Quebec, 1995. 35.6 × 35.5 cm. CCA PH1995:0055 26  Preliminary ground plan for the Deep River Housing Project by Bland, Rother, Trudeau architects, 1956–57. 120 × 90 cm. John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection, Rare Books and Special Collection, McGill University Library

After the environment  Almost a perfect place

The greater the possibilities offered by technology, the greater the risks and the larger the dimensions of potential disaster. As scientific experimentation expanded and we became more dependent on new technology, it was also increasingly necessary to restructure environments and use more and more natural resources to sustain our way of life. Decades too late, we realized that the remains of the modern project had taken a dark turn and were threatening human life in unexpected ways. Buried once, nuclear waste has resurfaced to contaminate houses, streets, and schools. When disasters interrupt the ordinary patterns of daily life, we glimpse the risks attached to our idea of an almost perfect place to live.





27  In 1975, high levels of radon gas were found in an addition to St. Mary’s Elementary School. Robert del Tredici. St. Mary’s Elementary School, Port Hope, Ontario, 2 May 1982. 27.2 × 43.3 cm. Collection of the artist 28  Demonstrating the safe removal of the reactor vessel (calandria) from a model, c. 1952. 15 x 15 cm. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, NRX-0736 29  Port Hope’s nuclear waste is buried beneath the town’s industrial sites, but also below parks, streets, and homes. Blake Fitzpatrick. MUIDAR, from the series Uranium Landscapes, 1992. 191.9 × 101.4 cm. Collection of the artist

After the environment  Risk

Risk: Despite claims to scientific or responsible management, human governance of resources and risks is often based on assumptions shaped by prejudiced views of the world, entitlement, or acceptable levels of “collateral damage” more than by consideration for the long-term health of the environment. The limits of this damage fluctuate with social, economic, and political circumstances. In the case of a 1958 plan to nuke the Athabasca tar sands to more easily retrieve its oil, the scheme was not abandoned because of environmental risk assessments, but because of political changes reflecting public anxiety about impending nuclear war. 31




30  Cross-section showing geology and the expected results of the Project Oilsand nuclear explosion. From Alberta Technical Committee, Report to the Minister of Mines and Minerals and the Oil and Gas Conservation Board With Respect to an Experiment Proposed by Richfield Oil Corporation (Edmonton: Government of the Province of Alberta, 1959), page 26 31  A snapshot from a walk around the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building, Yellowknife, with landscape architecture by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. Cornelia Hahn Oberlander fonds, CCA AP075.S1.D005.P116.001 Gift of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander 32  Map of the landscape around the Project Oilsand nuclear test site. From Alberta Technical Committee, Report to the Minister of Mines and Minerals and the Oil and Gas Conservation Board With Respect to an Experiment Proposed by Richfield Oil Corporation (Edmonton: Government of the Province of Alberta, 1959), appendix 4

After the environment  Risk

Held captive by our prejudices, we leave ourselves a choice between different forms and degrees of disaster. On the question of oil transport in Canada, people must choose between railways and pipelines—between a continuum of smaller spills or rare but calamitous accidents. Instead of considering alternative sources of energy, the way forward has been delineated by contingency planning to manage the risks of consuming of fossil fuels.






33  Detail from a Canadian Pacific Railway tourist map, Resorts in the Canadian Rockies, c. 1924. CCA BIB 134247B 34  Map of a proposal to realign settlement patterns with Canada’s economic dependence on resource extraction. From Mid-Canada Development Corridor… a Concept (Toronto: Richard Rohmer and Acres Research and Planning Limited, 1969). 22 × 28 cm. CCA ID CAN HC118. N48.A63 PLM; ID:95-B4847 35  Van Ginkel Associates. Map showing development of highways, snow roads, and railways that would accompany construction of a Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, 1976. 20 × 25 cm. Van Ginkel Associates fonds, CCA ARCH278634 Gift of H. P. Daniel and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel 36  Van Ginkel Associates. Schematic diagram showing transport routes, pipeline compressor stations, and settlements along the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and anticipated levels of associated construction activity, 1976. 24.8 x 84.4 cm. Van Ginkel Associates fonds, CCA ARCH278691 Gift of H. P. Daniel and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel

After the environment  Management

Management: Our scientific management of resources, such as industrial fishing on the North Atlantic Coast, easily dissolves into a gross expression of overconfidence. The concept of a total allowable catch was supposed to weigh the risk of depletion against commercial gain, but we had a great bias toward the latter and caused the population of cod to collapse. Our modern fishing practices not only depleted stocks of one fish but destroyed entire ecosystems in the process, and we have been unable to recover what was lost simply by applying our logic of cause and effect—the cod moratorium has not returned us to a pre-collapse condition. At a time of increasingly frequent crises, the interdependencies of energy and ecology and economic, social, and political forces are so deep that they cannot be affected by specific acts of repair or isolated solutions.





37  Five fishermen pulling in a net trap, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, 1960. A July 1992 moratorium ended all commercial fishing of cod off the Grand Banks. Photograph by Chris Lund. 6 × 6 cm. Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board fonds e010975531 38  Towing an iceberg away from a collision course with the Hibernia oil platform, Grand Banks, Newfoundland, 2005. Photograph by Randy Olson 39  Ralph Erskine. Perspective sketch for a prototype Arctic walled city later developed for Resolute Bay, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut), in a period of increasing resource exploration, 1958. 59 × 41.5 cm. Arkitektur- och designcentrum (Stockholm) ARKM.1986-17-0362

After the environment  Repair

Repair: As environments pay the cost for commercial gain, public intervention has become more and more necessary to make amends for our abuses. Governments have mobilized to address urgent risks to the environment that sustains us, but only after public uproar. The private profits of industrial production have been eclipsed by the socialized costs to plant, animal, and human health.





40  The English-Wabigoon river system was poisoned by mercury dumping starting in 1962. From W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, Minamata (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1975), page 143. CCA BIB 231078 41  Map showing water supplies along the proposed development corridor, which contains 75 percent of Canada’s Indigenous populations and many fragile ecological systems. From Mid-Canada Development Corridor… a Concept (Toronto: Richard Rohmer and Acres Research and Planning Limited, 1969). 22 x 28 cm. CCA ID CAN HC118.N48.A63 PLM; ID:95-B4847 42  Sarah Anne Johnson. Tree Planting Project: The Block #1, 2005. 26 × 33 cm. Stephen Bulger Gallery

After the environment  Repair

Economic studies that concentrate on shortterm costs and disregard the implications of waste storage and disposal have proved useless. Little hope remains for the quantification of social or environmental effects; the monetary value assigned to such impacts changes according to circumstance. We are only beginning to uncover the fallacies and oversights of President Truman’s promises.





43  Plastic drums with chemical and radioactive wastes from uranium refining. Robert del Tredici. Eldorado Uranium Refinery, Blind River, Ontario, 25 August 1986. 30.5 × 47.8 cm. Collection of the artist 44  Aerial image of Toronto below a smokestack, 1965. Photograph by Jim Kennedy. 25.5 x 20.7 cm. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds ASC35527 45  Edward Burtynsky. Homesteads #32, View from Highway 8, British Columbia, 1985. 50.9 × 61 cm. CCA PH1989:0022

After the environment  Displacement

Displacement: Industrial pollution and its impacts do not respect political or jurisdictional borders. The collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam not only devastated Canadian lands but threatened grave consequences for Alaska. Governments have had to find new ways to negotiate and compensate for environmental damage across territories not determined by human political domains but by atmospheric, hydrological, chemical, or biological conditions. International arbitration has been created to govern cases from the Trail Smelter dispute over the pollution of American land as early as the 1930s, to algal blooms in the Great Lakes from the 1970s to the present.





46  Night view of the Mount Polley copper and gold mine, months after its tailings dam collapsed spilling ten million cubic metres of mining wastes, 2015. Photograph by Nicky Young 47  Sailing out of Dixon Entrance, Alaska, on the voyage that created Greenpeace, September 1971. Photograph by Lyle Thurston. Greenpeace Foundation fonds, City of Vancouver Archives 48  Robert Burley. Lake Ontario, Toronto #4, from the series Great Lakes, 2009. 61 × 76.4 cm. CCA PH2011:0017 Gift of the artist

After the environment  Displacement

Deliberate dilution or displacement is often presented as the solution to local crises. Whether through the transportation of nuclear waste or the long-range transport of smokestack emissions, many communities have tried to save themselves at the expense of other environments somewhere out there. Marginalized or “poor” communities have even been identified as the optimal recipients for toxic waste, absorbing the collateral damage of development. Perhaps waste will disappear if it is transported far enough, or if concentrations are low enough, but the result is larger areas burdened with the consequence of our misconceptions. Sometimes, as with the biomagnification of persistent organic pollutants in Canada’s Arctic, this displacement is amplified by the combined effects of natural forces.






50  Richard Harrington. Inuit Encampment, South-East of Coppermine, Northwest Territories, 1949. 17.3 × 24.7 cm. Stephen Bulger Gallery 51  Plume analysis drawing of Inco Ltd’s 194-metre-tall Iron Ore Recovery Plant Stack, 4 March 1978. 9 × 9 cm. Sudbury Environmental Files, Archives of Ontario 52  The Sudbury area is one of the world’s richest nickel deposits, and it was so devastated by smelting emissions that in the 1960s NASA used it as lunar training grounds for astronauts. Postcard showing the Superstack in Sudbury, Ontario, n.d. 10 × 15 cm. University of Waterloo Library, Special Collections & Archives, Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain fonds 53  Spraying the forest, possibly to stop the spread of insects, c. 1940. Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Forestry Association fonds e011183240

After the environment  Scale

Scale: In the struggle against the depletion of forests and fish and the pollution of air, waters, and lands, there have been many hard-won victories by environmental groups and Indigenous Peoples, but these victories have been unable to address an increasingly global crisis or alter our dominant course. The general public continues to abide by the rules of the age of “Hydrocarbon Man,” an era of relentless consumption of fossil fuels that began in the 1950s with a dramatic acceleration of the impact of human activities on the environment. We are in desperate need of radical change. It is increasingly apparent that local actions are not enough, and that voices advocating for the consideration of the environment must be heard in broader society, in decision-making for larger territories, and in longer-term planning. A shift in our trajectory is needed.





54  Poster by the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain, 1984. 44 × 56 cm. University of Waterloo Library. Special Collections & Archives. Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain fonds 55  Peter von Tiesenhausen. The Lifeline, a copyrighted artwork extended every year to continue blocking oil pipeline proposals, c. 1992 56  Satirical advertisement by Pollution Probe for polluted Don River water, Toronto Telegram, 29 September 1969. Archives of Ontario

After the environment  Second nature

Second nature: No longer something to be conquered, wilderness has become something to be saved. According to our modern assumptions, we no longer live in a hostile environment or need to struggle against the elements to survive. Human activity has reshaped most of the planet’s natural elements into a kind of “second nature.” Yet our supposed regulation of life on Earth has left us with a strange sense of anxiety—our control may be more fragile than we expected, and environments less predictable than we thought. Frightened by our own actions, we have scrambled to preserve the remains of a “natural” environment, a “wilderness” or “first nature,” in the hope that these areas can save us from ourselves. Today, the protection of the environment relies on a paradoxical reversal of planning’s original purpose: always conceived as a way of extending our domain, planning has become the last tool for preserving the world from our presence.





57  Robert Frank. Another World (Mabou Harbour, Nova Scotia), 1976–77, printed 1980. 46.9 × 69.2 cm. Stephen Bulger Gallery 58  Fishing on Lake Edward, Quebec, c. 1939. 11 × 17 cm. Library and Archives Canada, Department of the Interior fonds a021742 59  Tourism and boat tours have followed the new paths of icebergs in the North Atlantic as influenced by climate change. Iceberg climbers near St. John’s, Newfoundland, 18 April 2012. Photograph by Gerald Curtis

After the environment  Second nature

Working toward this new objective, the Amazon and boreal forests appear to be our last remaining salvation, and the scarcity of so-called wilderness causes us to consider the present moment as a new era, the Anthropocene. It is defined by the fulfillment of the modern project—a universal colonization and reshaping of the environment, and at the same time, a growing concern for our capacity to manage it.





60  The consequences of uncontrolled deforestation in Canada were first formally discussed in 1882 at a session of the American Forestry Congress in Montreal. Frontispiece from Canadian Woods: Their Properties and Uses (Ottawa: Canada Dept. of the Interior, Forestry Branch, 1951). CCA ARCH175902 Gift of Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe 61, 62  Snapshots from a walk around the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building, Yellowknife, with landscape architecture by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. Cornelia Hahn Oberlander fonds, CCA AP075. S1.D005.P116.003 AP075.S1.D005. P116.002 Gift of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

After the environment

After the environment: Our fascination and enthusiasm for nature have transformed into preoccupations with environment and ecology. Even if these concepts are not as historically complex as that of nature, they have already appropriated multiple meanings to accommodate different interests. Rather than offering us a clear direction, these words, especially “environment,” describe a large conceptual landscape marked by different ideas and contradictory interpretations and inhabited by new problems that we must learn to accept as inevitably related to an irreversible condition. We have to learn to describe and represent this new situation with new narratives—new histories and new concepts. So, what comes after environment?






63  Sarah Anne Johnson. Tree Planting Project: Cache Break, 2004. 27.9 × 35.5 cm. Stephen Bulger Gallery 64  Sam Tata. Folk-dance group swings into a reel, Deep River, Ontario, 1958 65  Magistrate Jack White and an RCMP constable arriving by motor boat at fishing community near Bonne Bay, Newfoundland, 1960. Photograph by Chris Lund. 6 × 6 cm. Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board fonds e010975529 66  The proposed corridor contains approximately 75 percent of Canada’s prospective wealth from natural resources. From Mid-Canada Development Corridor… a Concept (Toronto: Richard Rohmer and Acres Research and Planning Limited, 1969). 22 × 28 cm. CCA ID CAN HC118.N48.A63 PLM; ID:95-B4847

Fifteen Case Studies and Five Conversations

The DEW Line

Contaminated soil bags at Lower Base, Cape Dyer, 2013. Photograph by Margo Pfeiff

DEW Line antenna installation under construction in the Gulf of Boothia, 1956. Official Air Force Photo, United Press. 9 x 13 cm. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds ASC35525


Martin Allinson at the FOX-D DEW Line site, Kivitoo, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut), November 1959

The DEW Line

The DEW Line, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, 1954–

Margo Pfeiff As Martin Allinson looked out the airplane window at the landscape of glaciers, fjords, and sheer cliffs plummeting into the sea, a giant white golf ball came into view. It was perched on a hilltop in the middle of the Arctic wilderness, a geodesic radar dome alongside two massive black billboards like drive-in movie screens. Lower Base, Cape Dyer, from the air showing contaminated bags of soil ready for transport, 2013. Photograph by Margo Pfeiff

It was July 1959 when the twenty-four-year-old British-born Allinson arrived on remote Baffin Island to start a job as a radar and radio technician, one of two hundred men posted at Cape Dyer, Canada’s easternmost station on the newly constructed Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line).


During the Cold War the United States feared a Russian invasion of North America over the top of the globe and so, in the early 1950s and with the help of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the US military planned and funded a line of sixty-three radar installations from Western Alaska across Canada to Greenland and Iceland, roughly following the sixty-ninth parallel, three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The fivethousand-kilometre-long DEW Line would be a radar fence to detect Soviet bombers and missiles, providing early warning of invasion. At the time construction began in December 1954, Canada’s far North was the expansive domain of First Nations people, including nomadic Inuit, and hosted just a handful of isolated Hudson’s Bay Company and Royal Canadian Mounted Police posts. Resourceful coastal people, Inuit across what is now the territory of Nunavut were drawn to the construction project with an eye to trading food for goods, just as they had done earlier with whalers and sealers. Some even took jobs as part of a twenty-fivethousand-strong crew that worked around the clock during the very short summers and in complete darkness during the brutal winters, when the temperature went below minus forty degrees Celsius.

From Commodity to Community?

G. L. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson is general counsel of the Haida Nation and has represented the Haida in litigation and negotiations at all levels of court including the Supreme Court of Canada. David R. Boyd is an environmental lawyer and adjunct professor in resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University. Lev Bratishenko

Can we claim the right to a healthy environment? David R. Boyd


There are two ways to answer that question. One is from the perspective of human rights, which are universal, so from a moral perspective, we all have a fundamental right to live in a healthy environment. But moral rights do not actually have much impact until they are turned into legal rights, and at this point in time most Canadians do not have a legal right to live in a healthy environment. I say “most” because the government of Canada does not recognize the right to live in a healthy environment, so unlike the majority of countries of the world, there is no constitutional or national law that recognizes our moral right to live in a healthy environment. There are laws in two provinces and the three northern territories 1 that recognize citizens’ rights to live in a healthy environment. And in the past year and a half an incredible movement 2 has begun to push for recognition of the right to a healthy environment across Canada, starting at the local level and building momentum toward changing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 3 to include that right. So far, more than 140 municipalities have passed declarations recognizing their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment. 1  Legislation sets out some environmental rights in Ontario, Quebec, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.  2  See page 186, where David Suzuki explains the Blue Dot campaign.  3  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the part of the Canadian Constitution covering rights and freedoms including freedom of expression, the right to a democratic government, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The Charter came into force on 17 April 1982.

From Commodity to Community?

Lev Bratishenko

Lev Bratishenko

How is the responsibility distributed among the three levels of government—federal, provincial, and municipal?

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson David R. Boyd

This is a huge problem in Canada. Our constitution was written in the 1860s and it makes no mention of the environment. When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau led the repatriation 4 of the constitution in 1982, it failed to include any direct mention of the environment. This problem plagues Canada today because there is uncertainty about who is legally responsible for protecting the environment. It allows all levels of government to evade responsibility and provides a tool that corporations have used repeatedly to challenge the validity of Canadian environmental protection laws. For example, an oil and gas company recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutional validity of the federal government’s Species at Risk Act, 5 arguing that protecting endangered wildlife belongs under provincial jurisdiction. It is a weaker system than in most countries in the world. More than three-quarters of the world’s national constitutions specify governments’ responsibilities for environmental protection. Canada has three founding peoples that each brought its own legal system to the table, but in the twenty-first century we still have a legal system that leaves one of them out: it fully recognizes British common law, fully recognizes French civil law, and is only at the very beginning of recognizing Indigenous law. I think that if we did a better job of recognizing Indigenous law then that would greatly benefit our efforts to protect the environment through law. 4  Through the 1982 Constitution Act, repatriation gave the Canadian government the power to amend its own constitution without involving the British Parliament.  5  The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was adopted in 2002 in part to address the goals of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In February 2014, an emergency order under SARA to protect the rare sage grouse affected 1,700 square kilometres, including LGX Oil and Gas’s Manyberries oilfield in Alberta. In December, LGX announced that it was suing the federal government for $60 million since the order made the company unable to repay its debt or sell its property (Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas v. Canada (Minister of Environment)). Other companies (Lintus Resources Limited, Swade Resources Ltd, W.F. Brown Exploration Ltd, Barnwell of Canada Limited, and Spyglass Resources Corp.) and the City of Medicine Hat are participating, and the AAMDC (Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties) has begun a provincial process to address associated county tax revenue issues. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson


What is the doctrine of discovery?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission 6 has called for Canadians to understand the history of Canada and to realize that we are all benefiting today from the fictions of the doctrine of discovery and terra nullius,7 and we have not done anything collectively or individually about that. This inaction allows governments to continue making decisions without consultation or consent, perpetuating the non-recognition of Indigenous laws. 6  In 2009, following a formal apology from the Canadian government to Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began taking testimony to and collecting information from survivors of the Residential School system, a system of forced assimilation that ended in 1986.  7  Meaning “nobody’s land” In Latin, the expression derived from the 1095 papal bull Terra Nullius of Pope Urban II, which allowed Christian European states to claim land inhabited by non-Christians. It came to mean territory that has never been subject to the sovereignty of any recognized state, and could therefore be claimed and occupied.

It is an international doctrine that when colonizers come to a country and decide that the Indigenous peoples they encounter do not have sufficient social organization—are not “sophisticated” enough to govern themselves—then the land is empty and it can be taken by the colonizers, and therefore “discovered.” Other acceptable ways to acquire land are through conquest or by treaty, and in the absence of both of those—which is the situation here in British Columbia—the doctrine of discovery has allowed the government to enact laws over the land. They “stole it fair and square,” as Louise Mandell says. 8 8  Lawyer Louise Mandell has worked exclusively on Indigenous and treaty rights since 1977, negotiating settlements and asserting rights to hunt and fish in precedent-setting cases like Guerin v. The Queen (1984) and Regina v. Sparrow (1990). Lev Bratishenko

What is the “honour of the Crown”? Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

I’d like to know that too! David R. Boyd

Let me take a shot at it and you can correct me. The term comes from the British monarchy, and we still have the Queen as a figurative head of state, represented by the Governor General. When governments change, the obligations of the Crown do not. For example, King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 9 was a commitment to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, the people who lived here prior to the arrival of English colonial forces. It guaranteed that there would be treaties prior to any acquisition of land. Instead of stealing the land, there would be negotiated treaties, which would result in the Crown acquiring title to the land of Canada. The honour of the Crown is related to a legal concept called the fiduciary duty, which means that the Crown has an obligation to look out for the best interest of Indigenous people in its dealings with them. Of course Canadian history has countless examples of the Crown not living up to its legal, moral, or ethical obligations to Indigenous Peoples, so maybe we should talk about the dishonour of the Crown instead. 9  With the Royal Proclamation of 1763, King George III set up an administrative structure for the new British territories in North America including rules for relations with First Nations people that form the basis of the treaty process in Canada. Land west of the new colonies was defined as “Indian Territories” and a system for purchasing First Nations land was established.

From Commodity to Community?

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

David and I worked together on the first round of the Haida case.10 When we began this case in 1995, the federal and provincial governments said that First Nations had to prove their rights in court before there would be any substantive rights of consultation or accommodation. The Haida Nation disagreed and eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the court agreed with us. There was no need to prove rights before there are obligations on the Crown. But the court made a distinction between the fiduciary duty and the honour of the Crown, saying that the fiduciary duty is engaged when rights are proven while the honour of the Crown is engaged in the interim period before rights are proven in court or defined in a treaty. The Crown has a duty to actually consult and, if required, accommodate First Nations if there are projects that could impact their rights. So it is more than a moral duty but also something less than a fiduciary duty. The exceptions are when an Indigenous nation has proven Aboriginal title or rights in court, is close to negotiated agreement, or has a really strong case that moves Crown obligations into the grey zone of engaging the fiduciary duty. 10  Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests). The second round of this case was the Supreme Court of Canada holding in 2004 that the federal and provincial governments have a duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous groups prior to exploiting lands to which they may have claims. Lev Bratishenko

If there’s an unresolved claim, the honour of the Crown applies. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Yes. Lev Bratishenko

This gives Indigenous people a tremendous power to intervene in any project that occurs on lands they claim.

11  Enbridge’s Inc. multi-billion-dollar Northern Gateway Project would run a twin pipeline system exporting oil and importing gas condensate between Bruderheim, Alberta, and a new tanker terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. The project would result in tanker traffic from Kitimat to international markets. Studies for the project began in 1998 and the federal government approved it in 2014, but the Federal Court of Appeal found that First Nations were not consulted appropriately and overturned the approval in June 2016.  12  Introduced in 2012, Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion Trans Mountain Expansion Project would triple the capacity of an existing oil pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. Operations along the 1,150-kilometre route began in 1953, the capacity was expanded in 1957, and the route was extended in the 2000s. More than a hundred protesters were arrested in 2014, and the National Energy Board approved the project with 157 conditions in May 2016. David R. Boyd

There is a terrible inequity here. These proposed industrialresource projects are going to affect Indigenous lands and waters, and because Aboriginal rights are protected by the Canadian Constitution there is a powerful legal tool that can block environmentally damaging industrial developments. But that means asking some of the country’s most impoverished people to stand against projects that are harming the environment that all Canadians depend upon. There is an inequity there that is hard to stomach. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

I agree and have two additional comments. We are impoverished because there was no land allocated to Indigenous Peoples at Confederation. For example, in Haida Gwaii the reserves that were allocated by the federal Crown are 0.01 percent of the land base. Yet when British Columbia joined Confederation 13 they were required to provide land to Indigenous Peoples. Reserves are owned by the federal government, not by the Haida, so there is no land base for any sort of economic development. Second, while Indigenous Peoples are economically impoverished, we are wealthy in culture and in our relationship to the land. We are able to continue nurturing our culture in ways that people living in cities cannot. 13  Canada was known as the confederated empire of British North America when British Columbia joined on 20 July 1871.

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson David R. Boyd

Ovide Mercredi 14 said, and I think it is a powerful thing to say, that we often think of Indigenous people as having treaties with the government, but actually all Canadians are “treaty people,” not just Indigenous Canadians. We forget that, or we never learned it. To fulfil a role as a treaty person changes your perspective about relationships with Indigenous Peoples. It is not only the Crown, it is not just the government that is responsible for Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous lands under our constitution, but it is all Canadians. Except in British Columbia, where there are very few treaties.


Yes, but unfortunately it requires litigation to show that there are potential rights that engage the honour of the Crown. The developers and the provincial government, who have issued permits or licences for the project, usually resist this. So we end up in a contentious arena until there is a paradigm shift. For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway 11 pipeline and Kinder Morgan 12 are both stuck in litigation. So there is potentially tremendous power there, but it takes a long time and a lot of money to exercise.

14  Chief Ovide Mercredi is a Cree lawyer, negotiator, author, lecturer, and activist known for his work on constitutional law reform and Indigenous and treaty rights. He is national spokesperson for Treaties 1 through 11.

From Commodity to Community?

Lev Bratishenko

Is that why there have been so many legal precedents set in British Columbia? Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Yes. When the Crown started negotiating treaties in British Columbia in the 1850s,15 they ran out of funds to negotiate and purchase lands. Then the government started more forcefully promulgating the idea that the land was empty and could simply be taken. The documents from that time are quite blatantly racist in what they say about Indigenous Peoples and the need to remove the land from our care. 15  When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, the Province did not recognize Aboriginal title, so, from its perspective, there was no need for treaties. James Douglas of the Hudson’s Bay Company made fourteen purchases of First Nations land between 1850 and 1854 at the request of the British Crown. These transactions are known as the Douglas Treaties. David R. Boyd

As you move west through Canada there are treaties covering most of the provinces. Part of Treaty 8,16 which mostly covers Alberta, spills over into northeastern British Columbia, and fourteen treaties were negotiated on southern Vancouver Island in the 1850s, which leaves over 90 percent of British Columbia as non-treaty territory. I do not think the Crown ran out of money as much as they ran out of will, which in retrospect proved to be a very poor decision. Contemporary treaties are much more costly than historical treaties. There are still some treaties being negotiated; it was a treaty that created Nunavut in 1999.17 But there were no treaty negotiations for about a hundred years until the 1970s. 16  In the 1870s, mineral discoveries prompted treaty negotiations north of the territories covered by Treaties 1 through 7. Signed in 1899, Treaty 8 was the first of the northern treaties and covered the largest area: 840,000 square kilometres including parts of present-day Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories.  17  Nunavut, meaning “our land” in Inuktitut, was created on 1 April 1999, altering the boundaries of the Northwest Territories. The idea of dividing the territories was introduced in the 1950s, taken up by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) in the 1970s, and finally implemented with the goal of basing a new government in the culture and language of local peoples.


Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

There are different kinds of treaties. The earlier treaties are called “Peace and Friendship Treaties” as they did not involve the surrender of any lands. Later treaties involved a surrender of land in exchange for a written articulation of rights and title. Contemporary treaties mostly modify the original Aboriginal rights and title. In Haida Gwaii 18 we have not entered into treaty, and we are collaboratively managing the entire land base through interim agreements. That is another approach to take, neither treaty nor non-treaty. There was so much resource development, so much logging, that the Haida Nation could not wait for a treaty. We had protected Gwaii Hanaas 19 and a quarter of the land base, and the provincial government would only agree to negotiate 10 percent of the territory. We were beyond that, and our overriding concern was protecting the forests. Setting aside the issues of title and jurisdiction meant we

could ensure that the forests were protected, so that was the basis for those interim agreements. We are still in negotiations to enter into similar interim agreements for the oceans. 18  The province of British Columbia and the Haida Nation signed a collaborative reconciliation protocol on 11 December 2001, and the Queen Charlotte Islands were restored to their historical name of Haida Gwaii.  19  As of 1993, a board of representatives with half its members from the Council of the Haida Nation and half from the government of Canada manages the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Lev Bratishenko

Did early treaties include much language that we would recognize today as being about the environment? Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

No, a lot of the earlier treaties are pretty slim and signed with an X, and likely indicated a substantially different understanding of what they were agreeing to. David R. Boyd

They usually had a phrase that said the Indigenous people could carry on hunting and fishing. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

“As formerly.” David R. Boyd

Strange language. It’s paternalistic, in that Indigenous people are granted the right to carry on past hunting and fishing when their use of the land was really far more comprehensive than just those two activities. And of course settlers interfered extensively with all Indigenous uses of the land. Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

The Supreme Court of Canada kicked off the modern treaty negotiation process with the Calder case, brought by the Nisga’a nation and decided in 1973. 20 They lost on a technicality, which was that they couldn’t bring a lawsuit against the Crown. 20  Calder v. British Columbia (AG), the first case in which the Canadian Supreme Court held that Aboriginal title existed before colonization. David R. Boyd

It was a funny decision. There were seven judges—three found in favour of the Nisga’a, three found against them, holding that their Aboriginal title had been extinguished. The seventh judge ruled against the Nisga’a on a technicality. But it did lead the Liberal government under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to begin treaty negotiations just with the Nisga’a.

Project Oilsand 102

Calgary Herald, 29 January 1959, cover

Project Oilsand

Project Oilsand, Pony Creek, Alberta, 1958–1962

Brian Brennan

Map of Alberta and Saskatchewan showing distance the from Project Oilsand test site to settlements. From Athabasca Oil Sands–The Karl A. Clark Volume, page 145

During the first half of the twentieth century, scientists struggled to solve the puzzle of the Alberta oil sands. Indigenous peoples had used deposits along the Athabasca River for centuries as fuels and sealants, but modern science failed to convert laboratory successes in separating the viscous oil from the sands into commercially viable techniques to reduce costs and make oil from the oil sands competitive with conventional crude. The Alberta deposit, containing the world’s largest known reserve of bitumen (crude oil, water, sand, and clays) was a locked treasure box for which nobody seemed to have the key.


The various extraction methods that scientists tried over the years included pumping steam, gasoline vapour, chemical emulsifiers, hot water, and other fluids into the sands. Efforts were also made to separate the oil by centrifuge. Some methods worked better than others, but none was practical for commercial extraction. In 1958, an American geologist named Manley L. Natland came up with an imaginative and radical solution, which he said was inspired by travel to the Middle East. While conducting a geological survey in the southern desert of Saudi Arabia, he stopped to watch the sunset. “It looked like a huge, orange-red fireball sinking gradually into the earth,” he wrote in his diary.1 The display of the sun’s explosion of heat and light made Natland think about the oil sands–rich Athabasca Basin

Project Oilsand

south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, where his employer, the Richfield Oil Corporation of Los Angeles, held leases for about 800,000 hectares of land in partnership with other oil companies. In 1957, Natland had flown there several times to study the geology of the area. Extreme heat, he decided, was the key to unlocking the riches of the oil sands. His timing was fortuitous. In February 1957, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) gave its blessing to Project Plowshare, a program established by federal research scientists in California to develop peaceful uses for thermonuclear energy. Among the proposed uses was the exploitation of oil and natural gas formations. 2 Natland concluded from the Plowshare research that a small hydrogen bomb could be an effective, and perhaps the most inexpensive, tool for generating the intense heat needed to separate the oil from the sands. Natland, in his capacity as manager of production research for Richfield Oil, outlined his rationale in “Project Cauldron,” a written proposal he sent to the Research Council of Alberta in 1958: “The major production problem is the natural viscosity of the [oil sands] oil, which is hundreds of times greater than that of most other oils. The tremendous heat and shock energy released by an underground nuclear explosion would be distributed so as to raise the temperature of a large quantity of oil and reduce its viscosity sufficiently to permit its recovery by conventional oilfield methods.” 3


The Research Council was receptive to Natland’s proposal because, at the time, the Alberta government was actively seeking bids from oil companies to build the first commercial separation plant in the Athabasca region. Natland suggested that Richfield explode underground a nine-kiloton nuclear warhead (a “baby nuclear bomb,” as Alberta premier Ernest Manning would later call it) to test his hypothesis.4 The bomb would cost $1 million to build and would be three kilotons smaller than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Natland theorized that the heat from the explosion would melt the sands and release liquid hydrocarbons with little risk to the atmosphere. The silica in the sands would solidify into a huge glass bubble and trap most of the radiation inside. The liquefied oil would then flow into the cavity caused by the explosion and the oil companies could pump it out just like they did with conventional well drilling. If the experiment was successful, Natland added, the industry would have a proven scientific way to “create an oilfield on demand.”

Natland told the Research Council he was confident the Alberta experiment could work because American scientists had, in September 1957, conducted a successful underground nuclear test called the “Rainier shot” at a site in Nevada, just north of Las Vegas. The scientists described it as the first “fully contained” underground nuclear explosion, meaning that no radiation venting into the atmosphere had been detected. The appeal of the nuclear experiment for Richfield Oil and its partners in the Athabasca project, Imperial Oil and Cities Service Company, was that it did not require the companies to remove layers of boreal forest, overburden, and muskeg from the oil-sands deposit before extraction, as they would have to do if they mined the oil. And, perhaps more significantly, the developers would no longer be limited to extracting just the 20 percent of the Athabasca deposit accessible by conventional open-pit mining methods. The amount of recoverable oil in the oil sands would increase from seven hundred million barrels to what another Richfield geologist, Tom Wright, estimated could be as much as nine hundred billion. On 9 May 1958, Natland and other Richfield Oil officials met in Washington with representatives of the AEC to discuss the idea of conducting an underground nuclear test in Alberta. The commission approved the idea and agreed to design and build the bomb whenever Richfield decided to proceed with the experiment. A month later, the Richfield contingent met in Edmonton with Hubert H. Somerville, Alberta’s deputy minister of Mines and Minerals, and with members of the province’s Oil and Gas Conservation Board, to outline the technical details of the proposed nuclear test. After the Richfield people left Edmonton, representatives of several Alberta government departments and agencies came together—with the encouragement of Premier Manning—to review the proposal and discuss the potential hazards. They agreed that the test could go ahead if there was no risk to public safety. The government formed a nine-person provincial technical committee composed of engineers, geologists, and other professionals to review the public-safety aspects of the proposal. One of the committee’s early recommendations was that the name be changed from Project Cauldron to what members called the “less effervescent” Project Oilsand in order to allay public fears. The Richfield people moved on to Ottawa after their meetings in Edmonton and held an information session with officials of Canada’s federal government. Ottawa

Grassy Narrows

Grassy Narrows, Ontario, 1962–

Martha Troian Beginning in March 1962, a log and pulp mill in Dryden, Ontario, dumped between four and ten kilograms of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River each day. It wasn’t until April 1970 that the provincial government ordered Dryden Chemicals Ltd. to stop discharging the chemical, and by then around ten tonnes of highly toxic mercury had already been dumped into the water. Grassy Narrows protesters dump grey sludge at the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park, Toronto, 23 June 2016. Photograph by Mike Crawley

The mercury was in chemicals used to bleach paper, chemicals which were simply discharged into the river after use. During the early 1960s, this was common practice in Canada; it wasn’t until the publication of a Swedish study in 1968 that Canadians began to worry about the effects of mercury on the environment.1 We now know that when mixed with organic material and bacteria in rivers and lakes, mercury converts into a substance called methylmercury that is highly toxic to the brain and central nervous system. This toxin travelled downstream from Dryden and contaminated about 250 kilometres of river passing directly through the communities of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong.


According to an 11 April 1970 report by the Winnipeg Free Press, a doctor with Winnipeg’s Freshwater Institute claimed that methylmercury traced to the Dryden plant had been detected as far away as Lake Winnipeg, nearly three hundred kilometres downstream. But it was soon clear that most of the damage was done to two small First Nation communities in Ontario, where fish were found to contain dangerously high levels of mercury. The Anishinaabe of Asubpeeschoseewagong, also called Grassy Narrows, and Wabaseemoong, formerly known as White Dog, had once lived off the land. Through hunting, fishing, trapping, and harvesting, the land and waters provided food and shelter for generations of families. Independent and self-reliant, the Anishinaabe had an especially close relationship with the Wabigoon and English rivers in particular. Fish like pickerel and pike were plentiful staples of the local diet, and later supported commercial fishing, as well as work as fishing guides for mostly American tourists.


Slogans for the Twenty-First Century

Douglas Coupland


For this project, Douglas Coupland created a special continuation of his series Slogans for the Twenty-First Century. This is a selection from the fifty new slogans.