We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
Anything written about the Site C dam in the past year or two was bound to become dated rapidly, given the pace of events, the uncertainty around the future of the project after the 2017 provincial election, and the drawn out yet rapidly compressed review process launched by the NDP government. Chris Pollon’s The Peace in Peril might well have fallen into this trap, and to some extent it does. After all, the book concludes with musings about the approach of the Clark Liberals in the summer of 2016 that bear a somewhat dejected, fatalistic tone, and offer no sense that the course of events on this river might flow differently.
The book offers more than its postscript suggests, however, providing insight into the river, its current and past environmental circumstances, human histories, and communities. Conceived around the writerly device of a canoe trip of discovery, Pollon drifts ashore in the text and talks to trappers, casts a fishing rod, spies dam work crews suspiciously from a distance, and visits Site C critics in surrounding communities. Throughout, he inserts relevant historical context, interviews experts, discusses First Nations perspectives, and generally fleshes out the travelogue into something more substantial and meaningful. Ben Nelms’ photography illustrates the book, capturing the river at different moments, its wildlife—dead and alive—, as well as the river’s advocates in their homes and on the river’s banks. The juxtaposition of historical photographs enhances the reader’s sense of change over time and helps to reinforce Pollon’s discussion of previous dam development and its effects on the Peace.
The book is a lament of sorts, a travelogue of a writer and a photographer floating down the Peace River from Hudson’s Hope to Taylor, trying to make sense of the river that will soon be transformed. There are moments of fear about bears, astonishment over the number of jumping rainbow trout, and embarrassment as Emergency Management BC staff swoop down in a helicopter to rescue the writer and his photographer after Pollon neglects to inform his wife of his current whereabouts. This mistake leads to ongoing guffaws in the Peace River communities that Pollon visits—his reputation proceeds him. A rollicking tale of misadventure provides one strand of the story-telling, but it also allows Pollon to reveal himself as an author, a free-lance journalist whose life will not be significantly impacted by the dam, but whose computer runs on power generated by BC rivers, and who feels implicated in the public policy decisions driving the dam forward.
Pollon does not support the dam proposal and he gives over most of his time to interviewing others who are similarly critical. The most interesting such interviews are with people who assist him at different stages of the journey and who want to share their story and point of view, such as Ross and Deborah Peck, Art and Laurel Hadland, and Ken and Arlene Boon. Just as revealing is a discussion with a trapper, Vic Gouldie, who supports the dam and has a lot to say about trapping, caring for the land, and how annoying he finds Site C protesters. While Pollon manages to interview First Nations leaders like West Moberly Chief Roland Willson, First Nations’ perspectives are generally drawn at one remove. Pollon does not interview dam construction workers or BC Hydro employees, though he does describe an encounter with surveyors. To some extent this is the happenstantial outcome of the canoe’s drift, but it is also the result of how Pollon planned his interviews and frames his story.
Whether or not one is critical of the Site C dam, readers will appreciate the extent to which Pollon ties the current events on the Peace to the history of the region and its peoples and enjoy Nelms’ evocative photographs of the Peace on the cusp of change.
The Peace in Peril: The Real Cost of the Site C Dam
Christopher Pollon, with photographs by Ben Nelms
Madeira Park: Harbour, 2016. 160 pp. $24.95 Paper.