Harnessing Hazards: An historical geography of floods and forest fires on the Petawawa River watershed in Ontario, Canada.

Authors: D. Cameron Baldassarra*, McMaster University
Topics: Canada, Historical Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: Forest fires, flooding, forestry, Algonquin Park, historical geography, conservation, recreation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A3, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores changing perceptions of the natural hazards in the Petawawa River watershed. The river, located in Eastern Ontario, was historically important to the early Canadian forestry industry due its formerly extensive pine dominated forests. Dams and chutes were built to facilitate the spring log drives, and enhance river-based access to the forests. The water works re-directed the destructive power of annual floods, and channeled that energy towards the waterborne transportation of timber. While floods were still destructive and costly, high-water was integral to the movement of lumber, and forestry companies did their best to use the flooding to their benefit.
In contrast, the summer forest fire season was viewed as threatening and destructive. In addition to the commercial value of its forests, the Petawawa watershed played host to important government research stations (the Algonquin Radio Observatory, and the Petawawa Research Forest), and is still the home of one of Canada’s largest military bases (CFB Petawawa). Efforts to protect timber resources, the research forests, and military property, lead to the development of coordinated fire protection regimes. The result was a unique arrangement between scientists, Algonquin Provincial Park management, government agencies, industrial interests, and the military.
The joint hazards of flooding and fires influenced the natural, political, and industrial landscape of the Petawawa watershed. While the natural processes of fire and floods were destructive and deadly, the human response to those hazards resulted in the establishment of strong inter-agency relationships, and directly impacted the conservation of the watershed.

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