Resource Histories and the Political Ecology of Failure in Canada’s North

Authors: Jonathan Peyton*, University of Manitoba
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Historical Geography, Environment
Keywords: Failure, extractive economies, development, megaprojects, river diversions, subarctic Canada
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Bayside C, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines a series of energy megaprojects proposed for the industrial development of subarctic Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. The aim is to probe post-war northern energy histories in an effort to understand the multiplying effects of scale, failure and resource conflict, issues that invariably outline the social, economic and environmental relations of proposed northern energy schemes. Amidst post-war prosperity, northern governments sought to mobilize technological regimes in northern natures, offering competing visions of river diversion projects to generate electricity and attract industrial clients. The Yukon and Canadian governments planned to channel the Yukon River into the Taku, while the Alaskan authorities intended to divert the Yukon into the Taiya. Both projects would divert the Yukon into the Pacific Ocean with the goal of enticing competing national aluminum producers to the region. Alongside new hydroelectric potential, these schemes would also develop new hydrologic regimes, new geopolitical tensions, and new displacements and economies around resource extraction and energy development. I interrogate the effects of these hydroelectric dreams, with a focus on the overlapping Yukon River proposals, while also tracing how these new effects produce new extractive encounters, in this case copper mines, acid mine drainage and legal conflicts with Indigenous peoples. I bring an environmental historical lens alongside political-industrial ecology to better understand the outcomes of such large-scale, ambitious energy planning, the material and discursive effects of project failures and the tensions that emerged in the wake of these northern energy encounters.

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