Having heard many tales of its natural beauty and fecund farmland, I have always wanted to see the Peace River Valley for myself.
So last July, my partner George and I did a road trip of more than 1,200 kilometres to a spot just past Hudson’s Hope, B.C. to participate in the 10th annual Paddle for the Peace.
The “Paddle” is a two-hour celebration by canoe (or any other paddleable boat) of that section of the Peace River that would be under 100 feet of water if the province of B.C. persists with its plan to build the Site C dam.
From the people who spoke to the crowd of 1,000 after the paddle, including several local and provincial native leaders, a former head of the B.C. ALR and Dr. David Suzuki, I learned that the section of the Peace River Valley that is slated to be drowned is not only prime alluvial soil-rich agricultural land (13,000 acres or 83 kms. of land would be impacted by the dam, enough to feed 1 million people), but it also is an important wildlife corridor. It is a grizzly crossing, ungulates use the big islands in the middle of the river to calve every spring, fish migrate up the river and there are 38 eagle nests in trees destined to be chopped down along the banks of just the few kilometers we traversed.
The dam would also impact the Athabasca delta downstream, a designated UNESCO heritage site crucial for migratory wildlife and birds.
The 100 feet of water would also cover traditional lands and sacred sites of the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations and the McLeod Lake Indian Band, none of which have given their approval of the proposed dam.
When I mentioned to family and friends that I was headed to the paddle, several asked me “but don’t you use electricity?” To that important question
I can only say that the recommendation of the Joint Review Panel was that because the province had not demonstrated that there is an actual need for the extra electricity and because of the projected cost (at $8.8 billion it is the most expensive project in B.C. history) they could not recommend the project.
And I learned that there are many less destructive and less expensive ways to generate electricity if a need should arise, such as geothermal or a smaller dam in a much less damaging locale.
The Peace River Valley lived up to my expectations and still fits the description Sir Alexander MacKenzie.gave over 200 years ago. Hopefully it will be inspiring travellers and inhabitants alike 200 years from now.
Jo Phillips is a Sooke resident.