A dam, a plan, Canada

Nov 17, 2011

In the video above is Muskrat Falls.  It's a steep climb down the river valley to the first step of the falls - and it's not a path that's maintained for hikers.  Visitors have worn down the route to the rapids, but at one or two points, it's a nearly vertical climb down the rocks.

On the way down, my guide and I meet a group of telecom workers in florescent vests, on their way back up. Though they wouldn't say it, in all likelihood, they have come here to scout this out-of-the-way corner in advance of new construction.  

Later, as we're climbing out, we're passed by a group of office workers from the nearest town, Goose Bay (population: 8,000).  They've come by to take in the views, which are, admittedly, spectacular.  Not as big as you'd expect, but in the spray, the rapids still feel enormously strong.

This - the views, and the power of the falls - is what makes them attractive to conservationists and energy developers alike.

Last month I spent a week and a half traveling through Canada's provinces to look at the other end of the power line - the one that starts at Canadian hydrodams, and ends at the plug to your computer monitor.  I've got stories to tell, but here's a preview of what I saw.

Newfoundland & Labrador

Labrador, a region on Canada's north Atlantic coast, has changed a lot in half a century.

The landscape still remains largely untouched after being carved out by glaciers. Flying overhead in the autumn, you'll see mile after undulating mile of green pines, spotted with single yellow trees.

But growth has come to Labrador with a resource boom - not just in hydroelectric power, but in growing iron mines and soon possibly uranium mining.

The immediate vicinity of the planned hydroelectric dams is home to three Canadian indigenous groups. The area has seen a full-fledged town spring up in a generation, the traditional food chain rearranged, and the arrival (probably for the better) of the omnipresent snowmobile, in place of the dogsled. Kids get their first tike-sized "Ski-Doo" by kindergarten.

This place has an emotional resonance: from the river here, you can pull up the same fish your family has for generations - and your can revisit the same ghosts.

The island part of the province, Newfoundland has the seat of the provincial government, and the provincial power authority. And it's going through a turnaround, as Newfoundland's economy, formerly based on now-devastated fishing stocks, has transformed to one based on offshore oil drilling.

Stay Tuned

I'm still sorting through hours of conversations from the road, and I regret that you won't get to hear all the cab drivers, restaurateurs, and others who volunteered their perspectives throughout this trip.

But you will get to hear some of what I collected on an upcoming radio talk show (which you can be in the audience for, if you're near Syracuse), and on a series of upcoming radio features.  It's a story I can't wait to tell. Keep an ear out.

Created with flickr slideshow.