A BOND RATHER THAN A BARRIER? CONSTRUCTING THE ST. LAWRENCE SEAWAY
Brideau, Jeffrey Mitchell
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A mid-20th century water infrastructure megaproject, the St. Lawrence Seaway is a shipping channel that accommodates ships with a 26-foot draft and allows them to traverse a distance of 2,300 miles, from the headwaters of Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean. It also facilitates the production of hydroelectric power, harnessing the river's kinetic energy to produce electrical current. Its official opening, in 1959, unified several formerly discrete elements into a coherent bi-national envirotechnical system. An environmental and technological system embedded in specific social and ecological contexts, the Seaway caused significant disruption - inundated and relocated communities and altered hydrologic dynamics are the most conspicuous repercussions of its construction and continued operation. Despite this contested history, the Seaway has been "naturalized" and masks many attendant ecological and socio-historical transformations. The Seaway's symbolic power is as potent as its social and ecological legacies. The project and associated institutions have become symbols of bi-national cooperation, and are held up as exemplars of transboundary resource management. This symbolic legacy obscures the protracted and acrimonious debate that preceded Seaway construction, as well as alternative possibilities and perspectives marginalized in the process. Accordingly, I contend that the Seaway has both engendered new bonds and simultaneously erected new barriers, transforming the landscape and peoples in myriad and often unanticipated ways. By teasing out the stories concealed by the dominant Seaway narrative, I show that the remaking of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence, between the 1820s and 1960s, materially and discursively reconfigured adjacent societies and landscapes. Using envirotechnical analysis deployed in a bi-national narrative, I explore the Seaway as both a symbol and a reality. The boundaries between these forms are permeable not fixed, and both are crucial to its construction and operation. This story is, at its core, an interrogation of boundaries - a narrative focused on two nations and the river that divides and unites them. It is also about the boundaries drawn between culture and nature, the environment and technology, the abstract and physical, expertise and advocacy, as well as myth and materiality.