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In the next decade, a 60-metre-high wall of compacted earth will stretch more than a kilometre across the main stem of the Peace River – a river in Canada that originates in the Rocky Mountains of northern British Columbia and flows to the northeast through northern Alberta – causing the waters behind it to swell into a 93-square-kilometre artificial lake, drowning the best topsoil left in the BC north. The waters will swallow fifty islands and a valley that is home to farmers, ranchers, trappers and habitat to innumerable creatures big and small.
Over four days in late September 2015, Christopher Pollon paddled the 83-kilometre section of the river that will be destroyed by the Site C dam reservoir, accompanied by photojournalist Ben Nelms. Their goal was to witness the very first steps of construction for the almost $8.8-billion project (the most expensive infrastructure project in BC history). They concluded their trip by touring the same stretch by land, interviewing and photographing the locals who stand to lose everything.
Equal parts travel adventure, history and journalistic exploration, The Peace in Peril is a story about the dubious trade-off of hydro power for resources like timber and farmland, but also far more: the Peace valley has been a prosperous home to people for eleven thousand years. How will lives, human and otherwise, be erased or irrevocably altered when the next great flood rises up to engulf the Peace River valley?
Christopher Pollon is a Vancouver-based independent journalist who reports on the politics of natural resources, focusing on energy, mines and oceans. His work has appeared in The Walrus, Readers Digest, The Globe and Mail, National Geographic Books and many more publications. He has been a contributing editor at The Tyee since 2008.
Ben Nelms is a Vancouver freelance photojournalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Macleans, The Globe and Mail, Sports Illustrated and Canadian Geographic.