By Kate Procter
After two summers of staying close to home and not being with other people much, we decided to take a little trip to appreciate Canada Day by exploring areas we had not visited before. It is always very interesting to visit other countries, but whenever I venture even a little distance from my home, I’m amazed at what can be learned in our own backyard.
Just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut us all down for a while, I travelled to Montreal and spent a weekend there, which was a first for me. A walking tour revealed the rich history, culture, and architecture of a city where many different peoples have come together over the centuries. This summer, we decided to venture a little further and visit Quebec City, using our bicycles to explore the area.
Travelling to Quebec from Huron County takes you through many Ontario towns and cities whose names are familiar and easily roll through your mind as easily as you roll along the 401 highway. But instead of barreling on through, we decided to stay and explore a couple of these cities on our way. It meant less time in Quebec City, but also added a richness to our trip that I had not expected before we ventured out.
Hopping off the 401 and driving along Highway 2, that was at one time the main corridor of land travel, allowed us to see the area in a different way. The small towns had beautiful gardens and buildings that had survived since Europeans arrived in the late 1700s. This area became known as “Loyalist Country” because it was largely settled by United Empire Loyalists who fled from the newly formed United States. But there is more to this area than pretty landscaping and old stone work.
Cornwall, whose Mohawk name is Tsi kana:taien, is the seat of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, and is the easternmost city in Ontario. Cornwall is also the meeting place of several different groups of people, with many of the street names appearing in French, the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne is located to the south, and the U.S. town of Massena, New York is located across the Saint Lawrence River.
We stayed in Auberge Chesley’s Inn, built in 1814, located about a block from the Lamoureux Park and now the home of Hamish, a very sociable Scottish Terrier. An antique gun hanging on the wall led to a discussion of some of the local history, including the history of slavery in Canada. John Baker, the last slave to be born in Canada, died in Cornwall in 1871 at the age of 93.
We drove to the eastern part of town to cycle. The bike trail is paved and follows the Saint Lawrence River. People have planted beautiful gardens so the ride is an interesting mix of natural and cultivated areas.
The Moses-Saunders Power Dam, visible from the Visitor’s Centre, located on the Saint Lawrence River, supplies water to two power generating stations – Cornwall’s 1045 MW R.H. Saunders Generating Station and Messena’s 912 MW St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. This dam serves several purposes aside from the renewable power it provides – it regulates the Saint Lawrence River and provides water for large vessels to move goods on the river.
The dam also is responsible for the creation of The Lost Villages, which were home to 6,500 people, who were forced to move when the area was flooded in 1958. Relocated to two new towns – Long Sault and Ingleside – some residents were able to move their homes while others had their homes and businesses demolished ahead of the flooding.
While residents were compensated for what was reportedly fair market value, many felt that the value of the land had already decreased because people knew the project was coming. Aside from whether the value was fair, residents had no choice – then as now, privately owned land can be expropriated if it is needed for public projects such as the building of roads, highways, or schools. This is governed in Ontario by the Expropriations Act.
The dam also impacted the traditional territory used by the Mohawks of Akwesasne, who were subjected to multiple levels of government with the arrival of European settlers. Ten islands, including 1,200 acres of reserve lands and 15,000 acres of traditional lands belonging to the Akwesasne, were flooded without compensation.
After years of negotiations, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) came to an agreement in 2008 that included an apology, compensation of $45,963,520 (CA), transfer of islands, employment, and environmental stewardship. “The Proposed Settlement is an historic opportunity that concludes 15 years of good faith efforts to address the past wrongs and to develop a positive working relationship,” reported Grand Chief Tim Thompson. Our host told us the Vistors Centre was constructed as part of this agreement.
Learning about the dam, the Lost Villages, and the impact on the local indigenous people who had lived in this area for centuries led me to reflect on our current struggles around individual freedoms versus what is in the public interest. This dam provided such a huge perceived benefit – both by the production of electricity and the ability to move goods up and down the Saint Lawrence River – that the cost represented by the loss of homes, communities, farm land, hunting grounds, and environmental damage that resulted from the flooding was believed to be a necessary trade off. While the issues may change, living in community requires a never-ending negotiation between individual freedoms and what is deemed to benefit the greater number of people. ◊