The University of Maine’s Canadian-American Center wrapped up Canada Week Monday, Nov. 15, with a lecture describing the history of hydroelectric power in Quebec.
David Massell, a professor of Canadian history at the University of Vermont, delivered a speech titled “A question of power: A brief history of hydroelectricity in Quebec” at the Buchanan Alumni House.
“Quebec’s hydro-rich landscape has proven to be an extraordinary gift to the province,” Massell said, adding that locals refer to the abundant rivers and water sources in the province as “white coal.”
Broken down into three sections, his presentation focused on the landscape of Canada’s province of Quebec and the history of hydroelectricity in the area. Massell talked about the early stages of constructing hydroelectric infrastructure and the local workforce involved. He concluded with a discussion about the politics and policy surrounding the advancement of hydroelectric power in the area.
Massell pointed out that HydroQuebec, a major hydropower company, produces three-and-a-half times more energy than New York City consumes at its peak rate and also provides 10 percent of New England’s electric need.
With such an abundance of hydroelectricity produced in the province, Quebec has become one of the leading regions worldwide for businesses that require massive amounts of energy, such as aluminum production facilities. Massell said this is reshaping the face of the province.
“Hydroelectricity has become the leading agent of change in the area,” Massell said.
Massell spoke about reform in Quebec’s government policies toward American businessmen who are making massive profits and discussed the reactions of native tribes in the area.
He also talked of the titanic construction projects required to build the dams necessary to produce this form of power and the effect they have upon the surrounding land and the occupying tribes.
Massell focused on the Cree, a tribe that previously occupied land affected by the damming of rivers. Up through the 1970s, the tribe was allowed no say in dam construction and “were not paid a penny for a single dam,” Massell said.
The tribe successfully sued HydroQuebec, resulting in a payout for members of the tribe in addition to legal rights to hunting grounds and government subsidies.
“A simple act of regulation forged many other services for the natives,” Massell said.
Massell has researched the politics and policy of hydroelectricity in the province of Quebec extensively due to a rising demand for energy in the United States. He earned a doctorate degree in Canadian-American history at Duke University. He won a Fulbright scholarship for his graduate work, as well as government grants and private grants from assorted corporations.
Massell’s book, “Amassing Power: J.B. Duke and the Saguenay River, 1897-1927,” focuses on the subject of hydroelectricity in the Quebec region. Massell is in the process of writing a second book that will expand on the first book. The second book’s working title is “Quebec Hydropolitics: The Peribonka Concessions of World War Two.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Canadian-American Center as part of Canada Week. The center also helps to support a major research library about Canada while promoting cross-border research.
Located next to the Buchanan Alumni House on College Avenue, the Canadian-American Center is a founding member of the Northeast National Resource Center on Canada.