Levelling the Lake
404 pages, 6 x 9
18 photos, 12 maps, 1 chart
Release Date:01 Sep 2019
Release Date:15 Feb 2019
Release Date:15 Feb 2019
Release Date:15 Feb 2019

Levelling the Lake

Transboundary Resource Management in the Lake of the Woods Watershed

UBC Press

Stretching across parts of Ontario, Manitoba, and Minnesota, the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake basin spans boundaries and jurisdictions. Levelling the Lake explores a century and a half of social, economic, and legal arrangements through which the resources and environment of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake watershed have been both harnessed and harmed.

Jamie Benidickson traces the environmental consequences of logging, mining, forest industries, commercial fishing, hydro-electricity production, and recreation on the natural environment and the often unanticipated impacts of these activities on water flows and quality as well as on local residents, including Indigenous communities, which encouraged new legal and institutional responses. Assessing the transition from primary resource extraction toward sustainable development at a watershed level with a focus on law and governance, Levelling the Lake also shows how interjurisdictional and transboundary issues – many involving the Canada-US International Joint Commission – continue to play a significant role throughout the region.

Levelling the Lake features historical examples offering hard lessons and successful experiments that provide encouragement for the effective management of ecosystems such as the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake basin.

Levelling the Lake will interest students and scholars of environmental history, resource management, legal history, historical geography, and Indigenous studies. Those who work in US-Canada environmental relations and water management will also find this book highly relevant, as will residents of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake region.


  • 2020, Winner - Albert Corey Prize, Canadian Historical Association
Jamie Benidickson injects subtle ironic humour throughout [Levelling the Lake], but readers not interested in water or history may find it a long, hard haul … but ultimately this is a rewarding read, perhaps best appreciated as an unfolding story … while subdued in tone, Levelling the Lake offers a valuable analysis on how ecosystems and relations between people can decline from one generation to the next … the book quietly and forcibly puts into relief how long-term economic and social security can be assured only through mutual trust among peoples, along with the proper maintenance and re- establishment of ecological balance. Robert Sandford, Literary Review of Canada
Benidickson is to be congratulated for both the depth and quality of his research. His understanding of the complex legal and constitutional frameworks which have been imposed upon this region from the 1860s to the present is outstanding. [...]

This is an important work – and a pioneering one at that. Jim Mochoruk, NiCHE

‘Benidickson had to deal with what amounted to a jurisdictional nightmare as he crafted his story of the region’s environmental history over a 150-year period.

This is an important work – and a pioneering one at that. It is not, however, for the faint of heart, and will be of use primarily to experts and graduate students in the fields of environmental history and law, as the levels of legal, political and organizational complexity are difficult to navigate – even with Benidickson’s expert hand on the tiller.

Benidickson shows how the many controversies and challenges—from the early negotiations around leveling the lake, to the Winnipeg water problems, the search for answers to the mercury crisis, and the need for a bridge and road to address the living conditions of the Shoal Lake band, illustrate how essential and necessary multi-agency solutions have been for the problems of the Lake of the Woods basin. Francis M. Carroll, St. John’s College, University of Manitoba, Prairie History
Levelling the Lake offers perspective on the larger continuing challenge of understanding both ourselves and the trajectory of development that created the present. In the twenty-first century, it is well to remember that the impacts of particular actions on people, landscapes, and ecologies may only become evident years or decades after these actions are taken. from the Foreword by Graeme Wynn
Professor Benidickson travelled to a fascinating corner of the Canada-US border, explored its every nook as a paddler and historian, and gathered a treasure trove of stories along the way. His comprehensive study of the Lake of the Woods region reveals how political boundaries and water bodies shape us and are shaped by us. As we consider erecting walls along our border waters, Professor Benidickson's story of cooperation and conflict offers a much-needed history lesson. Noah Hall, founder of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center
Benidickson's environmental-legal history of the Lake of the Woods area considers the tensions between the geographical integrity of the river basin and various geopolitical entities that have sought to assert their will over parts of it. This book is a rare example of regional history that effectively situates the local within the administrative scales and networks of power bearing on it. Shannon Stunden Bower, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta
Jamie Benidickson teaches environmental law at the University of Ottawa where he is a member of the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability. His publications include Idleness, Water, and a Canoe: Reflections of Paddling for Pleasure; The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage; and, with Bruce Hodgins, The Temagami Experience: Recreation, Resources, and Aboriginal Rights in the Northern Ontario Wilderness.

Foreword by Graeme Wynn


1 Building Boundaries

2 Cultural, Commercial, and Constitutional Fishing

3 This Land Is My Land – It Can’t Be Your Land

4 Water Rights and Water Powers

5 Pulp and Paper: From Emergence to Emergency

6 Bacterial Waterways

7 Levelling the Lake

8 Power Struggles

9 Economy and Ecology

10 We Are All in This Together

11 "Slowly to the Rescue as a Community Fails"

12 Lumbering towards Sustainability

13 Fishing Contests

14 "For Water Knows No Borders"

Conclusion: Finding the Watershed

Notes; Suggested Readings; Index

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