Power from the North
312 pages, 6 x 9
24 photos, 2 maps
Release Date:01 Jan 2014
Release Date:07 May 2013
Release Date:03 May 2013

Power from the North

Territory, Identity, and the Culture of Hydroelectricity in Quebec

UBC Press

In the 1970s, Hydro-Québec declared in a publicity campaign “We Are Hydro-Québécois.” The slogan symbolized the extent to which hydroelectric development in the North had come to both reflect and fuel French Canada’s aspirations in the South. The slogan helped southerners relate to the province’s northern territory and to accept the exploitation of its resources.

In Power from the North, Caroline Desbiens explores how this culture of hydroelectricity helped shape the material landscape during the first phase of the James Bay hydroelectric project. She analyzes the cultural forces that contributed to the transformation of the La Grande River into a hydroelectric complex. Policy makers and Quebecers did not, she argues, view those who built the dams as mere workers – they saw them as pioneers in a previously uninhabited landscape now inscribed with the codes of culture and spectacle.

This dynamic book reveals that drawing power from the North involves not only the cultural erasure of Aboriginal homelands but also rewriting the region’s history in the language of identity and territoriality. To reverse this trend, Desbiens calls for a truly sustainable resource management, one in which all actors bring an awareness of their own cultural histories and visions of nature, North, and nation to the negotiating table.

Power from the North will appeal to geographers, historians, policy makers, and environmentalists and anyone interested in First Nations, resource co-management, and cultural approaches to energy.


  • 2015, Short-listed - Canada Prize in the Social Sciences, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Caroline Desbiens explores the nexus of hydroelectricity, Québécois identity, and the cultural narratives that are used by southern Québécois to justify resource development in the northern regions of the province. The result is a wonderfully personal and critical reflection on the culture of hydroelectricity in Québec and ‘the importance of reading economic development through a cultural lens.’ [It] is an excellent new contribution to the Nature|History|Society series from UBC Press. It connects beautifully with the other books in the series and will compliment work on the ways in which people conceptualize and transform the north through material, and particularly discursive, formations. Morgan Moffitt, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Journal of Polar Record
Power from the North is a much-needed reinterpretation of Quebec’s relationship with its north. Desbiens’s sophisticated critique of nationalist, heroic narratives inherent in the earlier James Bay projects argues persuasively that development has been both an aspect of the modern technocratic state and a troubling legacy of colonialism in Quebec. This timely historical geography speaks directly to this legacy, as well as to current political rhetoric about the North. Hans M. Carlson, author of Home Is the Hunter: The James Bay Cree and Their Land
As society struggles to find a balance between economic security and environmental well-being and grapples with the various challenges posed by social and environmental injustices, the freighted implications of popular ideas of the North need to be better understood. Power from the North can and should help with this. from the Foreword by Graeme Wynn
Caroline Desbiens is a professor of geography at Laval University. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Historical Geography of the North.

Foreword: Ideas of North / Graeme Wynn

Introduction: Looking North

Part 1: Power and the North

1 The Nexus of Hydroelectricity in Quebec

2 Discovering a New World: James Bay as Eeyou Istchee

Part 2: Writing the Land

3 Who Shall Convert the Wilderness into a Flourishing Country?

4 From the Roman de la Terre to the Roman des Ressources

Part 3: Rewriting the Land

5 Pioneers

6 Workers

7 Spectators

Conclusion: Ongoing Stories and Powers from the North


Selected Bibliography


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