Unbuilt Environments
276 pages, 6 x 9
12 photographs, 7 maps, 2 charts, 2 tables
Release Date:15 Jul 2017
Release Date:01 Feb 2017
Release Date:27 Jan 2017
Release Date:27 Jan 2017

Unbuilt Environments

Tracing Postwar Development in Northwest British Columbia

UBC Press

In the latter half of the twentieth century, legions of industrial pioneers came to northwestern British Columbia with grand plans for mines, dams, and energy-development schemes. Yet many of their projects never materialized or were simply abandoned midstream. Unbuilt Environments reveals that these failed resource projects had lasting effects on the natural and human environment.

Drawing on a range of case studies to analyze the social and environmental impacts of unfinished projects, Jonathan Peyton considers development failure a productive concept for northwestern Canada. In this first analysis of the history of resource exploitation in this part of the world, he looks at the closed asbestos mine and town site at Cassiar, an abandoned rail grade (the Dease Lake Extension), an imagined series of hydroelectric installations (the Stikine-Iskut project), a failed LNG export facility (Dome Petroleum), and the much-debated Northwest Transmission Line. He finds that these unrealized projects and past development failures continue to shape contemporary resource conflicts in this region.

This book will be of interest to scholars of history, geography, environmental studies, and Aboriginal studies, as well as those working in anthropology, resource and development studies, and political ecology.


  • 2018, Shortlisted - The Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia, UBC Library
Unbuilt Environments is an enthralling book … [and] a great contribution to the emerging interdisciplinary narrative on resource development conflicts in northwest British Columbia, a region that is currently the site of intense mining exploration and controversy over energy projects. Drawing on fieldwork throughout northwest British Columbia and on research which is both eloquent and honest, Unbuilt Environments is a practical, accessible, and reliable resource from a respected emerging researcher. I strongly recommend this book for the expert and non-expert. Rajiv Thakur, Missouri State University, West Plains, Polymath
Unbuilt Environments provides an even-handed discussion of development in a region that remains relatively aloof from capital investment and integration into the global economy. Gordon Hak, NiCHE, Network in Canadian History & Environment
Jonathan Peyton by bringing to light the history of these spasmodic industrial developments in the north has done an immense public service. His research is comprehensive, his analysis precise, his tone moderate and dispassionate. Indeed, there are moments when the reader, overwhelmed by Peyton’s revelations, the scale of the corruption, the extent of the folly, the aggregate waste of tax payers’ wealth, almost wishes for a more emotional reaction from the author. Yet the great strength of the book is its restraint, for the facts and history alone provide sufficient indictment. Wade Davis, The Ormsby Review
Unbuilt Environments is an exciting and critical work of scholarship that explores the diverse environmental and social legacies of northern resource development. Focused on northern British Columbia and the Stikine, this work gives readers new ways to think about the industrial history of Canada’s North. Liza Piper, Associate Professor of History, University of Alberta
Unbuilt Environments is a product of its time in that it is, most basically, a history of the present. The past of the Stikine is invoked here, not so much for its own intrinsic value but to comment on contemporary circumstances. Peyton does his work cleverly and eschews strict narrative chronology for an approach that tacks back and forth through time, to tie past and present together and challenge readers to reflect critically on contemporary circumstances. from the Foreword by Graeme Wynn

Jonathan Peyton is an assistant professor in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. His work has appeared in Geoforum, Antipode, the Journal of Historical Geography, and Environment and History.

Foreword: How Shall We Live? / Graeme Wynn

Introduction: The Stikine Watershed and the Unbuilt Environment

1 Cassiar, Asbestos: How to Know a Place

2 Liberating Stranded Resources: The Dease Lake Extension as the Railway to Nowhere

3 Corporate Ecology: BC Hydro, Failure, and the Stikine-Iskut Project

4 “Industry for the future”: Dome Petroleum and the Afterlives of “Aggressive” Development

5 Transmission: Contesting Energy and Enterprise in the New Northwest Gold Rush

Conclusion: The Tumbling Geography

Appendix; Notes; Bibliography; Index

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