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, Short-listed - The Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia, UBC Library
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Investing in Place
Economic Renewal in Northern British Columbia
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