Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Fish versus Power: An Environmental History of the Fraser River

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Fish versus Power: An Environmental History of the Fraser River

Article excerpt

Matthew D. Evenden, Fish versus Power: An Environmental History of the Fraser River (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), xvii + 309pp. Cloth. £40. ISBN 0-521-83099-0.

Matthew Evenden has transposed his doctoral thesis into a fascinating tale, matching that of the construction of Canada's transcontinental railways, the second of which nearly brought the main theme of his book to an abrupt end at the outset of the story. In 1911, engineers for the Canadian Northern Railway, constructing their line on the opposite side of the river to the CPR, managed to block the passage of salmon at Hell's Gate, some 260km from the mouth of the Fraser. Catches on the most prolific salmon run in the world fell from over 30 million in 1913 to less than two million in the 1920s. Yet the inept dynamiting of railway engineers was paradoxically the saviour of the Fraser as the world's premier salmon river.

Faced with the losses to their commercial and native fisheries in Puget Sound, in 1937 Canadian and American fishing interests established the Pacific Salmon Convention to establish a catch agreement and launch a scientific restoration programme. The fish runs created at Hell's Gate not only re-established the catch, but also gave the two countries a vested interest in preserving the Fraser for fishing against depredations from the dam builders, seeking to harness its water to generate power. Evenden plots the vicissitudes of the ensuing conflicts skilfully, drawing on relevant archival material. The Fraser has, to date, been remarkably lucky. The cross-border fishing interests helped steer federal preference towards a further international agreement to share the development of the Columbia River for hydroelectric generation, with the BC Social Credit Party under W. …

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