Peterson Farm wheat harvest – 1990s (courtesy of Lynda & Larry Peterson)
By Damien Gillis
Common Sense Canadian
I recently returned from a trip up to Peace River Country in Northeast BC, filming for a forthcoming short documentary on the Campbell/Clark Government’s proposed Site C Dam.
While I wasn’t raised in the region, I have a personal connection to the land and its history. I spent many summers and winter holidays there as a child visiting relatives. My family were early settlers in the Valley, circa 1910, and most of them still reside in the area. Some fifty years ago we lost our farm – Goldbar Ranch, West of Hudson’s Hope – to the province’s first big hydroelectric project, WAC Bennett Dam.
But that was a different time – guided by a very different vision for the future of a burgeoning young province. While it wasn’t easy for families like mine and First Nations who lost much of their ancestral territories and traditional way of life, there was a real purpose to building those early dams. Knowing what we knew then, it was an understandable decision that Premier WAC Bennett made, with the overall public good in mind (though he certainly should have consulted better with First Nations and local citizens, something that was sorely lacking).
By contrast, today, there are many good reasons why the final of three dams long planned for the Valley – Site C Dam, near Fort St. John – isn’t in the public or environmental interest, despite what our government has been telling us to the contrary.
Besides its breathtaking beauty and tremendous fish and wildlife values, the Peace River Valley is home to some of the best farmland in BC.
The soil is of very high quality: nearly 12,000 acres of good agricultural-grade land would be flooded for the project – several thousand of which bear class 1 and class 2 soils.
But it’s not just the earth that makes the Peace Valley ideal for a diverse range of food production. The valley also produces a unique micro-climate that yields a longer growing season than anywhere north of the Fraser River Delta and Valley (another critical food security region in BC under siege from development – in this case highways, ports, and housing and industrial development). Everything from corn and potatoes to cantaloupes and watermelon have been grown in the Peace Valley.