The Road to Hope — Part 3: Hudson’s Hope
Our trip to Hudson’s Hope to learn about the Site C dam.
Four years ago I decided to travel across Northern British Columbia with my two kids and a veteran cinematographer to learn more about where our energy comes from. Along the way, we spoke to local residents about the ways their communities are being impacted for better or for worse.
It was a short drive from Tumbler Ridge to Hudson’s Hope, and we arrived late in the afternoon. The area was covered in a grey drizzle. We had trouble finding our hotel and stopped in at another to ask for directions. The proprietor of this hotel convinced us that his establishment was a better choice, and we decided to stay there for the night. I had to admit that the accommodations were surprisingly posh for such a remote location. The hotel seemed brand new and was probably the nicest one we had stayed in since leaving home. It was a bit of a surprise to find such swanky digs in Hudson’s Hope, a town that really consisted of one main road and two restaurants, as far as we could tell. There were, of course, many residences within the large geographic area encompassed in the city limits, but not much of a town to speak of.
The next morning, we visited the home of Gwen Johanssen, the mayor of Hudson’s Hope. Gwen was warm and welcoming, and our conversation flowed easily. Her pride in her home and community were evident, and she was clearly passionate about living so close to nature, and the value of the ecosystem in and around the Peace River that flowed behind her home. As with many other local residents and farmers, her property was in close proximity to the Peace River.
Construction for the Site C Dam would force these residents to leave their properties, as the entire area was to be inundated to create a basin for the dam. Gwen talked to us about the effect this would have on local wildlife and flora, in addition to losing some of the most fertile farmland in the province. Hudson’s Hope already encompasses two of the province’s largest dams, and there is a great deal of debate over whether the energy from this latest dam is needed and, furthermore, whether it is worth the $9–12 billion price tag that will be passed on to taxpayers. Gwen also had similar concerns that we’d heard in Kitimat and Dawson Creek about temporary workers living in work camps rather than being integrated into the community, offering little hope that they might stay long term and contribute to population growth in the area.
When we were done, Gwen took us to an event that she had heard was taking place that weekend: a retreat for local youth and elders put on by the local Indigenous band. She knew the organizers and was kind enough to introduce us. The event took place on a plateau overlooking the Peace River, and indeed there were many multi-generational families taking part, not only Indigenous, but those of European descent as well. There were art activities, music, and storytelling, in addition to a sweat lodge. It struck me that the Indigenous and European communities in this area seemed to be much more unified than any other region we had visited on our journey, perhaps drawn together by their common dependence on the Peace River. Although both communities saw different reasons for preserving the river — the non-Indigenous community depended on it for farming, and the Indigenous community for cultural significance and access to wildlife for hunting — everyone seemed to agree that it was necessary to their way of life, and they managed to find a way to share the land and coexist.
Before leaving the area, we followed the highway along the river, one that would have been perfect for filming a car commercial, until we found a vantage point to capture some of the lush landscapes and farmland on both sides of the river. We did a bit more off-roading in our rental van, at one point scaring a deer that was perched on a plateau overlooking the river. After grabbing some final footage, we made our way back to town, and the following day started our trip back home.
Back in Smithers, we picked up my VW bus from the mechanic. It turned out that the problem was simply worn points, a repair that cost around $100 — at least some good news. Here we parted ways with Louis; he took the rental van back to the Terrace / Kitimat airport, and from there flew back to Vancouver Island. Booking a flight home seemed like the least I could do for keeping him two extra days on our trip, and for all of the stressful situations that had cropped up along the way. The kids and I traveled home, this time at a relaxed pace, simply enjoying the views, and stopping here and there to grab some extra footage of a train winding through a valley or the tunnels that poke through the Thompson region.
Even without straying far from the beaten path, I was astounded at the beauty of the natural landscape: pristine lakes, raging rivers, majestic mountains, fertile valleys, and a host of wildlife. I spoke to local people, hoping to get their impression of the energy development taking place in their backyard. Some were concerned with issues such as food security, protecting prime farmland, and concern for their communities struggling to support armies of energy workers living in temporary work camps. Others saw the promise of growing their municipalities and providing better jobs and services to local residents.
I came back from my trip to B.C.’s north inspired and wanting to make a tangible change. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I want to find a way to make ordinary people look at their individual energy consumption, and empower them to change our current course toward catastrophic climate change. It’s easy to say: “Let’s not have any more pipelines, let’s not frack, let’s not flood any more valleys,” but how can we make this a reality?
I also realize that I am part of the problem. Although travel by car has a much smaller impact than flying, and electric cars were not an option at the time, I nonetheless traveled nearly 5,000 kilometres by automobile, spewing additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Despite many mistakes made along the way, I’m very happy that I made the journey. I learned a great deal about the issues and got to share a memorable experience with my kids. I’m sure it’s an experience that they won’t soon forget. I do wish that we had been able to take time to capture more images and had been able to speak to more people.
Shortly after returning home, I started a new in-house role and realized that I would not be able to complete the documentary as I had originally imagined it. I struggled for a long time with what to do with the material — I felt a responsibility to share the information with the world. These are, after all, issues with which we continue to struggle. Finally, after taking a long time away, I returned to the material and managed to pull it together in a way that felt cohesive and, hopefully, interesting.