Through his presidency of the local Board of Trade, Earl Pollon spearheaded
building a road from Chetwynd to Hudson's Hope, and escorted then-BC Premier W.A.C. Bennett to Portage Canyon, the potential site for a dam that would carry the premier's name. Writing was Earl's true passion. He founded a local newspaper, Hudson's Hope Power News, and later wrote a historical essay titled ''Dinosaurs to Dynamos'' detailing the dramatic
successional changes the Peace River valley had experienced over the eons. His poetry and prose collection, titled Beneath These Waters, sold several thousand copies.
Earl Pollon lived in Hudson's Hope since 1931 as a prospector, writer and local newspaper publisher. With Calgary's Shirlee Matheson he co-wrote This Was Our Valley: The True Story of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam (Detselig Enterprise, 1989) to resurrect the stories submerged by B.C. Hydro's flooding of 640 square miles of land to create Williston Lake. A third, revised edition was released in 2018.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
This Was Our Valley
This Was Our Valley: the True Story of the W.A.C. By Bennett Dam. With Shirlee Smith Matheson (Detselig, 1989)
Beneath These Waters (Glencanyon Press, 1980)
Hudson Hope: Dinosaur to Dynamo. Compiled and edited by Earl and B. Pollon (Hudson Hope Chamber of Commerce, 1969)
[BCBW 2017] "Local History"
Articles: 1 Article for this author
IN THE EARLY 1960's, B.C. HYDRO BROUGHT heavy equipment and engineers into Hudson's Hope, the province's third oldest community, and proceeded to build the world's largest earth-filled (non-concrete) dam 16 miles away.
Hudson's Hope temporarily boomed but at the expense of many local settlers, such as the lngenika Indians, who had no choice but to vacate their homes.
At 73, having lived in Hudson's Hope since 1931, Earl K. Pollon remains as one of the few British Columbians who has seen the impact of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the overall quality of life in the Peace River country.
No confined to his bed and weighing only 90 pounds, he can't stand in the way of B.C. Hydro's newly-announced 15-year scheme to expand its provincial hydroelectric output by nearly 30%.
But the feisty, ex-sawmill operator is about to toss a well-aimed monkey wrench at Hydro with the publication of This Was Our Valley: The True Story of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam (Detselig $17.95).
"Our book is the story of a little town that got in the way of major industry," he says, "I know it 'can't change anything. But it might help other communities handle the situation we had to face."
Pollon has collaborated with Shirlee Matheson to resurrect the local stories that Were submerged by Hydro's flooding of 640 sq. miles of land to create Williston Lake.
"I'm amazed this book hasn't been written before this," says Matheson, author of two previous books, "It's a real barn burner:'
Dislocated without consultation or adequate compensation, the Ingenika Indians victims of poverty, alcohol and disorientation have experienced severe degradations and the increasing threat of extinction for two decades.
Matheson has travelled to the headwaters of the Ingenika River to talk to the Sekanni Indians, and interviewed the people of the delta at Fort Chipewyan.
"The Fort Chipewyan people have had their lifestyle altered forever," says Matheson, "and they have not received any compensation."
This fall the 130 remaining members of the Ingenika band are voting to ratify a new treaty compensating them for B.C. Hydro's flooding of their lands.
"It marks a new beginning for my people," said Ingenika chief Gordon Pierre in August, "We have something to look forward to and we have our own land."
Hydro will pay $2 million for rerelocation, the federal government will provide $10.2 million for new facilities, and the B.C. government will supply 1,200 hectares for two new Ingenika reserves--one at Hydro Creek and one at Mesilinka River.
This Was Our Valley (edited by Mark Lowey, environment and native issues reporter for The Calgary Herald), also examines the long-term effects of B.C.'s largest mega-project on wildlife. "There were all sorts of studies done by experts," says Matheson, "But the word environment almost didn't exist in the early 1960s.
"How can a beaver build a house on a lake that fluctuates in elevation 45 feet a year?"
Matheson was a resident of Hudson's Hope for nine years while her husband worked as a surveyor for the dam project. During that period she took town council minutes also did court reporting for inquests.
She has examined B.C. Hydro's dealings with local residents, its ability to keep its promises and its success at predicting environmental repercussions.
--The reservoir never did become a northern marine resort.
--All animals of the area didn't simply shift to other grazing and mating grounds.
--Archaeological remains were not always respected.
--Local employment benefits haven't materialized to everyone's satisfaction.
The issue of employment still irks Earl Pollon the most.
As President of the Hudson's Hope Board of Trade in 1959, Pollon escorted Premier W.A.C. Bennett to see the future site of the W.A.C. Bennett dam. Pollon fondly recalls Bennett Sr. as a 'damn good man' who simply wanted to take shortcuts.
"Wacky was enthused right out of his mind," he says, "He was like a little boy opening his Christmas stocking. I got a new airport out of him that afternoon, he was so happy.
"Then Hydro came in and done what they damn well pleased! Our local boys couldn't get work on the project."
Pollon was also disturbed by a near disaster when flood waters nearly went over initial dams erected by B.C. Hydro to create a dry construction bed.
"I declared war in 1963,". he says, "and I've been at it ever since." The publication of This Was Our Valley with a book launch in Hudson's Hope is timely given B.C. Energy Minister Jack Davis' announcement in August that B.C. will establish a new crown agency to export power into the U.S. market. The free trade deal has increased expectations that B.C. can negotiate long-term contracts for power sales to California where the population is projected to grow from 26 million to 40 million by the year 2000.
B.C. Hydro is proposing to build a Hat Creek Thermal Plant, 100 miles northeast of Vancouver, to produce the equivalent of one-seventh of B.C.'s power. As well, Hydro is reviving plans for its Site C dam in the Peace River (after being refused a license by the provincial controller of water rights in the early 1980's).
Some people who owned property that was flooded by Williston Lake 20 years ago now face the possibility of having their land holdings flooded for a second time.
'That's like losing your husband in World War One," says Matheson, "then worrying about losing a son in World War Two." The Peace Valley Environmental Association is very active in challenging Hydro's proposed new dam. Meanwhile residents of economically depressed Fort St. John are mostly supportive of the new project.
"People have told me they just want to keep Hydro honest," says Matheson, now living in Calgary, "We need openness, fairness. None of this cloak n' dagger stuff. Hydro used divide n' conquer techniques in the past that we don't want to see repeated.
"Hydro should understand that people are not as likely to block an important project if they feel they are being treated fairly."
To ensure Hydro has been treated fairly by her book, Matheson has checked her facts with Chris Boatman, project manager for the Peace Canyon dam. Boatman, vice-president of corporate affairs and environment, has relayed Matheson's questions to the appropriate Hydro managers and engineers -including the environmental department -to assure that Hydro's side is represented.
Meanwhile Earl Pollon -reporter and publisher of the short-lived Hudson's Hope Power News -has finally brought the most important news story of his life into print.
This Was Our Valley will be available in September.
[BCBW Autumn 1989]
This Was Our Valley, by Earl K. Pollon and Shirlee Smith Matheson. Calgary: Detselig, 1989.
When the history of twentieth-century British Columbia is written, the 1960s and 1970s will be remembered as the decades of megaprojects. The Arrow Lakes, Mica, and Revelstoke dams on the Columbia River, the Bennett and Canyon dams on the Peace River, the southeast and northeast coal projects and the extension of the British Columbia Railway to Fort Nelson were all built in these "decades of development."
Each of these projects grew out of its own political and economic context, involved very large capital expenditures (both public and private), and all were undertaken in the name of progress and economic opportunity. Each had, and continues to have, major socio-economic and environmental consequences for the people and places in which it is located.
In This Was Our Valley, Earl Pollon and Shirlee Matheson write in a semi-popular way about the inter-relations betwen the upper Peace River and those frontier people who went to live in its valley in the 1930s and the changes brought about by the construction and operation of the Bennett and Canyon dams. The book contains a number of photographs (some poorly reproduced) but has no index or collated list of references. The legibility of the maps on the inside cover leaves much to be desired in a book in which, particularly in the first section, the reader is taken all over these northern parts of B.C.
In Part One, Earl Pollon chronicles his life on the frontiers of settlement during the period 1930-65. In fourteen chapters he describes his experiences as trapper, carpenter, prospector, hauler, lime burner, and more in places as far afield as Germansen Landing to the west and the Sikanni Chief River to the north. Stylistically he has some difficulty in making a cohesive narrative out of his recollections, and one often wishes that he would move away from his experiences somewhat and provide the reader with some background about his family and the politico-economic circumstances of the region. Nevertheless, his stories (and a selection of his poems) bring the reader close to the Peace River and the fascinating backgrounds and the caring values of his tough frontier neighbours and associates.
In Part Two, Shirlee Matheson narrates aspects of her life as a "newcomer" to Hudson's Hope and documents many elements of the planning, construction, and operation of the Peace River power project, drawing on her experience as secretary to the Hudson's Hope Improvement District. Her twenty chapters deal with two major themes : the economic potential of Hudson's Hope and the upper Peace Valley and the impact of the power project upon the river, its valley, and people. Under the first theme she reviews the potential of coal and other minerals, the prospects of resource processing industries and the need for road and rail links to markets. She tells all too briefly the fascinating story of the formation of the Peace River Power Development Company and the complex inter-relations between British, Swedish, and British Columbian interests. She also writes of the tension between "locals" expecting employment on the dam project and those thousands of workers brought from outside the region by the Allied Hydro Council.
Under the second theme, Ms. Matheson systematically deals with the impact of the power projects upon the town of Hudson's Hope, the people of the upper Peace Valley, and the biophysical character of the river and its valley. The problems and heartbreaks of the settlers who had to give up their hard-won homesteads are vividly described, as are the dramatic changes to wildlife habitat and river regime resulting from power production and the deep flooding to accommodate Williston Lake. In the concluding chapters she reflects, with the people of Hudson's Hope, on the benefits and costs of "harnessing the river" and the expectations which remain unmet.
This book may be compared with that of James Wilson (People in the Way, University of Toronto Press, 1973 ), in which he describes "the reality of the Columbia River project in relation to the people of the Arrow Lakes region" of southeast British Columbia.
In This Was Our Valley, Pollon and Matheson seek to do the same thing with respect to the Peace River projects and the people of Hudson's Hope and the upper Peace region. One difference is that Wilson wrote as an outsider looking in (he had been an employee of B.C. Hydro based in Vancouver), while Pollon and Matheson write as insiders looking out. The authenticity which this provides helps to overcome the otherwise somewhat contrived linkage of the two quite different styles and subject matter of the two authors.
-- by J.D. Chapman