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This Was Our Valley

Shirlee Smith Matheson & (the late) Earl K. Pollon

ThisWasOurValley COVER


Pilot Pen Powell 300Private pilot Pen Powell's observations for the air during construction of the WAC Bennett dam and the treacherous Lake Williston Reservoir, reveal more about the changes wrought to the Peace River valley than could ever be seen by earth-trekkers.

The stories in the new edition of This Was Our Valley encapsulate numerous achievements, as well as more somber accounts, of British Columbia's record of development. It's a truly amazing history.

This Was Our Valley was a phenomenal success when first released in 1989, winning the Alberta Culture Nonfiction prize as well as the Silver medal for the Roderick-Haig Brown BC Books award.

Construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam commenced in 1963, and went online in 1967. The resulting 640-square mile [1660 square kilometre] reservoir backing the dam was named for Ray Williston, then-BC Minister of Minister of Lands, Forests and Water Resources. The gargantuan lake swallowed up the land and all that had dwelt within the valley.

This Was Our Valley brought to light the environmental and social changes wrought by the project, from fluctuating water flow-levels to continued erosion of the banks, to loss of forestry, fish and wildlife habitats, homes and businesses —effects that continue to be experienced downstream to the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

A second dam, Peace Canyon, built 16 miles downstream of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, went on-line in 1980. A 2003 edition of This Was Our Valley detailed this dam’s construction, and sold all printings.

And then came the announcement that a third dam, called Site C, would be built on the Peace River near Fort St. John, 90 km (56 miles) downstream from Peace Canyon. Long planned by BC Hydro, and twice scuttled, the project shook the senses of people province-wide and sounded the death knell for what remained of the BC sector of the Peace River.

The new edition of This Was Our Valley registers the voices that demand to be heard. Some are for the project: those of project-owner BC Hydro; contractors and workers who expect employment building Site C dam; and a population that believes the power will be needed in future. It also chronicles the opinions of those in protest: Treaty 8 First Nations members; farmers, fishers, and wildlife experts; environmentalists, naturalists, and specialists advocating new technologies such as solar and wind-power, or run of the river dams that are less destructive to agricultural and wildlife environments.

This Was Our Valley records facts, figures and fables to bring readers into the heart of the Valley, and allows them to evaluate the reasoning behind Site C dam and its reservoir, and further displacements for realignments to Highway 29.

While the Peace River will never again flow in a natural state, perhaps when the tallies are all in, and all pros and cons accounted for, answers to these timely questions might provide solace.

Pen Powells 1965 Cessna 180 sinking into debris in Finlay Bay

Book review:

Background on the book:

Buy the book: order through any bookstore and some museums, Amazon, or directly from the distributor, Alpine Book Peddlers of Canmore -


  1. About the authors: (authentic voices; present before, during and after construction of first 2 dams on the Peace River (WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon).
  • Earl Pollon lived in Hudson’s Hope from the 1930s until his death in 1992, and as President of the local Board of Trade was the escort for Premier WAC Bennett to view the canyon and anticipate the power dam that would come to bear his name. pp. 130 & 410

  • Shirlee Smith Matheson moved to Hudson’s Hope in 1965 and was employed by the District of Hudson’s Hope during construction of the WAC Bennett Dam. Her husband Bill was employed on the WAC Bennett Dam, and both Shirlee and Bill were later employed on Peace Canyon Dam.