Rivers Of Sawdust: The Battle Over Industrial Pollution In Canada, 1865 1903

908 words - 4 pages

An issue arose in Eastern Canada between 1865 and 1903 in which Peter Gillis focused on the views of certain environmentalists, lumbermen and the government as well as the public’s opinions on the matter throughout the years. Gillis stressed the damage caused by dumping sawdust into rivers and lakes regularly – mainly the Ottawa River. Water-powered sawmills, which were designed to allow waste to drop through the floorboards into the water, caused blocked navigation ways, posed as a health hazard, and threatened wildlife. (84) The controversial issue that Gillis presented was based around the lumbermen’s sole interest in business to maximize profits clashing with environmental concerns of the conservationists. The government had to implement a strategy that would appeal to both sides which would become an important victory for the early environmentalists.
Gillis’ focus on the conservationists dealt with their concern for the environment and the general public’s health. Gillis stressed the conservationist’s beliefs that navigation through the Ottawa River was blocked and became dangerous due to the backup of sawdust and also bacteria that lead to spontaneous explosions within the waterways caused by concentrations of methane gas. (93) Gillis explained how the careless dumping of waste into the rivers is detrimental to the beauty of nature. He stated that the main goal was to gain the general public’s interest to pressure the government to abolish dumping of waste by generating other methods for sawdust such as fuel or the use of waste burners. (90)
Gillis also included the interests of the lumbermen and made them out to be greedy and selfish in their actions. Parties in favour were solely interested in the gain of maximum profits from a business view point. Gillis focused on the fact that the lumbermen believed they had a right to pollute and that they were in close connections with the government’s influence over the Conservative and Reform parties to get away with not following regulations against dumping of sawdust. (87) It was evident throughout the article that the lumbermen had little interest for the greater good of society and only cared about the fact that alternatives cost too much. (92) However, the lumber industry actually posed as the backbone of the economy by providing many jobs. (89) In conclusion, Gillis portrayed the lumbermen as a collectively powerful industry who took advantage of their economic and political powers to argue against the realities of sawdust dumping.
The government had a huge role in the decision making of the issue. Gillis provided more evidence of the government’s lenience towards the lumbermen as John A. Macdonald’s opinion in the article was that he didn’t want any suspension of sawmills and...

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