Rivers of Sawdust: The Battle Over Industrial Pollution in Canada, 1865-1903

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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 f...

... middle of paper ... throughout the lumber industry would have played out beyond 1903.
This article has stressed the importance of the early conservationist impulse in Canada. Gillis suggests the most important contribution of the entire controversy was made by anti-pollution advocates of government officials to research, investigate and regulate the dumping of waste. (100) Gillis believed that this decision led to a more activist government which would cater to the public interest in the future with a theme of the relationship of Canadians with their environment (natural, social and economic) which will lead to the development of the country in a period of national transformation. (101)

Works Cited

Gillis, R. Peter, “Rivers of Sawdust: The Battle Over Industrial Pollution in Canada,1865-1903”Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes, 21:1 (1986:Spring/printemps) p.84
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