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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Unbuilt environments : unrealized geographies of energy and enterprise in the Stikine Peyton, Jonathan Wynne


This research examines the environmental history of development megaprojects in the Stikine River watershed in northwest British Columbia. Beginning in the late 1890s, this project analyses a series of infrastructure initiatives that were brought to the Stikine by the state, by entrepreneurs and by multinational corporations. Envisioned roads, railways, hydroelectric dams and mining ventures were never begun, never completed or left abandoned. In order to understand the impacts and outcomes of these projects, I develop the concept of unbuilt environments, a term which signals the environmental and social side-effects of planned but unrealized megaprojects that were conceived as development schemes, lucrative extractive economies or smaller-scale sustainable resource economies. Through an analysis of economies and megaprojects that did not or only partially materialized, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of the historical, geographical and economic development of an understudied area of northern Canada. I examine various phases of development in the region over a one hundred year period and ask what happens when plans go awry? What are the unintended outcomes? And how do the remains of one development process or project influence later schemes? Answers to these questions highlight the conflicts, tensions and contestations that follow the ambitions, calculations, assessments and failures of developers. I follow six case studies in my analysis of the unbuilt environment in the Stikine. The first two chapters are focused on the growth of economies around human-animal relationships and deal with the incipient development era preceding the Second World War. While not megaprojects, these development economies still left remains and are an important precursor to the modern era of infrastructure development and extractive economies. The discussion then moves to examine a range of cases in time and space ranging from railroad construction to hydro-electric development to mining projects and transmission line construction. To examine the Stikine with an eye to outcomes and side-effects is to raise questions about the particular legacies of development in a peripheral environment where extractive economies have been enormously important and where sustaining them has been difficult.

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