Posted by: fbristow | February 3, 2010


Boreal River paddled the Romaine River during the summer of 2009, here is a great video from Skip Armstrong.

Posted by: rosemary | November 23, 2009

To our fearless marathoners!

An enormous Thank You! The marathon definitely would not have been possible without all of our runners and walkers! Listed in the order in which they participated:

Steve Leckman
Sam Rovnak
Christopher Scott
Steven Kaal
Nick Annejohn
Christopher Adlam
Rosemary Roberts
Rocky Decoursay
Soledad Delgado
Giroflée Arsenault
Geneviève Huchette
Simon Meloche
Courtney Kirkby
Rick Peyser
Stephane Gunner
Olivier Huard
David Tacium
Anita Tapia Roussiouk
Eby Heller
Lyne Taillefer
Sean Kropveld
Joey Leckman
Julien Leckman
Benoît Côté
Guillaume Internoscia
Clémentine Sallée
Stefanie Dimitrovas
Madeleine Combs

Thank you a thousand times over, and may our rivers continue to run freely!

Posted by: rosemary | November 2, 2009

The Element of Choice


Fearless organizer and tireless marathoner Chris Scott poses at the end of the line: the Romaine River

(November 1st) They say that the longest journey starts- and finishes- with a single step. Throughout the six weeks, and over the fifteen hundred kilometers we covered during the “Run for our Rivers” marathon, the concept of endings mostly remained abstract. We realized that there was a point to be reached, and a message to be delivered, but we did not really internalize the fact that one morning we would no longer be getting up to provide support to runners, and that one day we would, inevitably, reach the final lap, the final kilometer, the final step.

It is fair to say that over the six weeks of our odyssey the significance of the event grew on us, and one of the things I remember from running my own marathon was the feeling of how easy it would be to give up. When you are alone on a country road with only a driver or a small team behind you, it seems so inviting to give in to the grinding pain that begins to gnaw at you after kilometer, say, thirty-five. And if you continue despite the temptation, it is because you see some individual or collective gain, some tangible enrichment of our quality of life that is to be had for protecting a portion of our province’s incredible wild spaces. And it is also because you recognize that a political battle, like a marathon itself, is long and arduous, and that, as in a marathon, the qualities of vision, exertion and relentlessness are our surest guarantors of success.

In total, there were twenty-eight of us, runners and walkers, women and men, athletes of all backgrounds, to carry the letter written by Cree hunter Roger Orr across the province of Quebec. And, as one of the organizers, it fell to me on Monday, October 19th, to relay the message over the last leg into the Innu community of Ekuanitshit, that stands a few kilometers from the Romaine.

I remember balancing the “talking stick” between my fingers, traversing the towns of Rivière-Saint-Jean and Longue-Pointe, and catching an occasional glimpse of the sea-like Saint Lawrence with large islands spread against the horizon. It was a testimony to how far we had come that a thirty-two kilometer hike seemed such a short distance now. I walked for most of the afternoon, and there were a couple stars pointing above the evergreens when I rounded a bend in the highway and came within sight of the streetlights of Ekuanitshit.

I knew I was to deliver the message to Rita Mestokosho, an Innu poet and Band Council woman who had spent most of the past year fighting the proposed dams along the Romaine River, which forms the core of Ekuanitshit’s traditional hunting ground. But I did not know exactly where Rita’s house was, and it was by serendipity that as I stumbled around in the half-light, wondering whom to ask for directions, I saw a wiry silhouette standing on a veranda that I seemed to recognize from an earlier meeting as Rita’s.

“I knew it was you right away,” she told me later. I suppose skinny white guys on foot carrying talking sticks don’t exactly blunder into Ekuanitshit every day. Rita sat me down to a plate of spaghetti, and it seemed that over the next two hours we talked about nothing and everything. Rita was just back from Sweden, where she had attended the launching of a bilingual collection of her poetry- in French and Swedish. The book was dedicated to the Romaine River, and featured some unbeatable photos. We talked about an international writers’ retreat that Rita had hosted that summer on Innu territory, about culture and continuity, and also about the state of local politics, now that Hydro Quebec had started ground-breaking operations near the dam site.


Chris Scott and Ekuanitshit chief Jean-Charles Piétacho

The next day, Rita and I conveyed Roger Orr’s message to Ekuanitshit chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, and afterwards, because I had spent a couple nights in a cabin near the Romaine, Rita and her sister drove me to the site to pick my stuff up.

While Rita and I posed for a photo at the Romaine’s estuary, I stood still for a moment and tried to take stock of our situation. Without a doubt, the Romaine is a mighty river. Emptying into a national park that is visited annually by thousands of kayakers and tourists; drawing water down from the Labrador highlands into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Its currents are by turns crystalline and opaque, frequently impetuous, always rich in nutrients, and ever ready to provide renewal to a traveler that has come here at the end of a long road. Glancing around me at the conifers, tall, proud as spears, rising above the wave-washed rock, I felt a sense of accomplishment, not simply because we had come the distance, but because we had managed to gather around us a cluster of valuable allies. Virtually everybody who lives on the North Shore has a favourite river, and what we were beginning to realize is that if we allow the provincial government to continue announcing its hydroelectric projects one river at a time, sooner or later we will all be left bereaved.

The generation, or generations, that ran this marathon are blessed with a choice, in that together we have enough wits and resourcefulness and fighting spirit to force this government to back down. Together we can devise pressure tactics to insist that a portion of the eight billion dollars that are being mismanaged on the Romaine project be reallocated towards investments in energy conservation and renewable energy. We can oblige the Charest government to publish a list of the North Shore rivers it intends to dam as part of its 8000 megawatt initiative, and in doing so we can draw the debate about energy policy out of the boardrooms, and back into the public sphere where it belongs.

Doing this will not be easy, and it may take marathon-type determination. But the reward, for us and for future generations, will be to live in a spectacular province, with free-flowing rivers, a thriving fishery, a high standard of living, and a population that is aware and proud of what it has achieved.

This future can be ours, and it is worth working for.

Alliance Romaine would like to thank you all for the care, support and attention you have supplied us during our six-week marathon. We promise to keep you abreast of events as we prepare for our spring campaign season, and we give you our solemn pledge to consider and involve you in this struggle until our rivers receive the protection that they deserve!

For the love of our rivers, and wild spaces!

Chris, with the Alliance Romaine team

Click here to read the letter from Roger Orr

Posted by: rosemary | October 21, 2009

Toward the Finish Line

Steve Leckman, a core member of Alliance Romaine and second-time marathoner, running over the Sheldrake River

Steve Leckman, a core member of Alliance Romaine and second-time marathoner, running over the Sheldrake River

When we started this marathon in early September, it was still important to worry about heat stroke, and we could, and did, jump in a lake to cool off after a hard day’s run. The other day, as I was breaking the hard frost off my tent zipper so I could get up in the morning, I realized both how far, and how long we had been running. There is a sense of poignancy that comes with approaching endings, and as our trek entered its final week, we faced a new set of challenges, but we also encountered new rewards.

Taking the Relais Nordik ferry between Rimouski and Sept-Îles, I remember feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I was convinced that Sept-Îles, like most of the North Shore, was a blue collar community 99% sold on the Romaine project, and eager for more. What kind of an impact, or for that matter reception, would we have here? To be sure, the outgoing, and cosmopolitan staff at the Sept-Îles youth hostel were supportive of our message, but I took this to be an exception. Still, as I spent the next few days talking to media, meeting candidates for the upcoming municipal elections, and accepting rides from locals, I realized that opinion here, as everywhere, is more nuanced.

Without a doubt, many North Shore residents support the Romaine project, but now that the construction site is actually open, there is a realization that the dams do not represent the economic cure-all that was promised. In the village of Havre Saint-Pierre, located twenty kilometers from the Romaine’s estuary, young men are abandoning the fishing industry to go work for Hydro Quebec. With an influx of workers from outside the community, the cost of rent has skyrocketed, and the town is living through the consequences of a sort of localized Dutch Disease, a rapid, and asymmetric boom that does not trickle equally into all sectors of the economy, and may actually leave Havre Saint-Pierre worse off than before once the construction at the Romaine site is finished. At the same time, many of the supply contracts that were expected have not gone to North Shore companies, meaning there are fewer spin-off jobs in the region, and that many locals have less to gain from the megaproject than they had hoped.

As an environmental group, Alliance Romaine has always argued that our ecosystems, including our rivers, constitute a natural capital, and that there is more wealth to be earned, over the long term, from preserving our rivers than from destroying them. The fishing industry, which is now threatened, was once the raison d’être of communities like Havre Saint-Pierre, Rivière-au-Tonnerre, and others, and it is a sure bet that if more rivers are dammed the supply of oxygen and nutrients into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence will be degraded, and the chances for North Shore residents to make a viable living off the fishery will decline further still.
But, even apart from economics, there is an existential reason why many locals are receptive to our message. In an era when you can decide what part of the world you live in, a significant number of North Shore residents have chosen to come here, or, if they were born here, to stay or to come back because they love the seascapes and escarpments, the forests and, yes, the rivers, that give this remarkable region its cachet. Each of these people have their own stories. I am thinking of Michelle Depeyre, who was born in Sept-Îles and spent several years in Montreal before she experienced an epiphany while on a camping trip with her sister and decided to live out her life in a small North Shore village. Michelle is now the author of a beautiful guide book that catalogues the major waterfalls in Quebec. I am thinking of the moose hunter and his wife who stopped to congratulate us on the road, and I am thinking of the staff at the Sept-Îles youth hostel who gave us a free night as a way to support our cause.
Having crossed most of the province, we can say truthfully that the warmest welcome- it feels like a homecoming- was reserved for us here on the North Shore.
People have been asking us what we will do when the marathon is over. We are not quite sure yet, but what we know is that we have the intention of coming back and working- for the next ten years if necessary, with the folks who love and live in this spectacular area. The Romaine, the Moisie, the Magpie, and the Sheldrake- these are rivers worth fighting for- our inspiration to invest in the long-term,  and to become part of the landscape, and the riverscape of the North Shore from now on.
For the marathon team
Chris, near Sept-Îles
Posted by: rosemary | October 17, 2009

A TALE OF TWO RIVERS (The Romaine and the Trois-Pistoles)

Runner and avid Alliance Romaine supporter Clementine enters Trois-Pistoles

Runner and avid Alliance Romaine supporter Clementine Sallée enters Trois-Pistoles

(Oct. 15th) One question that we marathoners regularly face- on the radio, in private conversations, and in town hall meetings- is “do you think you guys can win?”. “Granted,” they tell us, “that your arguments may be valid. The fact remains that the Romaine is an eight billion dollar project; preliminary work has started, supply contracts have been signed- do you really think that the provincial government and Hydro Quebec are going to just throw in the towel?” And whenever we attempt to answer this- legitimate- question, we invariably find ourselves bringing up the example of Trois-Pistoles.

Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence between Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, Trois-Pistoles is well known to Quebecers as the site of Echofête, a yearly environmental rendez-vous and organic goods fair that is held in July. But what is less widely appreciated is that the Echofête was born out of the hard work of a group local activists who originally banded together to save the Trois-Pistoles River, on the outskirts of town.

In 2002, the PQ government was promoting a policy of micro-hydro. Private contractors were encouraged to build dams on small rivers and sell the energy to Hydro Quebec, as part of a foot-in-the-door strategy intended to lead to the gradual privatization of the state utility. A  Montreal-based entrepreneur by the name of Jean-Marc Carpentier had signed a contract to produce 3.5 megawatts of power on the Trois-Pistoles. In terms of generation capacity this was peanuts (compared with the 1550 MW that Hydro Quebec currently hopes to produce through four dams on the Romaine), but it would serve as an ideological precedent for the PQ, who, like the Liberals that have succeeded them, are hell-bent on reversing the progressive choice Quebecers made in the 1962 when they decided to nationalize the production and distribution of electricity.

But because Trois-Pistoles is a town rooted in its 300-year old history, and because locals remain attached to their river, with its spectacular falls, opposition to the dam project was strong. A coalition of artists and activists known as the “Amis de la Rivière” held protests, and uncovered compromising financial information related to the endeavour. In October 2002, Mikael Rioux, a tourism operator and local activist climbed into a tent platform suspended by a pulley system above the falls to block the bulldozers that were already clearing the construction site. For forty days Mikael stayed on the platform, enduring rain, sleet and snow, galvanizing public interest, and contributing to a wave of pressure that impelled the PQ government to declare a moratorium on private hydro.

So could the Trois-Pistoles model, with its recipe of local support, a successful media strategy, imaginative tactics, and even civil disobedience be applied to save North Shore Rivers such as the Magpie, the Little Mecatina, or the Romaine?

Last Sunday, we entered the town of Trois-Pistoles with high hopes, our message carried by Clémentine, an Alliance Romaine collaborator and activist lawyer who covered her half-marathon, 21-km distance in an impressive two hours three minutes. That afternoon, we held an animated exchange with a group of activists and interested citizens in Café Grains de Folie. It turns out that seven years on, while the Trois-Pistoles River remains undammed, it is under constant threat. Recently, the Liberal government of Jean Charest has adopted the dereglementation agenda of the PQ, encouraging not private developers but this time municipalities to invest in micro-hydro. This fall, the MRC (regional municipal council) to which Trois-Pistoles belongs is holding public hearings with a view to restarting the development project on the Trois-Pistoles River where Jean-Marc Carpentier abandoned it in 2002.

Several of the activists present spoke of the fatigue they feel having to oppose the same project, under different guises year after year, working all the time as volunteers whereas the municipal and private consultants have hefty public relations budgets to fall back on. They mentioned the stress of living in a divided community, with part of the population enthusiastically supporting the project as a form of economic salvation. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to sense the vibrancy, and notice the diverse make-up in terms of age, gender, and experience, of the crowd that was in attendance. In the words of Mikael Rioux, the idea behind the Echofête was to propose, not just refuse projects, and to show that there are viable options for promoting regional economic development other than damming rivers.

If the growth and popularity of the Echofête over the last seven years are any indication, these alternatives are guarantors of success. Échofête is a now a large-scale enterprise, generating direct revenue and attracting welcome tourist dollars to Trois-Pistoles.

Since 2002, Trois-Pistoles has earned itself a place on the map as a “green” community, and has inspired Quebecers through its example of successful citizen-based mobilization. But it seems that in the face of a hostile ideology in Quebec City, the protection of our rivers and wild spaces comes at the cost of constant vigilance.

This is a sobering, but at the same time a galvanizing message, that we will take with us as we venture further east.

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