What the future looked like

Every architectural drawing calls to the future, but some projections surpass their particular contexts to reveal something wider—and highly timely. It’s easy to recognize the currents of anxiety or optimism that run through the moments that populate this issue, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking they are familiar; these are past futures that never really arrived. Rather, they lie in wait, giving us renewed routes toward understanding what preoccupies us today.

Article 11 of 14

1954: Power

A painting from an annual report by Seagrams Limited

Construction began on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project in 1954. A massive public works investment that involved the cooperation of both the Canadian and American governments, the project added locks and dams and deepened channels along the waterway between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes.

In the same year, Seagrams Limited devoted its annual report to the theme of the seaway, and republished a portion of the report separately as a small booklet about the project. “We have felt that Canadian business not merely avails itself of a privilege but fulfils also a duty when it lifts its eyes from the narrow confines of its own interests,” company president Samuel Bronfman explains in the introduction. The booklet’s centrepiece is a panoramic fold-out painting by Grant Tigner, reproduced in full below.

Grant Tigner, painter. Seagrams Limited, publisher. The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, in The St. Lawrence Seaway: The Realization of a Mighty Dream, 1954. ID PO7903 TC427.S3 CAN; ID:88-B12931

From the booklet (pages 8 and 9):

The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project is one of those undertakings [of harmonious collaboration], so imaginative in conception and so vast in scope, that descriptive adjectives must but detract from their grandeur. Yet plain truth is that never before in the history of mankind has a single engineering scheme embraced within a single grand design so many interlocking parts of a continent’s life. It is a venture which not only sets the scene for things yet to come; it consummates, it completes, it crowns the history of four centuries past. It is the final fulfilment of a dream originally formed by men who knew nothing of steamships and hydroelectric power.... But they were men, those early pioneers, who, like the great of all times and countries, refused to be limited by the present or daunted by the unknowns. Few were the technical resources at their command; their vision and their daring it was that more than quadrupled the size of the civilized world. It is only against the background of their vision and their work that the grandeur of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project can be appreciated.

This document is presented in our exhibition It’s All Happening So Fast, which explores the often conflicted and conflicting views Canadians hold about the “natural” environment.


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