I'm also going to try catching up on the big backlog of posts I haven't had time to do, beginning with today's notice of Daniel Macfarlane's review for the Canadian Historical Review of Jamie Benidickson's new book, Levelling the Lake: Transboundary Resource Management in the Lake of the Woods Watershed (UBC Press, 2019). Macfarlane writes that the book
is a deep dive into a complex area defined by borders (both hydrological and political). Surveying the last half of the nineteenth century to the present, Benidickson unravels this complicated story of resource management in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods area, which spreads across northwestern Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and northern Minnesota (including the border jog referred to as the Northwest Angle).
One of Canada's leading environmental law scholars, Benidickson has made a career of writing about Ontario's water. Part of UBC Press's Nature/History/ Society series, this book can be characterized as environmental, legal, policy, and institutional history. The central focus of Levelling the Lake is the history of environmental governance, chiefly on the Canadian, and Ontario, side of this watershed. The narrative moves back and forth between different places and scales: Kenora and Fort Frances, Queen's Park and federal Cabinet meetings, corporate boardrooms, and International Joint Commission (IJC) deliberations. This inquiry required research in multiple archives as well as the use of printed primary sources such as court cases and IJC reports. Benidickson manages to delineate the overlapping jurisdictions and policies while simultaneously weaving together various sectors that are often ignored or compartmentalized by authors attempting research projects at similar scales: hydropower, water levels, pollution, fisheries, mining, recreation, forestry, pulp and paper, and so on.
Levelling the Lake painstakingly peels back the various layers and imprints that make up the palimpsest of overlapping and contested boundaries in this region. Benidickson is an ideal interlocutor, teasing out the strings of intertwined claims and histories in ways that shed light on modern resource disputes. To make the necessary legalese more accessible, the author effectively employs metaphors and analogies, such as using the game of musical chairs to simplify the muddled process of acquiring water-power sites in the region (63). Characterizing jurisdictional and border issues as "polycentric," the author does not get bogged down in theory or concepts. Thus, this book will appeal to an interested general audience as well as to environmental and resource scholars in a variety of academic disciplines spanning the social sciences and humanities; at the same time it is a must-read for historians of northern Ontario.