Community rallies behind landmark
Alocal, historic landmark that’s been around for over one hundred and fifty years, the picturesque Huntingville Dam, is being threatened but, luckily, it has a lot of ‘friends’. Soon after a Huntingville resident learnt of the plans of
firstname.lastname@example.org the dam’s present owners, Boralex, to decommission the electrical generator at the dam and lower the dam’s wall significantly, he organized a meeting of the town’s residents.
“When I first read about the project in the Lantern, it was like a bomb going off,” said Michael Durrant, who grew up in Huntingville. “I read about it in June, then there was nothing more about it in the July newsletter so I got nervous. I put notices in everyone’s mailboxes announcing a meeting in August; I was amazed at the turnout. We formed the citizens group at that meeting and everyone there signed up. We have sixty-four members,” said Mr. Durrant, a Biology teacher at Champlain College. “There are a few of us who are very implicated: Carl Hunting, Didier Rancourt, Marie France Gelinas, and my parents, Bruce and Wendy Durrant, who have helped a lot,” he added.
According to Mr. Durrant, Boralex wants to end its operation of the electrical generator at the dam because it’s no longer profitable. However, Quebec laws dictate that dams above a certain height must be maintained, so Boralex can either spend more money to reinforce the dam’s structure or lower the dam wall by about two meters, an action that would dramatically affect the Salmon River and its banks, not to mention the look of the historic dam.
The aims of the group, called “Friends of the Huntingville Dam”, are simple: to preserve the Huntingville Dam at its current height and, by doing so, also preserve the Salmon River. “If the dam was lower, the reservoir would drain. There have been times when the dam wasn’t operational; the river turned into a creek. There was also lots of erosion to riverside property. So many aquatic birds, beavers, muskrats, fish and amphibians would lose their habitats,” explained the Biology teacher.
“Another goal is to preserve the dam’s historic value. It is the symbolic center of Huntingville. The town was founded in 1815 and the dam followed shortly after. In preserving the dam we also preserve the recreo-touristic aspect of the area. People come to paint the dam, take photos of it, it’s in tourist pamphlets and it’s an attraction along the Townships Trail.”
The Friends of the Huntingville Dam have been active since they united under their common goal just three months ago. They have met with faculty members from the Université de Sherbrooke’s Engineering Department and showed them around the site, also arranging a meeting between Boralex and the university. “The University expressed an interest in using the dam possibly for training,” said Michael.
Members of the group attended an information session presented by Boralex in September, learning about an environmental study of the plan. “We felt that the environmental study was not very in-depth. It missed an entire branch of the river and they didn’t know that many of the residents along the river had surface wells. We also don’t know if there would be an increased risk of flooding if the dam was not there. Historical notes say that the water level was very unstable before the dam. We were hoping to get answers from that environmental study.”
Earlier this month, Michael made a presentation about preserving the dam to the Sherbrooke municipal council, depositing a petition with over five hundred signatures at the same time. “I asked the city to work towards having it named a historical site. I had to remind them that Sherbrooke is the ‘City of Rivers’,” said Mr. Durrant.
Asked if the Lennoxville Borough Council seemed supportive of the plan to save the dam, he replied: “Yes, especially Mark Mclaughlin who’s been a huge amount of help.”
Huntingville residents are rallying together to save their beloved landmark. “Ross Hunting has supplied historical information about the dam and other residents have given us pictures of the river when the reservoir was drained. In all of Huntingville, only one person didn’t want to sign the petition. Some people don’t want to lose the dam because of its historical value, others worry about the environmental changes, some are property owners worried about the erosion of their land. A Compton resident said they brought groups of artists there to paint. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to preserve the dam,” commented Michael.
Asked how he would defend the group’s aims to those who believe change is inevitable, Mr. Durrant said: “If we can prevent changes that will have negative effects on people and the environment, then why not?”
Obviously determined to preserve the Huntingville Dam at its present height, I asked Michael what drove him to get personally involved. “Growing up in Huntingville I know how special the dam is to the community, historically and environmentally. I don’t like having something that important to the community modified with negative effects. I’ve gone canoeing, kayaking and swimming in that river and played ball at the ball park that goes right up to the riverbank. We could lose that too. It was kind of depressing canoeing on the river last summer and thinking it could be the last time. All those things are important to me but the most important reason I got involved was because of the environmental impact. There’s so much that we can’t do anything about, like oil spills. But this is something that I can do something about to make a difference.”
Mr. Durrant is hopeful that the Huntingville Dam will be saved. “I think the Sherbrooke municipal councilors are reasonable people who care about the needs of the citizens and about the heritage of Sherbrooke. I’m optimistic they will find a solution.”
The owner of the historic and picturesque Huntingville Dam, Boralex, is considering lowering the dam’s wall and returning the Salmon River to its original state.