Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Tide Stops Here (oil on canvas, 5 x 7 in.)

3 July finds me standing at a bridge northeast of Musquash, New Brunswick, painting a falls beyond which the tide does not reach.  The Fundy tides are such a huge part of the estuary that when I saw the river plunging vertically into the tidal zone, I knew that I just had to paint this falls.

Local folk tell me that after the heavy rainfall a couple of weeks ago it was much more spectacular - churning white water literally exploding out of the slot between the rock shoulders. But I like the way it looks now, foamy tresses braided over its boulders, and demurely showing golden hints of the clear tea coloured water filtered from the forests and bogs above the estuary.

I can see the white spots of Dobsonfly egg cases on the flanks of rock above the high tide line. As I paint here, balancing my palette on the cement wall beneath the steel railing of the bridge, Fred ranges about collecting drift and stealing small snails from the tops of ant hills.

The pair of pylons that rise like horns on either side of the river above the falls are part of a row of supports to a wooden water conduit that used to provide water as a bypass, to NB Power's first generating station.

Wikipedia tells us:
"Recognizing the important role that electricity was about to play in economic development, Premier Walter E. Foster proposed the creation of a provincially owned electric company. The Legislative Assembly passed a bill to that effect. The New Brunswick Electric Power Commission (NBEPC) was created on April 24, 1920. Immediately, the commission, headed by its first president, C. W. Robinson, launched the construction of a $ 2 million hydroelectric dam at Musquash, west of Saint John. To supply the cities of Saint John, Moncton and Sussex, a 88 miles (142 km) long high voltage power line was also built.

It appeared that development was going to proceed under Commission guidance but problems at Musquash in the spring of 1923 derailed their plans. The earthfilled dam, unable to withstand the combination of heavy rains and melting snow, gave way. The resulting property damage, the loss of generating capacity, and the loss of public confidence....

The new earth dam was completed on time, in 1922. But it could not withstand the 1923 spring flood and collapsed, an accident which shattered a bit of confidence in the new commission."

It doesn't say when the generating station or the dam were decommissioned, but we were told that it was because the cost of replacing the leaking wooden penstock that the pylons supported was considered to be greater than the benefit of the electricity generated by the plant.  We look forward to comments from folks who know more of the local history.

There is a striking contrast between this station that was built in 1922 having been decommissioned by a province that generates only about a third of its power from hydro, and the situation we saw last fall in Ontario, where many rivers of similar size are being threatened by planned hydroelectric facilities, in excess of the province's needs. You can read about it in my 2013 calendar.

The benefit of taking out a hydro facility would seem to be removal of the dam so that you get free movement of organisms up and down stream, and it seems strange to us that none of the dams in the hills above the Musquash Estuary have been removed.

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Now the painting is finally finished, with a little help from my photos. For two evenings I painted on location, having to stop each time when the tide rose to submerge the rapids below the falls.

Dear patrons and supporters,

This is one of a series of paintings of the Musquash Estuary Natural Area, where we explored forest, marshes and shores protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The price for this painting is $275. If you would like to purchase it, please contact me.

Aleta Karstad

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What do you think of this painting, and what do you know about the subject that I have painted?