Big Eddy Dobsonflies (oil on canvas 16 x 20 in.) Sold

October 3 finds me painting the Petawawa River, looking down on the rapids below the railway trestle. I am perched on the abutment of the footbridge that parallels the railway, working on a rather large canvas which I'm holding propped on my lap. I've chosen a dark red ochre underpainting because the rocks are of a reddish granite and the water is dark with an occasional green light which will contrast with the red underpainting.

The morning started sunny and calm, but now is
overcast. We came here first yesterday evening, running down the paved trail from Paquette Rd just as the sunlight was leaving the river, and I chose my scene to paint today. Last night I didn't notice the Dobsonfly egg cases on the dark algal-stained sides of the granite rocks close to the fast-running water, but now that Fred has mentioned them, they have become the centrepiece of the painting, glowing whiter than the whitewater, some of them still cases and some bright silken pads of last year's cases. Dobsonflies, our largest insects, are indicators of clean water, and this river comes to the town of Petawawa straight out of Algonquin Park. The distressing thing is that a hydroelectric dam is proposed to span the river just downstream from the footbridge, and this scene would be inundated by the head pond if it's allowed to go through. 

Fred's quest here is to confirm his discovery of the rare clam Ligumia recta in the Petawawa River. Here's his report to the NatureList on what he found as I painted: 

"Back on 5 Sept 1998, I found two old waterworn shells of the "Black Sandshell" mussel, Ligumia recta, in the Petawawa River in Petawawa, just upstream of the old Hwy 17 bridge. This would have been a first record of this lovely species, eastern Ontario's "largest invertebrate animal," for the Petawawa River, but these shells were so worn that I regarded them as a hint rather than a confirmation of the species' presence in the river. Since then, I've searched a few sites along the Petawawa River, but I've never found any mussel other than a scattering of the common Elliptio complanata and a single Lamp-mussel, Lampsilis, shell.

"Yesterday, however, Aleta was immobilized at the site of the proposed Big Eddy dam, doing a painting of the rapids of the river past the footings of the old railway bridge, and I was free to wander upstream. As soon as I was above the rail embankment, I picked up a Ligumia recta shell in a backwater, and as I progressed upstream this was the second most abundant species of shell. This doesn't mean there were a lot of them, because they were second in abundance to Elliptios that were present at a density of something like 150/m alg the shore, the prey of Muskrats or Beavers. Often I scanned a shell pile 2 square metres in area without seeing a single non-Elliptio shell. Altogether, I picked up about a dozen Ligumia shells, which was more than the 4-5 shells of the usually-second-most-abundant Lampsilis.

"The Ligumia were all small (ca10cm) rather than the 15cm they usually attain as adults, which suggests that they have a different ecology than they do in other sites in the region. The shore here is a shallow slope of gravel and sand into shallows of the quietly-flowing river, suggesting big beds of mussels offshore.

"I expect that my discovery of Ligumia living in this situation has been anticipated by the environmental assessment for the planned Big Eddy dam, and look forward to seeing how they propose to ameliorate the submergence of this unique habitat by the headpond of the dam. Ligumia recta is listed by the American Fisheries Society as "special concern" and by the IUCN as "nearly threatened" - It's listed as Endangered in Vermont, Threatened in Illinois and Virginia, and Special Concern in Minnesota - NHIC gives it NRANK: N4 SRANK: S3 in Ontario - and COSEWIC hasn't commissioned a report, so it doesn't have a federal status in Canada. It's the kind of species that's widespread but not really common anywhere. I suppose that once I've got the specimens counted I'll scan my database to see if there's another place where I've found it as the second-most-abundant species - it may be uniquely abundant above the Big Eddy site."

For everyone's information, an article about the controversy about the Petawawa River

Dear patrons and supporters,

This painting, in my current series, "Waterfalls Rapids and Dams" is for sale by auction to support our work with the Ontario Rivers Alliance as we visit and study more rivers at risk. If you would like to purchase it, please send your bid to me   Bidding is open for one week from posting date, ending on 16 October at 4:00 pm eastern daylight time. The starting price is $650.   



  1. Oh, bravo for Fred to keep searching for this endangered species, and good for you, staying in one spot and thereby encouraging him to keep looking. I certainly hope his report to the NatureList finds its way to the powers that be, to whoever it is who has control over the damming or not-damming of the stream.
    As a third-generation British Columbian, raised by an environmentalist and only recently moved to Alberta, I have been concerned about dams for most of my life.

  2. This painting is both stunning and poignant. This is what we stand to loose for 5.3 MW of power . . . a tiny drop in the energy bucket. One of only two undammed tribs of the Ottawa River. Please help us save the beautiful Petawawa River.

    Ottawa Riverkeeper

  3. Thank you for your good words, Alexandra! This is a very important battle to fight now. I always think, when I'm sitting at each of these free-flowing waterfall or rapids that are threatened by unnecessary hydro dams, how the river would be changed - what the place would look like and what ecological damage would be done if the dam goes in. I never say "when the dam goes in", but always "if the dam goes in". Lets get everyone involved, in at least letter-writing. It would be simple for Ontarions to save more hydro than would ever be made by damming our wild rivers! For everyone's information, here's the Ottawa Riverkeeper link about this proposed dam on the Petawawa.


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