The coming battle for the Columbia
By law we control it — also the Yukon River — and we need them for power. Our U. S. neighbors want both. Will we yield them? Can they take them? It could become the biggest border hassle in our history
When David Thompson, with seven companions, paddled down the Columbia River in the summer of 1811 he was searching for furs and perhaps a tenable boundary line between the disjointed Canadian colonies and the expanding American republic.
The Columbia was not to be the boundary but Thompson had explored one of the continent’s supreme assets without suspecting its value. Unknown to him. his river contained more electrical power than any other current in North America—also an acute problem of continental politics certain sooner or later to bring Canada and the United States into open contlict.
That problem, long latent and almost disregarded, has recently emerged in daunting dimensions. It has broadened unexpectedly to involve the future of the distant Canadian north.
The Columbia north of Revelstoke, B.C. In the horse trade of the century, U. S. and Canada will match stakes on how to harness it.
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With this $250-million dam we could double the Columbia’s
Early next year the two friendly neighbors will begin their most important negotiations since the abortive reciprocity agreement of 1911; Canada seems to hold all the aces in a gigantic poker game of diplomacy. The U. S. is apparently hoist on two separate petards of its own making and ruefully confronts two errors impelled by its lack of foresight.
Nevertheless, the bargain now in the making, though it holds immense opportunities for Canada, presents dangers of equal magnitude. That question—far more significant than most of the partisan issues now convulsing domestic Canadian politics—will be answered in the next year or two.
The control of Thompson's river, the use of its power and hence the economic prospects of the far Canadian west are at stake. Moreover, if powerful American interests can re-introduce that old and bitter dispute, the pending negotiations will include the boundary between the Yukon and Alaska, where another great prize, the Yukon River, is monopolized by Canada and coveted by the U. S.
Behind these imponderables is the certainty that without the fastest possible exploitation of Columbia power, or some alternative, Canada's Pacific coast, with its surging industrial growth, will face a disastrous shortage of electricity within a dozen years at most.
The agenda of Canadian politics contains many impressive items, soon to receive the verdict of the electors. All of them—even the controversial gas pipeline—are dwarfed in importance by the management, or mismanagement, of the Columbia.
In the early days of steam neither Thompson nor the governments of his time could suspect the meaning of the Columbia in terms of electrical power or international quarrels. It took man almost a century to guess the river's contents and begin to harness its titanic energies. Even today, after several years of confused public debate on both sides of the border, the Canadian and American peoples have failed to grasp the obvious continental facts already clear to governments and their engineers hut generally blurred, evaded or misrepresented in parliament, congress and the press.
The first fact is the Columbia itself — 1,210 miles of water in its main stream, rising in southwestern British Columbia and dropping 2,560 feet to the sea in Oregon. Its unequaled power, used and unused, is the by-product of a furious and erratic journey through the Rockies, the parched ranges of Washington, lush Oregon valleys and the jungle of the coast.
All the rivers of the world are said to hold 650 million horsepower of potential electricity. The rivers of North America can produce a fifth of this total. The Columbia alone will supply, when fully harnessed, more than a third of this fifth. On this continent, perhaps only the St. Lawrence, as an artery of transportation, can compare in value with the Columbia. And its wealth, unlike the wealth of mine, oil well, gas field, forest or field, is permanent and foolproof.
Canada’s objective in the deal now under way is to secure the largest possible share of the Columbia’s potential 50,000,000 horsepower (counting every tributary’s powcr as well) and, through it, an economic revolution in the west. Up to now only 700,000 of the 4,500,000 horsepower available in the Canadian section of the Columbia has been tapped. We have the chance to use not only the remainder but a sizeable portion of the power in American territory as well, provided we play our cards with skill and courage.
The Columbia’s harnessed and unharnessed energies are the outcome of an explorer's nightmare and God's gift to the engineer. As Thompson found, when he vainly searched for the upper sources of the river, year after year this eccentric current seems to flow the wrong way, in defiance of geography and gravity.
In the course of its long detours and crazy meanderings along a clumsy letter S, it has sucked up countless tributaries, among them the Kootenay which has risen a few miles away from the Columbia’s source, flowed southward into the United States and northward again to join its parent at Castlegar; the Okanagan and its string of lovely Canadian lakes; the Pend Oreille; the Spokane, the Yakima and the mighty Snake south of the line. Together they form a vast sponge storing and discharging the snow and rainfall of 260,000 square miles, an area larger than that of many nations.
While only fifteen percent of this drainage basin lies north of the boundary, and only 465 miles of the main stream, Canada absolutely controls the vital headwaters. The tap is under its hand by solemn international treaty. In legal theory it can decide as it pleases the future development of the river’s resources of hydro-electric power.
Legal theory and political facts, however, are not the same thing. National and electrical power are not measurable by the same mathematics. That is w'hy no one can forecast the outcome of the new CanadianAmerican negotiations.
The United States, clutching what it considered its enlightened self-interest, bungled its diplomacy on the Columbia in the first place. But, long before Canada realized the liquid treasure flowing past its door, the Americans had started to tap it with a series of dams from the river's mouth all the way to the border. Bonneville, The Dalles, ¡VicNary, Rock Island, Chief Joseph. Grand Coulee, Albeni Falls and Hungry Horse have nourished, or will soon nourish, the whole economy of the northwest states, now' one of America's major industrial regions.
Meanwhile Canada contented itself with damming the Kootenay, mainly to pow'er the Trail smelter. As it seemed to be in no urgent need of more electricity, it regarded the Columbia as a route of easy steamboat travel or a water grade for various local railways. For decade after decade the Columbia, within Canada, flowed on without a single obstruction while the Americans w'ere re-shaping the greater part of it with giant molds of concrete.
The imaginative Americans have invested two billion dollars in their dams and electrical systems, powered their industries, lighted their homes and irrigated their dry lands. Now they are planning to double that investment—provided Canada supplies them with more usable Columbia water.
Man cannot increase the Columbia’s total flow, but he can control and save it for his purposes. At present the early-summer flood of melting mountain snow spills uselessly over the American dams. If the freshet could be stored and fed out in regular volume throughout the year the output of the American power plants, now approaching 9,500,000 hp. with present construction—not another wheel added—could be substantially increased.
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The coming battle for the Columbia
How glittering a prize this is can be illustrated by the fact that if all the dams and additions presently under study were built, the capacity of the Columbia in the U. S. might well be doubled. That is, another 9,500,000 hp is to be had, although not all of it would come from water now wasted in the spring floods. The Americans can gain some power by dams in their own country on tributaries of the Columbia. But most of the gain would be from water that would be stored on the Canadian side. And only Canada. controlling the sources of this annual flood, can eliminate the waste and allow the maximum use of the river.
After long engineering studies, Canada has found that much of this annual flood can be curbed by damming the Columbia at Mica Creek, north of Revelstoke. A dam there—one of the largest in America, towering up some six hundred feet above the riverbed in a canyon of stone and costing perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars—would turn the fierce rapids of the Big Bend into a quiet lake some eighty-five miles long. Then the impounded water would pour through electrical turbines below the dam and, in a much better regulated flow, through the downstream American power plants, expanding their output by about eleven billion kwhrs per annum.
Such was Canada’s plan to tame and use the Columbia until General A. G. L. McNaughton and his engineers of the International Joint Commission hit. a few years ago, on a spectacular alternative. Why save the wasted Columbia water for American benefit? Why not keep it in Canada and use it solely for the benefit of Canadians?
American power interests scoffed at first when General McNaughton proposed to dam the Columbia and divert part of its flow westward by a sixteen-mile tunnel into the Thompson River system, thence into the Fraser and, by an allCanadian route, into the sea at Vancouver. When the general’s engineers had found that this scheme seemed practicable, the Americans scoffed no more. Their government took sudden fright.
One might have supposed, from the anxious speeches in the American congress, that Canada was proposing to turn off the whole Columbia and ruin every power plant in Washington and Oregon. Actually the diversion would deprive the U. S. only of freshet water now wasted. Canada had no thought of reducing the present usable flow by a drop.
It took some time for American politicians to understand that proposition and the American public hasn't understood it yet. Even when understood, however, it does not satisfy the U. S. For the U. S. is interested not merely in conserving its present water supply but in expanding it to serve the projected expansion in its power plants and its northwest industrial complex. The diversion would instantly destroy all those hopes.
Once mentioned publicly, the diversion ceased to be mainly a problem of engineering and became a problem of international politics, the toughest single Canadian problem within the lifetime of contemporary diplomats.
Immediately American politicians denounced General McNaughton’s project as an unneighborly. almost as an unfriendly. act against the United States. Senator Richard Neuberger of Oregon, whose advocacy of political union between Canada and the U. S. had been greeted by a chilling Canadian silence, told the Senate that “failure to reach agreement on a mutually beneficial program for developing the Columbia River would threaten the gravest crisis in modern United States-Canadian relations, as well as incalculable economic loss to both countries.”
The first half of that statement, though doubtless intentionally exaggerated for purposes of politics and propaganda, contains much truth. Any diversion of the Columbia would provoke a major crisis between neighbors.
The second half is misleading. If Senator Neuberger means that the diversion would mean a loss to Canada he is quite wrong. On the contrary, it would mean an immense gain. From a strictly engineering and economic standpoint it seems certain that Canada can derive a maximum benefit from the Columbia only if a portion of its water is turned into the Fraser system and its energy thus retained within Canada. Thereby most of the Columbia’s current would make electricity for Canada at the Mica Creek dam and downstream at the American dams. A fraction, now wasted, would spin turbines at Canadian dams along the Thompson and the Fraser.
General McNaughton reckons that this scheme would make possible the installation on the Thompson and the Fraser, below Lytton, of more than six million horsepower—which is about equal to all the power available in the St. Lawrence between Lake Ontario and Montreal.
But there are two formidable, perhaps fatal objections to the dream of the great Canadian engineers. The first is the political power of the United States which, in countless fashions, could retaliate against any Canadian breach of its interests. The second is the opposition of Canadians.
If water is diverted from the Columbia into the Fraser it cannot be used for electrical purposes until the Fraser system is obstructed by dams and those dams would threaten Canada's largest salmonfishing industry.
It is difficult but not impossible to lift the autumn hordes of Fraser salmon over any dam and send the fish on to their spawning grounds in the distant upland creeks. Science has still to perfect a method of transporting the newly hatched fingerlings safely downstream to the sea. At some dams many of them are sucked into the turbines and destroyed.
Knowing that their livelihood would thus be imperiled by the diversion, the great fishing companies and all the fishermen of British Columbia—along with James Sinclair, federal minister of fisheries—are up in arms against General McNaughton’s dream.
Their opposition alone, regardless of pressure from Washington, must give any Canadian government pause.
We have the legal right to divert the Columbia under Article II of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. But whether we exercise our right is a political decision that will depend upon the outcome of the negotiations between the two governments soon to begin and upon domestic considerations like the salmon fisheries. Meantime a dam on the Fraser, using only the Fraser system’s own water, at Moran, just north of l.illooet. is being discussed. But most of the planning for the industrial future of British Columbia is concentrated on the Upper Columbia where there is no salmon run (the fish cannot pass Grand Coulee) and planning threatens to fall badly behind schedule.
As it charts British Columbia’s probable growth of population and its consumption of electricity the provincial government faces the prospect of a power famine within a decade, unless the Columbia can be harnessed. Since a year at least will be needed to engineer the Mica Creek dam and seven years or more to build it, an early decision on the Columbia is imperative.
Our advance was a retreat
Legally that decision is Canada’s and Canada’s alone. In fact it is not. The Americans have not questioned Canada’s lawful right to divert the Columbia. They could not do so. It is written into the Boundary Waters Treaty in unmistakable terms. But they furiously questioned the wisdom of our exercising our right.
The International Joint Commission could not be expected to agree since the two governments were completely opposed. There have been two deadlocks earlier in the commission’s history of fortyseven years—on the St. Mary and Milk rivers (1930s) and the Waterton and the Belly rivers (1955). Compared to the Columbia these were mosquito bites.
The American government intimated to Canada privately but in no uncertain terms that it would never agree to the diversion of a drop of Columbia water. After months of anguished consideration, the Canadian government hit on a solution that looked like an advance but was actually a retreat. Since the International Joint Commission could not agree, the whole problem might better be dealt with by the two governments in direct diplomatic negotiations.
The Commission was instructed to continue its investigation but clearly it will mark time until the governments reach some solution.
Neither the Canadian nor the American people have yet realized how that arrangement, approved personally between Prime Minister St. Laurent and President Eisenhower at their last meeting. turns back the clock to the year 1909 and reopens an old Pandora’s box.
It reveals on the one hand a strange American historical mistake and. on the other, Canada’s eagerness to treat its neighbor justly, regardless of a binding contract. It also establishes, both in historic and contemporary terms, and regardless of geography, the odd but inevitable connection between the Columbia and the Yukon. Far apart on the map. they have long been joined in politics.
Near the end of the nineteenth century gold turned the eyes of Canada and the U. S. to the Yukon and precipitated the Alaska boundary dispute. It was settled in 1903 by arbitration and under the crudest sort of pressure from the American government of President Theodore Roosevelt with his famous Big Stick. The U. S., threatening to use force if necessary, secured the frontier it desired. Its Panhandle shut the Yukon and northern B. C. off from the Pacific.
In the opinion of the Laurier government Canada’s interests had been sold out by the British representative on the arbitration commission, Lord Alverstone, to satisfy the ambitions of the United States.
The same thing had happened before, for the same reasons, when Sir John A. Macdonald was compelled by Britain to sign the Washington Treaty of 1871, settling boundary and fishery disputes.
So long as Canada’s foreign affairs were managed by Britain, said Laurier, its interests would always be sacrificed for the higher purposes of imperial policy. The decisive drive for Canadian sovereignty. culminating in the Statute of Westminster twenty-eight years later, really began on the boundary of Alaska.
Smarting under the boundary defeat, Laurier laid down two lines of policy; first, Canada must secure full control of its foreign affairs. Second, its future disputes with the U. S. along the boundary must be settled under some accepted code of law; for so long as Canada’s interests were subject to the naked, overwhelming power of its big neighbor, operating without rules, Canada would be the loser in every bargain.
The first objective of Canadian sovereignty was not achieved until the time of Laurier’s successor, Mackenzie King. The second apparently was written permanently into the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. It set up the International Joint Commission to regulate rivers flowing along or across the Canadian-American boundary.
All the boundary from Atlantic to Pacific, and in the far north, had been finally settled in 1903, but, as Laurier foresaw, the international rivers, shared by both nations, were certain to provoke endless disputes. The Boundary Waters Treaty would apply law instead of political pressure to these problems. In the court of the International Joint Commission. Canada, a small state not yet a nation, would be the equal of its giant neighbor.
The U. S., determined to have its own way, proceeded with enthusiasm to commit the monumental blunder of diplomacy now revealed on the Columbia.
Laurier had proposed that the treaty should apply to the international rivers of America the immemorial common law of England which holds that no man living beside a river can diminish or damage its flow to the detriment of another man living downstream. All the riparian owners are entitled to have the river come to them from above substantially in a state of nature, undiminished and uncontaminated, and they must pass the flow along in the same condition to the other owners below them.
The U. S. rejected this English law in favor of a doctrine expounded in 1895 by its then-attorney general. Judson Harmon. and known ever since as the Harmon Doctrine. The Harmon Doctrine in 1895 undoubtedly favored American interests. It held that a nation or an individual need not protect the downstream owner and could use the river at will.
Harmon propounded his doctrine in answer to a question affecting the Rio Grande which flows out of the U. S. to become the boundary with Mexico. The question was: could the United States divert or lessen the flow of the river before it reached Mexico? His answer was an unqualified "Yes.”
To argue otherwise, he said, was to argue for a "servitude which makes the lower country dominant and subjects the upper country to the burden of arresting its development and denying to its inhabitants the use of a provision which nature has supplied entirely within its own territory.”
In sum, the U. S. was free to divert any river that flowed out of its territory. “In my opinion,” Attorney General Harmon concluded, "the rules, principles and precedents of international law impose no liability or obligation upon the U. S.”
Today, on the Columbia River, Canada stands exactly in the position of the U. S. in 1895 under the Harmon Doctrine.
In asserting its unlimited sovereignty over every drop of water within its territory, the American government was thinking of American rivers flowing southward into Mexico and northward into Canada. Unfortunately for its future, it failed to place comparable importance on the Columbia flowing from Canada.
Laurier resisted the Harmon Doctrine and accepted it under protest because he had no alternative if there was to be any agreement. Hence came the celebrated Article 11 of the treaty, reserving to each signatory "exclusive jurisdiction and control over the use and diversion, whether temporary or permanent, of all water on its own side of the line.”
The Columbia, north of the boundary, was left entirely in Canada’s hands. Article II contains only two safeguards for downstream countries: neither country shall interfere with downstream navigation in its neighbor’s territory; and if any interferences or diversion in the upstream nation results in injury or damage on the other side of the boundary the injured party may sue for compensation in the upstream nation’s courts as if he were a citizen of that nation.
How we lost a whole river
Damage cannot be prevented in advance by injunction. Compensation can be sought only after damage has been proved. While water is in its own territory the upstream nation can use it. dam it. contaminate it or divert it without hindrance, but if in doing so it injures the rights of the other country that are recognized by the law of the upstream nation, its own courts may require it to pay compensation to the injured parties. No law in Canada would grant compensation for the diversion of the Columbia.
Before the treaty of 1909, the U. S. applied the Harmon Doctrine ruthlessly against Canada as it had originally against Mexico. It diverted the Allagash River, flowing northward into Canada, and turned its waters into the Penobscot, a wholly U. S. river. Canada's interests were damaged. The waters of the Allagash were needed for log driving and so great was the resentment at this diversion that Canadian loggers dynamited the diversion dam. This, however, did not stop the U. S.
No damages were paid, although diplomatic protests were made. The Harmon Doctrine prevailed.
When General McNaughton began to study a diversion of Columbia water into the Fraser, however, the United States suddenly realized that the victory of the Harmon Doctrine in 1909 had become a Pyhrric victory in 1956.
Unquestionably Canada had the right, under the treaty, to divert any Columbia water not already "dedicated" to the use of American power plants, irrigation works or the like: and while the American members of the International Joint Commission raised some futile lawyers' quibbles, no one took them seriously. Canada’s position in law could not be challenged. But the consequences of any diversion, in terms of international politics, were taken so seriously at Ottawa and Washington that the government has resolved to embark upon direct negotiations with the U. S. government.
That was a fateful decision of incalculable consequence—an abandonment of Laurier's principle of rule by law. in favor of rule by diplomacy and politics.
In one sense we are back to our old position in the Washington Treaty and the Alaska boundary award—bargaining by friendly horse traders. In another sense, we are in an entirely new position. We now control our foreign affairs without influence from London, as we did not control them in 1871 and 1903. We are not a great power but we are a formidable nation whose friendship, resources and strategic position are essential to the security of the United States.
With plenty of other troubles on its hands, the Canadian government blandly minimized these facts when it announced, without the least advance warning, that it was going to open direct diplomatic negotiations on the Columbia and seek a settlement outside the framework of the commission and. perhaps, of the Boundary Waters Treaty. This announcement could mean a return to the old bargaining process in which Canada has usually come off second best.
Does this mean any serious surrender of Canadian interests on the Columbia is necessary? No. it is not necessary. Canada's bargaining position is strong enough to assure a settlement satisfactory to both nations—provided the Canadian government plays its cards with skill and courage, and provided the American government, acting reasonably, refuses to revive the thinly disguised big-stick methods used in 1903 and 1909.
A diversion of Columbia water into the Fraser may not be practical in domestic or international politics. While there has been no official protest, the deadly opposition of U. S. interests may be taken for granted: the opposition of B. C. fishery interests has already been vigorously expressed. Apart from any diversion, however, we can still build a Canadian industrial empire on the Columbia's electrical power. And undoubtedly we shall demand more of this power than the U. S. yet realizes.
We shall have, to start with, all the electricity created by the Mica Creek dam —some 1.5 million horsepower—more than the Canadian share of power on the international section of the St. Lawrence. We can add to that supply by smaller dams on the Columbia below Mica Creek and on the various tributaries. That is not all.
Once the Columbia is tamed by the master dam on the western arc of the Big Bend, once its wild current is impounded in a placid lake and fed through the electrical turbines in regular flow, most of the present waste of the summer freshet will be eliminated. More usable water will (low into the American power plants and for these downstream benefits, created by Canada, the U. S. must, in common justice, pay a large price.
Obviously the bargaining for downstream benefits must be completed before the U. S. is assured of receiving them. Once the Mica Creek dam is in place, and a firm decision is taken not to divert, all the incentive for the United States to pay for the extra water thus sent to its plants will vanish.
1 he United States undoubtedly would be willing and eager to pay in cash— would be happy, indeed, to buy all the electricity, or its equivalent in water, that we are prepared to export. Regrettably, from the American point of view. Canada's basic policy, unalterable under successive governments in the last three decades, prohibits exports of electricity or its equivalent in water, except in the most exceptional circumstances.
Canada's share of the Columbia's electricity is not for export, as the B. C. government found in the famous Kaiser deal. It agreed to allow American interests to dam Lower Arrow Lake to serve power plants south of the border, but this project was promptly quashed by the federal government.
Under Canadian policy the U. S. will be expected to pay for its Canada-financed benefits not in cash but in electricity. ( añada w ill expect to obtain a portion of the extra electricity produced in the U. S. lí will expect this power to be transmitted across the boundary into British Columbia, for Canadian use.
How much are we entitled to?
One way ot deciding this would be to take the amount of additional power the Mica Creek dam will make available at the American plants and calculate how much it would cost the United States to develop this amount of power from coal. Having arrived at a dollar figure, it would be easy to calculate how much power this money would buy. A division would then be suggested: Canada might ask for the return of fifty percent of the power gained in the U. S.
I his will be the true nubbin of any bargain made. It. when Canada demands payment in power, the United States refuses to agree, the collision will he headon. (The negotiations will begin seriously only after the next American and Canadian elections are safely out of the way.)
To the United States the policy of Canada appears unreasonable. Surely Canada will have far more power than it can possibly use, once Mica Creek dam is built? Canada replies that its future appetite for power is insatiable.
Moreover, Canada discovered, after the First World War, that it can never recover power sold, even for a limited Term of years, to the United States. Once American industries and communities had been built on Ontario's exported Niagara power, the switch could not be pulled, whatever a contract might say.
Compelled to maintain those exports by the pressure of the American government, though the contract had lapsed, Canada resolved never to enter another contract of that sort. Power exports were ruled out by the King Government and its successors as an alienation of Canada’s most precious basic resource.
Yet it is true, as the Americans say, that Canada cannot immediately use all the power of Mica Creek, let alone a portion of the increased American production downstream. Should Canada agree to a temporary export of electricity? Will any power “temporarily” exported ever be recoverable when we need it? Or, as in the historic Niagara ease, shall we find that the time limit on the contract cannot lie enforced?
Whatever the outcome of the negotiations over the Columbia, Canada will begin them holding two trump cards.
First, it does not have to dam the Columbia for many years but, instead, can secure sufficient power on the Fraser if necessary, at the expense of damaging or ruining the salmon fisheries. Then the U. S. would not secure any of the extra power it expects on the Columbia.
Secondly, the ultimate possibility of the Columbia diversion into the Fraser can scarcely be ignored by American negotiators.
Canada also possesses, in the Yukon River, a possible aec never suspected by the United States when it rammed the Alaska boundary settlement down Canada’s throat with the assistance of the British government.
That settlement gave the U. S. the Panhandle coastline and effectively barred most of the Yukon from the sea. But, east of the coastal mountains, it left all the Yukon River’s headwaters under Canadian control. Though no one seems to have thought of it then, before the ige of electricity, the upper waters of ¡íe Yukon contain five million horsetower and are one of the greatest unised sources of electricity in the world.
If the U. S. had realized the value of lie Yukon it probably would not have agreed to a boundary award that osten,ibly gave it everything it wanted. For today it desperately wants access to the Yukon's power.
The Aluminum Company of America has spent many millions of dollars surveying a scheme that would dam the Yukon’s headwaters and turn part of them through the Panhandle by tunnel to the sea at Taiya. near Skagway, where the world's largest aluminum industry would be built in American territory.
For reasons unknown, Alcoa expected Canada to allow the alienation of the river, contrary to invariable Canadian policy. The Canadian government curtly rejected thi* ambitious proposition. The projected development of the Panhandle as a great industrial area collapsed. The Alaska boundary settlement took on a decidedly hollow look when, a few miles away, the great treasure of the north flowed on to the Arctic, untouchable.
The Canadian government believed and still professes to believe that the Yukon can ultimately be used exclusively by Canadians, within Canada, despite geographical difficulties.
With government approval, the Frobisher-Ventures interests of Canada have devised a plan to dam the river and turn some of its waters southwestward to the sea at the head of Taku Inlet which cuts through the Panhandle and into the Canadian territory. There and farther inland the resulting electricity would power a vast metallurgical industry.
After a fanfare of publicity that prop ect was postponed indefinitely, although field investigations are continuing. Ventures Ltd. decided to dam the Nass, an all-Canadian stream. This project, it is understood, would fit into the larger one if the latter is undertaken later on.
This was precisely what Alcoa had expected. It believes that the Taku power scheme is impossible geographically and economically because the inlet cutting across the Panhandle there becomes too narrow for anything but small craft once it enters Canadian territory. Hence the only feasible method of harnessing the Yukon is to divert it to the sea through the Panhandle and some day, says Alcoa. Canada will have to accept the inevitable or leave the river unused.
The Canadian government rejects this reasoning, says that the Frobisher-Ventures project, or something like it, will eventually succeed and that, in any case, the Yukon will never be alienated.
The chickens of the boundary award— the true origin of the Boundary Waters Treaty—have thus come home to roost after fifty-three years’ absence. The Yukon River controversy is deadlocked like that of the Columbia. The people of Alaska have begun to doubt, for the first time, the full wisdom of their diplomatic victory in 1903. They want their Panhandle, certainly—all of it—but they also want the Yukon power on which their industrial future depends.
Alaska's delegate to the American congress. E. E. Bartlett, recently devised an interesting compromise and submitted it, in a formal memorandum, to Secretary of State Dulles.
In effect. Mr. Bartlett proposes a partial repeal of the boundary award. He would give Canada an indefinite and actually permanent lease of a navigable seaport at Pyramid Harbor and a corridor from the Yukon through the Panhandle to the sea along the Chilkat River, where Jack Dalton's trail once led American gold miners to the Yukon placer fields. As the corridor would be leased but not actually transferred to Canada, there would be no surrender of American sovereignty. As no Americans live in this wilderness the rights of American citizenship would not be involved.
In payment for an unprecedented American concession Canada would allow the diversion of the Yukon through the Panhandle, the great American aluminum scheme would go ahead at faiya, and Canada would use. at its new seaport, a half of the Yukon power to create an industrial centre tapping the resources of the Yukon and serving it with electricity.
This ingenious proposal would suit Alcoa admirably. It might well suit Canadian industrialists who need a convenient northern seaport and access to the 'i ukon hinterland.
But. except as an item in the negotiations. it does not suit the Canadian government. As External Affairs Minister Pearson’s recent statement at Ottawa indicated. the Canadian government is not dismissing this proposition out of hand, but. equally, is not attracted by it. Informally. the Canadian government sees no advantage in giving up half the Yukon's power for a wholly illusory lease on a corridor.
The attitude of the U. S. government is not known but the first reaction to the Bartlett memorandum in Washington was said to be unfavorable. No American government relishes a lease ot American soil even to a friendly neighbor.
Whether these are the natural bargaining postures of two governments about to negotiate their largest deal of modern times, whether the Yukon will lie on the bargaining table along with the Columbia, it is impossible at this writing to say.
\Ve can. be sure, though, when the stakes are so huge, on both rivers, when the orderly, codified procedures of the International Joint Commission are suspended in Ta vor of diplomatic negotiation. no possibility of agreement will be ignored. Moreover, when CanadianAmertcan commerce is heavily balanced against Canada, it seems unlikely that any Canadian government will dare fail to drive the best possible bargain.
The possibilities are so wide and undefined that Thompson's river may be leading the good neighbors of America toward the largest settlement of their joint affairs since the Washington conference of 1871. Canada got the worst of that bargain as engineered b\ Britain over Sir John A. Macdonald's protest. Today an independent, far stronger Canada plays its own hand. But it still faces the unstated facts of continental power that usually override the stated facts ol laws, treaties and electrical power, it