July 1, 1958 is remembered as Inundation Day in the area along the St Lawrence River between Cornwall and Cardinal Ontario. At 08:00 a controlled explosion tore open a coffer dam and four days later an area that had once been home to over 6,500 people in 7 villages and 3 hamlets disappeared under the waves of Lake St. Lawrence, part of the newly created St Lawrence Seaway.
A feat of unprecedented industrial accomplishment, the St Lawrence Seaway, was the largest industrial project of its time, designed to generate hydro power and open navigation of large ocean-going vessels to the Great Lakes. Completed in only four years it was a source of great national pride. It was officially opened by President Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth in 1959.
In advance of the flooding, residents were expropriated – most of them willingly – from their homes, farms and businesses, offered new and modern housing in the purpose built towns of Ingleside and Long Sault and largely rebuilt communities of Iroquois and Morrisburg.
Some buildings were moved and such things as the old locks and canals were simply left to be buried by the water. Everything else was leveled, razed to the foundations, cut to the stumps, burned and bulldozed. Except for a few places that breach the surface at low water, or where a road or railway bed ascends to higher ground, all disappeared under the murky water of the St Lawrence River.
The zebra mussel made this art exhibition possible. These organisms filter and clarify enormous amounts of water; in the last few years the water has become crystal clear and the Sunken Villages have reemerged, visible once again.
These images are of the particulars – foundations, roads, locks, stumps, church yards and much more – that can now be seen. I’ll leave it to imagination of the viewer to see what once was. The communities themselves, the people that once lived there and now live elsewhere and their descendants, continue to exist in stories, relationships and through deliberate efforts to maintain the memory of their past.