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Political Science Diplomacy

People in the Way

The Human Aspects of the Columbia River Project

by (author) James Wood Wilson

University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
Initial publish date
Dec 1973
Diplomacy, Canadian, Environmental Policy, National
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1973
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In 1964 Canada and the United States agreed on a mammoth scheme for the development of the Columbia River. Three large dams were built by the provincially owned BC Hydro Authority, and these dams, by flooding the valleys behind theme, affected the lives of hundreds of people whose houses, farms, villages, and cemeteries were to disappear under water.


Essentially this is a book about reality, the reality of the Columbia River project in relation to the people of the Arrow Lakes region. As a unique and readable case study it tries to describe not only what happened as Hydro’s many activities and programs came together in the Arrow Lakes, but how and why it all happened. It concentrates on the developmental and people-oriented programs, including those dealing with property, acquisition, compensation, resettlement, and community relations. The book takes an interdisciplinary approach as it pictures the project and its effects as seen by the people of the lakes.


Professor Wilson has a unique viewpoint since he was first a participant in the Columbia River project (responsible for the resettlement planning) and later an independent investigator of the project’s effects on the displaced people. He was written with humour and compassion, and without jargon, a book that should be read by everyone – planners, politicians, engineers, social scientists, and policy-makers – caught up in any scheme where people are to be displaced from a familiar environment. His message is that we cannot retain our own humanity without respecting the humanity of others. We cannot serve truly humane purposes unless that means we use to carry them out are also humane.

About the author

JAMES WOOD WILSON wrote this book while he was a professor of the School of Urban and Regional Planning of the University of Waterloo. His qualifications include degrees in civil engineering from Glasgow University and MIT and a master’s degree in regional planning from North Carolina, which included an internship with the Tennessee Valley Authority. By an odd turn of fate, just as this book was going to press, Mr Wilson was appointed Director of the BC Hydro and Power Authority, the body responsible for the events that are the subject of this book.

James Wood Wilson's profile page