R.H. SAUNDERS STATION
PLANT GROUP: Ottawa/St. Lawrence Plant Group
DRAINAGE BASIN: St Lawrence River
RIVER: St Lawrence
NEAREST POPULATION CENTRE: Cornwall
BUILT BY: Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario
ASSET TRANSFERRED TO ONTARIO POWER GENERATION: April 1, 1999
NUMBER OF UNITS: 16; in service between July 8, 1958 and December 18, 1959
The Robert H. Saunders St. Lawrence Generating Station is one of two large generating stations housed in the kilometre-long Moses-Saunders Power Dam. The station and dam are named in honour of Robert Hood Saunders, Chairman of the Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario from 1948 to 1955, and a leading advocate of the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. Built across the St. Lawrence River and the international boundary between Canada and the United States of America, it shares the structure with the St. Lawrence-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Project owned and operated by the New York Power Authority.
Courtesy of the Mohawks of Akwesasne
Since time immemorial, Mohawk people have travelled, hunted and lived along what is now known as the St. Lawrence River. Due to the abundance of fish and other wildlife, Mohawks settled in an area near the Long Sault Rapids known as “Akwesasne,” a Mohawk word meaning “land where the partridge drums.” Oral history and accounts from Akwesasne residents say that the sound of the rapids was like that of a partridge “drumming” its chest during courtship rituals.
In order to appreciate Akwesasne’s oral history and accounts it is necessary to give a description of what Akwesasne was, around the time period of the construction of the R.H. Saunders Generating Station. From all accounts it can be said that the people were living independent and to some degree, isolated from the massive and rapid changes occurring in North American society. In the 1940s and early ‘50s, there were no telephones, electricity, very few roads, a level of schooling to the grade three level, essentially very little in terms of what we might now consider to be the comforts of life. The primary language of the Territory was Mohawk, with a small number of bilingual speakers of Mohawk and English. There were a number of people who had some comprehension of the French language, although they couldn't speak it. The use of the English or French languages seems to have been exclusively related to the conduct of business with neighbouring communities. The economic system that was in place at this time was a barter system which was in a state of transition towards becoming a monetary system. What this actually means is that money was in short supply within the Territory, and that this money was used primarily for the purpose of conducting business in outside communities, both American and Canadian. Within the Territory, the barter system dominated until the early 1950s.
During this time in Akwesasne history, we see increasing numbers of Mohawks participating in the Canadian and American labour markets. The two most identifiable male occupations are high steel worker and lumberjack. It seems that the textile industry was the area where Mohawk women were most attracted to during this time period. The only evidence of European-style industrialisation in the Territory is the Roundpoint/Chisholm Lacrosse Factory on Cornwall Island and yet a significant portion of this operation is cottage industry style.
The number of families on the mainland and on the upstream islands is unknown. The majority of the remaining Akwesasne's working population are involved in traditional style occupations such as agriculture, farming, hunting, trapping and basketry. It is mainly for this reason that people preferred to live on the islands. The mainland was not viewed as a preferred living area because it posed transportation difficulties. The river was the only source of year-round local transportation to carry on traditional activities such as fishing, trapping and the farming of herbal medicines. The cyclical activities of the Mohawks of Akwesasne are intricately tied to the St. Lawrence River system. Trade and trapping take them into the Williamsburg, Brockville and Smiths Falls areas.
There are many Mohawks who view the river system as being their "life-cord" of sorts. There is no word in the Mohawk language at this time for "pollution," the river system is healthy, the air is healthy, the land and vegetation are healthy and the people are healthy.
The local band council is created under the statutory authority of the Indian Act of Canada and the same is true of the Indian Agent. (It should be noted that the primary reason for separating the Indian Agent from the band council is that in practice they were in fact operating independent of each other. The band council viewed themselves as representative of a population of Akwesasne and viewed the Indian Agent as a representative of the Canadian government.)
It should be noted that the community of Akwesasne does not draw the distinction between the Seaway Project and the Hydro-Electric Project. Rather, the community tends to use the term "the Seaway" which includes both projects and any associated works.
The clear majority of elders viewed the Seaway as something bad for Akwesasne because of the destruction of the river, the destruction of the fish population, and then other environmental factors such as the drainage and loss of arable land, the creation of new wetlands, and pollution.
The following are samples of the thoughts of the people and elders of Akwesasne:
- “that they were completely dependent upon no one and that each person did whatever they had to do to survive. For some it was fishing, for others farming or trapping or logging or basketry. Nobody was really left without; people helped each other, especially through the harsh winters here.”
- “that the river was the main resource and provider for the community; it provided food, drinking water, transportation and recreational facilities. There was not a family in Akwesasne that did not rely on the river for one thing or another.”
- “that the fishery just before the construction and Seaway was bountiful and not only provided local food but was also a revenue source for many families. The catches of sturgeon and sturgeon eggs were routinely taken to Massena (NY) to be sent by rail to New York city and Buffalo. That in addition to fishermen, community people were employed to assist in the cleaning of the fish and also employed to assist in the transport of the fish products to Massena or to local markets.”
- “that it was not unusual for fishermen to catch sturgeon in excess of 100 pounds.”
- “that where the R.H. Saunders Dam currently rests was a popular spear fishing site for the men from Cornwall Island.”
- “that the area at the foot of the Long Sault rapids was also a popular fishing site where fish-traps were used.”
- “that before the Seaway, fish species such as white fish, lings, silver bass and black sturgeon were part of the St. Lawrence River fishery and that these species went into extinction shortly after the Seaway was completed. There is also an account from Toussaint Island that seals used to be seen in that area before the Seaway.”
- “that the fishermen relied on the river's currents to identify fishing locations and the dam (R.H. Saunders) caused a major water diversion changing the river's currents. After the Seaway, the fishermen could no longer identify good fishing sites because of the changes to the water currents.”
- “that the dam created a barrier for the fish to move westward into their spawning grounds.”
- “that shortly after the completion of the dam, a species of European carp appeared which was very destructive and nearly eliminated a number of indigenous species of fish.”
- “that they had heard of a possible Seaway as far back as in the 1920s but it had been regarded as "loose-talk" (i.e., fiction). In the early 1950s many still didn't believe that a Seaway was being constructed. Many thought it was an expansion of the existing canal system. Many didn't know that a dam was being constructed until Mohawk men working at that site brought the news back to the community as to what they were working on. One of the men, by accident, had an opportunity to examine the blueprints for the R.H. Saunders Dam. But by this time, many felt it was too late to do anything about the construction activity.”
- “that they were told by the band council and the Indian Agent that it was senseless to oppose the Seaway because it was backed by the Canadian government, and the government always gets what it wants. That they were advised to try and get what you can for your land from the Seaway.”
- “that there were elders who steadfastly refused to accept any money from the Seaway for land taken from them. There are accounts that some elders died knowing that their ‘seaway checks’ were with the Indian Agent.”
- “that there were a couple of band councillors who were opposed to the Seaway, a couple of band councillors who were in favour of the Seaway, but most of the band councillors mainly from St. Regis and Snye were undecided. The latter group tended to view the Seaway as affecting Cornwall Island primarily and relied on the Cornwall Island councillors for decisions which they would then back. The band council was not unified on the issue of the Seaway, which the Indian Agent was quick to play on.”
- “that many of the resolutions of the band council were subsequently changed by the Indian Agent. That meetings were purposely postponed and rescheduled until the Indian Agent felt he had the correct councillors to pass key resolutions.”
- “that most of the band council business required the service of a Mohawk translator and that most of band council's deliberations were in the Mohawk language, much of which is unrecorded because the Indian Agent wrote the minutes of the meetings.”
(source: Final Elders Report, August 31, 1995)
HISTORY OF THE AREA
As settlements were established along the St. Lawrence River in the 15th and 16th centuries by European explorers such as Cartier and Champlain, fur trading, logging and fishing in the region increased. As trade increased, the importance of the St. Lawrence grew The waterway’s potential for international transport and hydroelectric power was recognized and the 26 metre drop in the river bed at the Long Sault Rapids made it a logical place for a generating station. Interest and momentum was growing but it was not until after World War II that the project moved forward, with Robert Saunders (1903-1955) playing an integral role in the project’s development.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION – THE ST. LAWRENCE POWER PROJECT
On August 19, 1954 ground breaking ceremonies at Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York marked the official start of the massive St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. Its construction would harness the power of the Long Sault Rapids by building three large dams and many smaller dams. Construction was completed in July 1958 when electricity flowed from the Canadian and American generating stations housed in the Moses-Saunders dam spanning the St. Lawrence River..On June 27, 1959, Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Richard Nixon presided over the unveiling of the International Friendship Monument at the Canada-US border.
To make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, 6,500 people left behind their homes and farms.Six villages and three hamlets were removed and new communities were rebuilt on higher ground. This included the relocation of cemeteries and monuments. For the Mohawk people, the impact of construction and operations was considerable.
In October 2008, an official apology was provided to the Mohawks of Akwesasne as part of a final settlement agreement with Ontario Power Generation to address past grievances associated with the station construction. It marked a historic milestone for good-faith efforts to resolve the claims.
Today, the Lost Villages Historical Society recognizes the sacrifice the St. Lawrence Valley citizens made during the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, and supports the development of educational and museum archiving programs at the Lost Villages Museum in Ault Park, Long Sault.
Robert H. Saunders Generating Station continues to serve the Province of Ontario. Annually, the station generates over six billion kilowatt hours of clean, renewable electricity and meets the needs of over 600,000 homes. This represents more than three per cent of Ontario’s power.
Many upgrades made over the years ensure the long-term continued, safe and reliable operation of the station’s sixteen generating units. Since upgrading, the station’s capacity to produce electricity has increased by 16 per cent and the reliability of units has improved from 84 per cent in 1989 to over 97 per cent in 2007. Over the years, OPG and the approximately 70 Saunders GS staff have received international recognition for station improvements and operational excellence, and have maintained an impressive safety record.
Today the Station remains a very important asset in OPG’s hydroelectric fleet and is well positioned to remain a key player in Ontario’s energy mix for years to come.
IMPROVING OUR ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE
At the Saunders station, a number of initiatives are in place to promote biodiversity, contribute to sustainability and support the environment. These include:
- OPG’s eel ladder helps eel migration.
- Planting over 50,000 trees along the St. Lawrence River.
- Supporting the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences and its research to improve and sustain river water quality for humans and wildlife.
- Protecting wildlife species by conducting studies, improving habitats and coordinating electricity production.
- Sustaining existing water levels and flows, and avoiding flooding whenever possible.
- Reducing the use of oil for lubricating and cooling.
- Using recycled oil in machinery and generating equipment.
- Collecting and recycling water-borne trash.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE COMMUNITY
Saunders G.S. is committed to making a positive contribution to the St. Lawrence Valley community. The company’s relationship with Cornwall, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry and Akwesasne dates back 50 years and will continue in the future.
OPG supports many community initiatives Recent contributions include: the Cornwall Community Hospital, the 3+1 Arena project, Kinsmen Cornwall LiftOff, the City of Cornwall Alert Network, Seaway Valley Crime Stoppers, the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, and the Eastern Ontario Children’s Water Festival.
OPG also supports cultural, environmental, educational, health-related and amateur sports initiatives across the community, such as the construction of a new beach house for the Village of Iroquois and the clean-up of the Galop Canal area west of Iroquois.
On the safety front, since 2003 more than 3,500 students in Cornwall and the United Counties have received information about water safety, communicated through school presentations, local fairs and community events, and venues like the Eastern Ontario Children’s Water Festival.
On May 29, 2009, outside the gates of the Robert H. Saunders Generating Station, OPG broke ground on a multi-million dollar facility, the St. Lawrence Power Development Visitor Centre. Opened in the summer of 2010, this Visitor Centre provides a new home for OPG’s many stories and the history of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Projects. It will also provide a destination for community events and will be open year round.