With giant windmills surrounding them, the two smokestacks of Ontario Hydro’s Nanticoke plant didn’t seem as big today as they once did, but they have certainly dominated the area around them for most of the last half century. Not only did they change the landscape of the north shore of Lake Erie but for most who lived and moved here their presence changed the landscape of our lives. Then, at 11 am this morning, in less than 10 seconds, they were gone. (Watch the CBC account of the event)
I stood on the Port Dover pier to watch with some ladies who have recently moved here and recounted some of the ways those stacks had changed the lives of the people who in the town.
As communities we were impacted in a big way. The steel plant and refinery which were to join the hydro plant, along with the super city (which never happened), meant homes and farms and families were displaced. Some of those families had been on their land for about 100 years. The roads changed. The skyline changed. The night sky was suddenly interrupted with big blasts of flame from the steel mill.
When I was in grade 11, my classmate, Gary Misner (of the fishing Misner’s) gave a passionate and angry presentation on the proposed plant. He warned that it would raise water temperatures by four degrees and ruin the fishing industry as we knew it. There wasn’t the environmental concern then, but it didn’t take long to realize those two streaks of yellow soot that moved across the sky from the stacks would also leave their mark.
The super city of Townsend never happened though the shell of it remains. Growth however did happen, especially in Port Dover and Caledonia. Houses popped up like mushrooms and new people moved into our towns.
The economy of the area changed drastically too. People who were graduating high school had a whole new prospect for jobs and were earning what seemed to be very big money for labour jobs in the plants. It was something new for the hard-working blue-collar types. Before then the only prospects for jobs were in low paying local plants or somewhere in the city. The rise of the middle class was happening under our feet. Kids who would have otherwise moved away were able to stay at home.
The raising of those stacks also brought with it changes to personal life. People who were from outside the area were moving in and love stories which never would have happened otherwise were taking place. One woman I know wrote every parts order for those smoke stacks. She moved to an apartment just down the street from my grandparent’s home. If she hadn’t come to the area, she and my Dad would never have met and I might never have had a stepmother. I’m certain there are hundreds of similar love stories to tell because of those stacks.
A little lump rose in my throat this morning as I watched for ten short seconds as those structures and all they represent evaporated into a cloud of dust, making way for whatever life changers are now in store.