For Quebecers in the 1960s, the nationalization of hydroelectricity was more than an economic decision. It was an affirmation of Quebec’s national pride. During the 1962 election campaign, Liberal leader Jean Lesage proposed that all private energy corporations be merged into one: Hydro-Québec. His minister René Lévesque was the driving force behind the move. When the Liberals were re-elected, the government soon went ahead with nationalization.
The Manicouagan 5 dam, nicknamed Manic-5, remains a technological wonder. The world’s largest dam featuring multiple vaults and buttresses, it is 1,314 metres long, 215 metres high and weighs 5.5 million tonnes. Its 13 vaults are colossal: a 45-storey office building would fit comfortably in its principal arch. The dam, built by a workforce that was primarily French-speaking, was a national achievement and a symbol of pride.
A Monument to Pride
Manic-5 symbolized a new self-confidence among Quebec francophones. The construction site drew prestigious visitors: singers, designers and foreign dignitaries. “The Manic” became a part of popular culture. It was, for example, the title of an unforgettable love song. Manic-5 was far more than just a dam.
The “Project of the Century” was proudly proclaimed on April 30, 1971, by Robert Bourassa, Quebec’s new premier. “The world begins today,” he announced. The James Bay Project cost several billion dollars and would generate more energy than all the power stations in Belgium combined.
A First Treaty
The James Bay Project was launched without consulting the region’s Indigenous peoples. Following protests, the Quebec Supreme Court issued the 1973 Malouf decision, making an agreement with the area’s Indigenous inhabitants imperative. On November 15, 1974, the Government of Quebec, its energy companies, the Grand Council of the Crees, the Inuit of Quebec and the Government of Canada signed an agreement-in-principle. It was the first modern treaty on Indigenous territorial rights in Canada.
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