TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline — a project mere weeks away from being filed with the National Energy Board — would be the single largest tar sands pipeline, and the longest pipeline of any sort, in North America. The pipeline would carry crude oil and dilbit (diluted bitumen) from Alberta, through Ontario to Quebec, and all the way to export terminals in the Maritimes. It would cross hundreds of waterways, countless communities, vast tracts of farmland, drinking water supplies, First Nations territories, beluga whale habitat and iconic Canadian landmarks.
In this era of pipeline politics we hear from politicians, pundits and environmental groups, but not from the people most directly impacted: people who live or work along the route. This past summer photographer Robert van Waarden travelled the proposed Energy East pipeline route, conducting interviews and portrait sessions with Canadians and First Nations who find themselves caught in the polarizing world of tar sands expansion. For this project he used an old 4x5 view camera, black and white film, and interviewed over 75 people across the country.
Some people support the pipeline project, others oppose it, and some are still making up their minds. But everyone wants to know more, and are contemplating complex issues of energy and environment. The following images demonstrate what farmers, First Nations, fishers, ministers, families and others think about a proposed tar sands pipeline heading East.
I work in the oil industry and I see a lot of things, and then I question myself. Is it the right job to be in? Does it work with my beliefs and what I'd like to see changed? I do believe there needs to be a sustainable energy change, but in regards to the pipeline, I agree with it to an extent. If we don't look at shipping oil in a safe way, we're going to have more and more catastrophic things going on above ground.
Pat Wheeler, oil industry employee, Zimbabwean refugee. Hardisty, Alberta.
I am here in Canada for two years but Hardisty only for two months. I just want to work. That is what I am here for. Canada is really a rich and wealthy country, and it helps a lot of people like us. Hardisty is a pretty good town, and there are a lot of good people here…. If they don't have an oil field here, how can they open a restaurant?
Kahren Celeridad, server, Filipino migrant worker. Hardisty, Alberta.
I guess I didn't really notice the oil industry growing up. Now I notice it more. It is really prevalent here. It is big money and jobs. It is sort of a conflict of interest depending on where your focus is…. The agriculture? Or getting as much oil out of the land as possible? I don't have any solutions, but I do see problems.
Zoe Gould, rancher, student. Consort, Alberta.
You don't really believe in all that climate change stuff, do you? I think the pipeline is great. We need to get the oil out of Alberta.
Carol Hern, rancher. Bindloss, Alberta.
I'm pro-pipeline. It brings good tax revenue for the municipality and TransCanada has always supported our community through donations. I trust what they are doing. I don't believe we will see the end of oil and gas in my lifetime.
Mike Gerbrandt, farmer, rancher, landowner. Chaplin, Saskatchewan.
Perhaps we have to look at life inward for that answer. For a settlement of compromise, compassion, love, kindness. That’s how you create your walk on the earth. Go in the gentlest way possible. Simple little words that our grandfathers, our grandmothers taught us when we were children. But we broke 'em all. To move ahead, perhaps we have to move within.
Bob Smoker, spiritualist, medicine man. Kahkewistahaw First Nation.
I consider myself a Cree woman warrior. It came into my spirit that I am willing to go all the way: I'm willing to get arrested, I'm willing to lock myself down to some machinery, I'm even willing to put my life on the line if it comes down to that, because this pipeline is going through sacred territories of our ancestors. I've got to take a stand, because if I don't, who else will? I'm hoping there'll be more warriors out there that will “warrior up.”
Evening Star, Cree woman warrior. Treaty 4 territory, Peepeekisis First Nation.
We have the main CN, the main CPR line, the Trans-Canada Highway and TransCanada pipelines coming through Austin, Manitoba. I have seen train derailments, major accidents, pipelines blowing up. I know it is a matter of time until it happens again. The question I have to our emergency personnel is, are you ready for it? And are you ready for it when it happens in a sensitive area, like my water source?
Robert Smith, organic farmer. Austin, Manitoba.
Imagine you can’t go swimming in that water. Imagine you can’t eat that fish.... You can’t eat that moose no more. You will have no more green.... How will that make you feel? We need to come together and unify, because if we don't stand up together, this is going to continue.
Cedar Woman, Bear Clan, Anishinaabe ikwe.
I try to get the small things right as much as possible. Because I am a business owner, I have a little bit of an opportunity to do small things on a larger scale.... The future lies in a mosaic of energy, rather than picking one thing and it being the saviour of our economy. Manitoba has always been good at having a mosaic of things. Hydro, wind, solar.... Let's put it together and come up with a plan for the future.
Jonnie McPhail, baker, owner of Jonnie's Stickybuns. Winnipeg, Manitoba.
It is just a lot of stuff to take in, being at this age and having to go through all this. But it is fun to stand up and be a voice, because nature doesn't have a voice. We have to be that voice. The great spirit gave this land to us. We have to take care of it, we have to treat it the way that it treats us.
Realle Wapioke, 13-year-old student. Shoal Lake 39 First Nation.
Stop using the word job. Let's just say money. I made the conscious decision to get out of the money grab and quit my oil industry job to go find a job that was more sustainable. Yeah, there are some things you’ve got to do in your life to do that. But what is more important? Your grandchildren being able to breathe and swim in the Lake of the Woods, or that you have a V8 truck with extra big rims on it? These are the decision we have to make. I made mine.
Richard "Dick" Tolton, former oil patch worker, media professional, Sea Shepherd volunteer and ice road trucker. Kenora, Ontario.