The Drowned

[Image: “Two Buildings Riverside Heights” by Louis Helbig].

I posted these photos on Gizmodo the other week, but I wanted to throw them up here, as well: a series of wildly evocative aerial photographs by Louis Helbig, for a project called Sunken Villages.

Helbig has been documenting flooded villages and industrial structures losted to the water along the artificially engineered St. Lawrence Seaway, a borderland hydrological project smack in the international margin between Canada and the United States.

[Images: “Lot 3317 E. Campbell Property” (top) and “Downtown Aultsville” (bottom) by Louis Helbig].

As Helbig explains on the wonderfully organized and detailed project website:

July 1, 1958, is remembered as Inundation Day in the region near Cornwall, Ontario. At 08:00 a controlled explosion tore open a cofferdam and four days later an area that had been home to 7,500 people disappeared under the waves of Lake St. Lawrence, part of the newly created St. Lawrence Seaway.

On the Canadian side, twelve communities, some dating back to the 1700s, were affected. Following the old King’s Highway No. 2, upstream: Maple Grove, Mille Roches, Moulinette, Sheeks Island, Wales, Dickinson’s Landing, Farran’s Point and Aultsville were entirely destroyed; Iroquis was demolished and moved a mile to continue on in name; and, about half of Morrisburg–including its waterfront and most of its business district and main street–were levelled.

On the American side in St Lawrence County, the community of Croil’s Island disappeared and, along Highway 37B, Louisville Landing and Richards Landing ceased to exist, and parts of Waddington were dismantled.

On both sides, large rural tracts and property, farms, cottages, and entire islands were flooded. Sacred sites were obliterated and the historic battlefield of Crysler’s farm–where in November 1813 Redcoats, local militia and Mohawk warriors staved off a larger American force intent on sacking Montreal—disappeared.

With the communities went their infrastructure. Some buildings were moved and some graves exhumed. Roads, railways, and bridges were left to be buried along with the previous system of locks and canals. All else was levelled, razed to the foundations, cut to the stumps, burned and bulldozed.

But easily one of the most awesome moments in Helbig’s write-up is when he points out the inadvertent photographic side-effects of the zebra mussel: the “zebra mussel—an unintended consequence of the Seaway—has clarified the water making [the structures] visible once more.”

In other words, an aquatic infestation has allowed the ruins of old houses and towns to become visible in the murk, drawing back a silty curtain for aerial photographers and recreational boaters—as if we could reveal the presence of drowned things by seeding the waterways of the world with clarifying organisms, filtering water-logged sites of the past for future view.

[Image: “Downtown Altsville East to West” by Louis Helbig].

Old locks and canals rest below the surface of the riverway like dreams. Walls of lost houses are still legible in plan. Entire streets and town cores lie amidst the sediment, steadily fossilizing.

[Image: “Bar with Octagonal Silo” by Louis Helbig].

Click through to the Sunken Villages website for much more context and history, including interviews with local residents pushed out by the rising waters.

Meanwhile, the project was on display at the Marianne van Silfhout Gallery until November 2—but here’s to hoping Helbig’s project will travel, and find a gallery elsewhere interested in picking it up.

(Originally spotted via @urbanphoto_blog, easily one of the best architecture and urbanism feeds on Twitter. A different, earlier version of this appeared on Gizmodo).

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