Re-storying Dammed Waters: Towards Kichisippi Pimisi (American Eel) Recovery in Algonquin Provincial Park


Since time immemorial, the migrations of Pimisi (American Eel, Anguilla rostrata) to the Kichisippi (Ottawa River) Watershed have woven together a vast web of interdependencies. Dam operations along these waters have driven Pimisi to endangerment, impacting ecological balances, cultural ties for the Algonquin Anishinaabeg, and relational understandings of the watershed.

Re-storying Dammed Waters considers the future of Pimisi recovery efforts by intervening in barriers to their habitat in what is now Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Though celebrated for its vast offering of ‘wilderness’ experiences that foster human connection and care towards more-than-human beings, the park upholds colonial and resource-oriented legacies of land management and use. Successive and prolonged dam operations stemming from the park’s logging era to the rise of water management for recreation and hydropower development have resulted in aquatic ecosystem disruptions and biodiversity concerns that are challenging to negotiate. This thesis asks how the design of recovery interventions might reconcile human relationships with Pimisi and other more-than-human beings and systems.

A research process consisting of fieldwork documenting the park and its dams, conversations with allied voices in fisheries management, and case studies of dam intervention approaches reflect upon the planning and implementation of Pimisi recovery in conjunction with its ecological and cultural narratives. The synthesis of these studies imagines an alternative story for the park’s aging Cache Lake dam in support of recovery. Restorative and interpretive interventions within a phased design scheme reinstate the rights of Pimisi to access these waters, improve habitat conditions, and usher in human awareness and care.

By foregrounding more-than-human lives like Pimisi in a research process attuned to relationality, this thesis suggests that there is potential for an agential and ethical shift in how designers engage with the land. Amidst an ongoing global loss of biodiversity and entwined discourse on reconciliation in architecture, it offers actionable considerations for design that seek to bridge species, scales, and ways of knowing.

The examining committee is as follows:

Supervisor: David Fortin
Committee member: Stephen Murphy
Internal-external reader: Jane Mah Hutton
External: Elaine Stokes

The defence examination will take place:
Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 10:00 a.m.
In person, in the Riverside Gallery.
A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A.