Short documentary shows negative effects of hydro dams

Luke Whitmore, CONTRIBUTOR

The Kitchekeesik sisters sit for a panel discussion, at the Dramatic Arts Centre, on March 18, 2017, after the screening of a short documentary based on their arising worries of the damage the Keeyask dam may cause in their community. THE PROJECTOR/ Luke Whitmore

The lights fade, the room turns quiet, and a documentary begins. The Kitchekeesik sisters sit front row, among a full audience, waiting to hear their story.

“To me, stories like this invite us to sit with the uncomfortable emotions and uncertainties of where the personal and political are deeply connected,” said filmmaker Brad Leitch, 30, during his speech prior to the screening.

The short documentary For Love of a River: Two Stories of Loss and Longing shows the impact from flooding hydro dams, and the story of one family who worry for the effects the Keeyask hydro dam, currently in construction, may have on their land.

The film held a screening on March 18 at the Dramatic Art Centre. Ellen Cook, 68, also starred in the film and told her story of 50 years back when a hydro dam in Grand Rapids forever changed their land.

“It affected us in our spirits and our hearts because the man had come to destroy the beauty of the rapids and the environment,” said Cook. “It left a scar, which is still there after 50 years.”

Manitoba Hydro started working on the 8.7 billion dollar Keeyask dam in the Nelson River in 2014. According to, it will flood 45 square kilometers of land.

“Before it was beautiful,” said Ila Disbrowe, 49, a Kitchekeesik sister. “Now it just looks like a war zone.”

Currently, there are five hydro dams on Nelson River. states that the Nelson River is eroding and is full of mercury and has become a dangerous area to travel in winter due to unpredictable ice pockets caused by flooding from the dams.

The sisters lost their seven-year-old brother from drowning by the shoreline of Split Lake years back. He broke through the ice and was never found.

“Every time we go on the land, we search the shorelines, looking, hoping to find anything that belonged to him,” said Janet McIvor, 58, one of the older sisters in the family. “He never had a chance in this life because in our territory, we are 100 per cent affected by the hydro dams surrounding us.”

The area that the Kitchekeesik sisters go to remember their brother will be flooded by the Keeyask dam, according to Will Braun, the producer of the film.

“We have to get in their face and tell them ‘Look, you can’t destroy our land, you fix it,’” said McIvor, ending the panel discussion.

According to Manitoba Hydro’s website, Manitoba is growing, and so is the demand for electricity. The Keeyask dam will give electricity to 400,000 homes.