There's No Price For Loss of Home
by Al Haas of the Inquirer staff
As the gray-haired woman
talked about the destruction of her home and way of life before, the prodigal sadness
crept back into her voice and eyes. It became obvious that while time would
anesthetize the old wound, it could never really heal it.
She was a human byproduct of something we call progress, a
casualty of the grand advance.
You thought of the universality of her fate, a fate she shared
with so many in the way of proposed roads and urban renewal projects.
She took you home. Home from Canada where you were
vacationing. You thought of Franklin Town, the proposed center city redevelopment
project which would displace 125 modest to moderate income families.
The woman--I never asked her name [Verna Marcella Bedingfield
(nee Lane)]--was a resident of one of the five Ontario towns that were flooded in 1958
when they damned the St. Lawrence River's Long Sault Rapids for the creation of the St.
Lawrence Seaway and the production of hydroelectric power.
She and the other residents were relocated further inland.
Some of the most historic structures in the doomed riverfront villages like hers were
moved back beyond the new shoreline to form a re-created early 19th century community
called "Upper Canada Village."
"Lived on Waterfront All My Life"
It was in this fascinating Canadian answer to Williamsburg, Va.,
operated by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, that I found this woman. She was
stationed in an 150-year-old tavern, reciting its history to mildly interested visitors.
We talked during lapses in the tourist procession.
"I lived on the old riverfront all my life," she
"We called it simply 'the front.' There were many
historic homes and buildings on the front. The ones they brought here are only a few
of them. And it was so beautiful. They've built some nice parks on the new
waterfront, but it isn't as pretty as the old one."
"My husband has a store. He put years of hard work in
building it into something. He was just really starting to get somewhere when they
decided to build the dam. He was 50 by then and its hard to start all over when you
are that age."
The government people were fair with them, she recalled.
They gave them a reasonable price for the home and store. What they couldn't
reimburse them for was the sense of loss--the feeling one has when he is forced to leave
the only home and life he has ever known.
"Like Walking on a Grave"
The water got very low last year," the woman continued.
"So low that we could almost walk out to where our house stood. The
water receded to a point where the sidewalk in front of it was exposed."
"It must have seemed kind of strange, walking out
there," I observed.
"Yes it was," she answered. "It was like
walking on a grave."
The project left many of the displaced "very bitter"
she conceded later.
"But it (the project) is progress," she concluded.
"At least that's what they call it."
The gray-haired woman from the Front comes to mind whenever I
read the latest story about Franklin Town and the people unhappy about being displaced by
Philadelphia Inquirer, circa