The Berlage

Public Lecture

Matters of Extraction: From the Margin of Empire(s)

Alessandra Ponte

Canada is home to 75% of all global prospecting and mining companies. Because of such staggering presence of the mining industry, Canada has been named an extraction empire. Nevertheless, the Premier of Québec, Philippe Couillard, guilty of brazenly inviting foreign companies to take advantage of the potentially rich mineral deposits in the North of the Province, has recently been reproached for acting “colonized.” Historically, Canada’s economy has been based on the extraction and exportation of natural resources: beaver pelts beginning in the seventeenth century; fish, timber, pulp and paper, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; minerals, hydro-power, and oil during the twentieth and twenty-first century. Already in the 1930s, political economist Harold Innis, one of Canada’s greatest thinkers, proposed the “staples thesis” to explain the specificity of Canadian economic development and its heavy dependence on foreign markets and Imperial control. Innis developed the staple thesis when Canadians began to realize that after being subjects to the colonial dominion first of the French and than of British Empire, they were under threat of being crushed by the Empire south of their border: the USA markets and economy now dictating the kind of staple to be extracted and the rhythm of exploitation. One may safely say that Canadians have systematically been confronted with (and reflected upon) relations between centers and peripheries, international market trends, unbalanced system of power, and colonization strategies. Innis’ staple thesis permits to address in rich geographical, historical, political and economic terms the character of the “matter” extracted from specific locations and distributed worldwide. The lecture outlines and explores the complex Canadian experience taking as starting point gold mining in the Abitibi region of Québec.

The public lecture is as part of the Berlage Proseminar currently being taught by Filip Geerts, entitled “Verlust der Mitte: Architectures of Centrifugality and Centripetality,” which is examining the reciprocal relationship between metropolis and hinterland through an inquiry of territories/systems/things specific to the Home Counties around London and the vast expanse of the Province of Buenos Aires. Students are exploring what the metropolis feeds from or has expelled to its fringes in these two metropolitan contexts.

Alessandra Ponte is professor at the École d’architecture at the Université de Montreal. She has also taught at Princeton University, Cornell University, Pratt Institute, the ETH Zurich, and at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia. For the last eight years she has been responsible for the Phyllis Lambert International Seminar, annual events addressing current topics in landscape and architecture. She curated the exhibition “Total Environment: Montreal 1965–1975” at the CCA and collaborated to the exhibition and catalogue “God & Co: François Dallegret Beyond the Bubble” at the GTA. She has recently published a collection of essays on North American landscapes entitled The House of Light and Entropy. See less

More events