Winds of change rock Wolfe Island

WOLFE ISLAND, ONTARIO - For generations, the most prominent landmarks visible on Wolfe Island from the ferry chugging back and forth from Kingston were the cross and spires of the churches in the village of Marysville.

Rather the way you'd imagine the great cosmic CEO intended it.

Sometime last century, progress did have its way, even on a sleepy little island where modernity has been assiduously ignored, and hydro and the odd transmission tower was installed to stretch slightly nearer the heavens.

Still, Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands, a 25-minute ferry ride from the mainland, where Lake Ontario ends and the St. Lawrence River begins, remained a place so admirably resistant to change that things like neon and motels, chain stores and drive-thrus made no inroads at all.

Until now.

This year, things have changed utterly.

The future has arrived on Wolfe Island with a wind-turbine vengeance. And many ferry passengers will surely lament this summer that one of Ontario's more tranquil refuges has been turned into a wind-turbine theme park.

Eighty-six wind turbines now tower over a flat little land mass only 35 kilometres long and 10 wide, dwarfing those churches that once claimed pride of stature.

"You can't miss 'em," sighed the lady at the inn booking a traveller's reservation.

And if opinion might be split locally about the merits of the Wolfe Island Wind Project, there can be no argument about that appraisal. The turbines are a dominating – some say overbearing – omnipresence.

The project is the second-largest in Canada and a submarine cable to the mainland delivers enough wind-generated juice to provide power for tens of thousands of homes.

Owner Canadian Hydro boasts that wind power "creates no air pollution or greenhouse gases (which contribute to climate change), leaves behind no hazardous or toxic wastes and uses no water."

Whatever the technical merits of the project, there's no question about the aesthetic impact on the island. The turbines have tilted its ambience from the pastoral to the industrial.

The turbines are a looming presence visible or palpable from almost anywhere on the island and the impression they leave depends a lot on one's outlook, angle, even mood.

At times, they appear like a devouring wave of massive, mantis-like insects; at others, a squadron of fighter planes. At 80 metres high, their slow, relentless spinning can be mesmerizing. Their whirr, from nearby, is like the drone of a distant plane, or the whooshing, surf-sound heard by putting an ear to a conch shell.

Now that the turbines are up and running, most locals shrug and say opposition and controversy is abating – though concerns remain about potential health effects and, recently, carved hands were placed at the turbine sites in what was taken to be a mysterious protest.

Meanwhile, not far to the west, opponents of proposed wind projects in Prince Edward County cite "the perceived ruin of Wolfe Island" as part of their call to arms.

Still, one island farmer said "once they're up, they're not hurting anything." Since the turbine kicked in on his property, "I haven't lost any sleep over it."

The turbines are even used as a selling point. The Alton Moor Golf Course says these "majestic structures provide a striking backdrop" to its nine holes and invites visitors to "golf amid the turbines."

As the farmer says, from his point of view, wind beats nuclear and coal. And he understands the motivation for the project. "There's certainly wind over here." Enough, he says, to have once blown over his 16-foot hay wagon. "They didn't put them here for nothing."


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