My family came to the North Country as “boomtown” transplants in 1957. Work was just being finished on the Seaway and the Moses-Saunders Power Dam. The North Country was awash with youngish newcomers like my dad, WWII-era veterans drawn by the boom centered in Massena. He sold business machines for Remington Rand–typewriters and mechanical adding machines and such pre-computer tech–to the new and expanding companies drawn north by cheap hydropower and the opening of shipping into the industrial heartland of the U.S. and Canada. My mom was also typical of the newcomers, a mother of young children who cut her teeth on defense plant work and continued to juggle jobs inside and outside the home.
As with most transplants, the prior history of the region was invisible to me. I had no notion of the trauma occasioned by the relocation of 6,500 residents, the drowning of six villages and 63 square miles of land under the swelling Lake St. Lawrence. I was five, and the coolest thing I had ever seen was a two-and-a-half story Queen Anne-style house being moved down the road on an enormous flatbed.
I was starting my education in a brand-new central school building built during the International Geophysical Year at the dawn of the Space Race. Sputnik was beeping overhead. Everything was about the future, and the future it seemed would be built from aluminum. It would be made in the North Country.
And my future was made here, still is. Just not the future we all envisioned in the 1950s. What we called the industrial heartland then, we call the Rust Belt now. Massena’s more than century-long run as a manufacturing town will be down to a couple hundred jobs by next year. Which leaves me to wonder, if the future will not be made from aluminum, what will it be made from? The floor is open to suggestions.