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Spotlight shines on Sunken Villages in Brockville photo gallery

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BROCKVILLE, Ontario — Sunken villages are being brought back to life in a photograph exhibit here that opened last month at the Marianne van Silfhout Gallery at St. Lawrence College, 100 Portsmouth Ave.

Aerial photographer Louis Helbig, Ottawa, has taken thousands of pictures of the 10 St. Lawrence River villages in the province of Ontario that disappeared decades ago. Twenty-three of those images will be on display in the gallery until Nov. 2. Most images are 40 by 60 inches.

Mr. Helbig has been flying his small two-seater airplane since 1999 and makes his living by taking photos while flying his plane.

He first spotted the villages in September of 2009 while flying over them.

“I was flying over Lake St. Lawrence, looked down and saw the outline of the foundation,” he said. “I knew nothing about it. I didn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Over the last four years, Mr. Helbig has flown over the area, taking more than 1,000 photos of the sunken villages.

He said multiple factors, such as changes in seasons, sunlight, water level and seaweed growth, allow for different colors and complexions in his photos each time he takes them.

“I always seem to find things I’ve never seen before,” he said.

Christina K. Chrysler, gallery curator, said the exhibit is very personal for people who were forced to leave their homes and communities to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway project in 1958.

“It’s the first time we’ve had an exhibit this socially and historically relevant to the area,” she said. “It’s unique that it’s touched people who were affected on both sides of the border.”

Accompanying the photos in the Brockville gallery are audio clips of stories and childhood experiences of people who were affected by the Seaway project.

Mr. Helbig interviewed 27 people who told him stories about how they were affected by the 1958 project that displaced about 6,500 people from the 10 villages and nearby rural homes and farms.

“There’s a sense of loss because they can never go back to their hometown,” he said. “These people sacrificed for the common cause.”

He said that people had heard of his photography and reached out to him with their stories. He also talked to people involved with the Lost Villages Historical Society.

Together, the 112 audio clips are an hour and 40 minutes long.

The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Saturdays and Mondays.

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