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April 2009 issue

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Trois-Rivières — A tale of tenacity   (Page 2 of 4)

Over its 375-year history, Canada's oldest industrial city has survived boom and bust. Now, Trois-Rivières is reinventing itself again.
By Monique Roy-Sole with photography by Benoit Aquin
Rue des Ursulines, lined with many of the city’s oldest surviving buildings, was spared from the flames.
Photo: Benoit Aquin 
Feature story
Trois-Rivières: A tale of tenacity
Map: Explore the region
Photos: Places and faces
Video: The city and its culture
CBC Radio: Interview with author Monique Roy-Sole
Timeline: Major events shaping Trois-Rivières
375th anniversary: Festivities

Trois-Rivières is a city that was born from its connection to the St. Lawrence River,” says Normand Séguin, a historian and professor emeritus at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, during an early-afternoon break at a café along rue des Forges, a bustling historic street lined with more restaurants than stores. “We are just now rediscovering it.”

The man tasked with rebuilding Trois-Rivières after the fire was Louis-Philippe Normand, a physician who was elected mayor three weeks after the disaster.
In 1535, Jacques Cartier travelled up the St. Lawrence and planted a cross on Île Saint-Quentin.He wasmet by aboriginals, likely the Algonquin, whose ancestors had traded in the region for millennia. It wasn’t until a century later, though, in 1634, that the French, under the command of the Sieur de Laviolette, built a fort atop a high plateau atTrois-Rivières for the fur trade and for protection against the Iroquois.

If the 17th century belonged to the fur trade, the 18th was marked by the arrival of heavy industry inTrois-Rivières. On boulevard des Forges, 20 minutes north of downtown, a National Historic Site commemorates the establishment of Canada’s first foundry and industrial community in 1738. The Forges du Saint-Maurice were built on the high-quality iron ore extracted from surrounding bogs and swamps. Most of the bar iron produced was shipped to France for Royal Navy ships. Production at the forge would last for 150 years, signalling the beginning of Trois-Rivières’ industrial era.


Two blocks from the St. Lawrence, rue des Ursulines is one of the few streets still lined with a handful of buildings from that period. It has the feel of Vieux-Québec, without the throngs of tourists. At any moment, one might expect to hear the clatter of hoofs or the creaking of wagon wheels. The Manoir de Tonnancour, completed in 1725 as the residence of Trois-Rivières’ Crown attorney René Godefroy de Tonnancour, is among the city’s oldest buildings. The three-storey mansard-roofed dwelling now houses a contemporary art gallery. Dominating the other end of the street is the convent of the Ursuline order of nuns, its graceful cupola rising above quiet, shaded grounds. This is where the Ursulines founded the city’s first school and hospital after their arrival in 1697. Today, about 80 nuns — all retired teachers — live in the monastery, whose oldest surviving walls date back to 1699. Collège Marie-de-l’Incarnation, which the Ursulines founded more than 300 years ago and ran until June 2007, continues to operate on the convent grounds as a private girls’ school.

Rue des Ursulines was one of the few original streets spared by the great fire of 1908, which razed much of the downtown. It was sparked on June 22, when a young boy struck amatch to find his ball in a dark shed.The match fell into a pile of hay and wood chips, igniting a fire. Fuelled by a strong, dry wind, it tore through the wood-shingled roofs of the 18th- and 19th-century structures of the old city. When it was over, what remained were the charred carcasses and chimneys of 800 buildings, including 215 homes and businesses, mounds of smoking rubble and a displaced and bewildered population. Remarkably, only one person died.

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Comments on this articleLeave a comment

Our family history dates back to 1670-1680 to Trois-Riviers from Normandy. Jean LeSage and his wife Marguerite Roussel and son Jean-Baptiste. Are any records available to confirm this. Thanks for you time Ellie Weicker

Submitted by Eleanor on Saturday, December 6, 2014

Enjoyed learning a bit more about the reigon. We visit Montreal frequently and this has inspired me to explore further.

Submitted by Ruben J. on Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trois-rivieres, je suis ne et j'ai grandis a Trois-rivieres, J'habites maintenent en Alberta, mais Trois-rivieres a toujours ete ma ville. Je planifi prendre ma retraite a trois-rivieres, Ma Ville, Notre Ville! Merci pour l'article.

Submitted by eric plante on Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I also was born and brought up in Trois-Rivieres (Three Rivers) Quebec and so was my wife Judy and then we moved to Ontario after our wedding in 1967

Submitted by Jim Scott on Monday, May 10, 2010

I just noticed this article while waiting for an appointment this morning in a hospital waiting room. Thank you for this article on Trois-Rivieres, my birthplace...I really enjoyed reading it and have forwarded the link to my e-pals from Trois Rivieres...

Submitted by Patricia (Costigan) Sadiq on Monday, May 10, 2010

Born & brought up in Trois Rivieres. I enjoyed reading about my city. I find the article true to the past.

Submitted by maurice nassif on Friday, April 10, 2009

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