||April 2009 issue||
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
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
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.”
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.
|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.
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.
|Comments on this article||Leave a comment|
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.
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
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...
Born & brought up in Trois Rivieres. I enjoyed reading about my city. I find the article true to the past.