||April 2009 issue||
Trois-Rivières — A
tale of tenacity
(Page 3 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
|Guy Jalbert repairs the rail of a wastewater treatment tank at the Kruger Trois-Rivières pulp and paper
Photo: Benoit Aquin
The man tasked with rebuilding Trois-Rivières after the fire was Louis-Philippe Normand, a physician and
surgeon and the father of 10 children, who was elected mayor three weeks after the disaster. On a sunny afternoon
last June 27, a century after the fire and on the 80th anniversary of Normand’s death, 75 of his descendants — from as
far away as Honduras and France — gathered at City Hall to unveil a plaque in his honour. It has since been mounted
on a granite monument in the adjacent Parc Champlain, where victims of the 1908 fire found temporary refuge and
piled what belongings they had saved from the flames.
Antoine Normand never met his grandfather Louis-Philippe, but the 68-year-old retired journalist
and communications consultant, who lives in Gatineau, Que., was born in the private hospital
his grandfather had owned. He grew up in Trois-Rivières “à l’ombre du clocher,” he says,
his hands drawing the shadow of the steeple of Cathédrale de l’Assomption, a neo-Gothic basilica that towers over the bourgeois quarter where
Louis-Philippe and many members of the Normand clan once lived. Antoine first learned of his grandfather’s
extraordinary accomplishments when his mother gave him documents, some 50 years ago, detailing
Louis-Philippe’s life. He was twice mayor of Trois-Rivières (from 1908 to 1913 and 1921 to 1923), he owned two pharmacies, and he was
president of the Privy Council, appointed by Prime Minister Arthur Meighen in 1921.
|Trois-Rivières is banking, in part, on the redevelopment of a parcel of wasteland to shed its tarnished and outdated image as an industrial city in decline.
“You can’t help but wonder how a man who was so busy accepted the task of rebuilding the city,” says Antoine, shaking
his head at the thought. In 2004, he approached the City of Trois-Rivières about hosting an event in 2008 to commemorate
Louis-Philippe’s role in the city’s reconstruction. Last June’s civic ceremony launched a weekend-long Normand
family reunion, the first in 30 years.
The Normand family tree is closely intertwined with the development of the city. When Antoine’s
great-great-grandfather Édouard Normand arrived from Québec in 1833 with his wife and infant son, Trois-Rivières was
a commercial and industrial town of about 3,100, with a growing role as the administrative
centre for the region. Édouard built the first bridge over Rivière Saint-Maurice, linking Trois-Rivières and Cap-de-la-Madeleine. His
son Télesphore-Eusèbe became a notary, a politician (also serving two terms as mayor of Trois-Rivières and later
elected to Quebec’s Legislative Assembly), a newspaper publisher and an entrepreneur who helped build the Port
of Trois-Rivières and the first railway, in 1879, to support the burgeoning lumber industry. With his wide network of
business contacts, Télesphore-Eusèbe was instrumental in helping his son Louis-Philippe rebuild
the city after the fire of 1908.
“The Normands were modernizers,” says historian Normand Séguin. Within four years, under
Louis-Philippe’s leadership, a modern city centre grew out of the ashes, with wider streets and a uniform architecture
reminiscent of the large boulevards popular in many North American cities. The reconstruction
gave impetus to the drive to attract industry to Trois-Rivières, wherein, in the words of
elected officials, “lies the future and the salvation of our
city.” The abundant forests up the Saint-Maurice provided some of that salvation, the river
serving as a transportation corridor for logs and as a valuable source of cheap hydro. With
the construction of one of the first power-transmission lines in Canada along the Saint-Maurice
at the turn of the 20th century, pulp-and-paper mills, textile factories, foundries and aluminum
smelters multiplied at a dizzying pace in Trois-Rivières, as did its population, more than
tripling in the first three decades of the century. Labourers moved in from the country with
their families, crowding into rows of long, narrow multi-level dwellings connected by a maze
of balconies and staircases, which still line the streets of the city’s working-class neighbourhoods.
By the late 1920s, Trois-Rivières was known as the pulp-and-paper capital of the world,
a title it boasted until the early 1960s. At the industry’s peak, four mills rolled out tonnes
of newsprint — and equal amounts of pollution.
François Normand, Louis-Philippe’s great-nephew and a chartered accountant involved in organizing
the 375th anniversary festivities, remembers the thick coal dust belching from the smokestacks
of CIP’s pulp-and-paper mill in the 1960s and early 1970s, near his home on rue des Ursulines. “No car paint could withstand
it,” he says. “If we left the windows open, the dust crunched under our shoes as we walked through the house.
“But it was also a prosperous period,” he adds. “Salaries were high, and there were lots
of jobs. Young people were hardly educated. They left school at a very young age because
they could get a job at the mill after grade eight. So they started working at the mill and
immediately bought a new car. There were Trans Amclubs. People used to parade to the docks
in their Trans Ams.”
Today, the emissions may be cleaner, but the acrid, sulphurous smell of pulp production at times still fills the air
in Trois-Rivières. Its two remaining pulp-and-paper mills, Kruger Trois-Rivières and Kruger Wayagamack, employ a
combined workforce of about 1,500. But they have fallen on hard times, says Denis Lafrenière, general manager of the
Kruger Trois-Rivières mill, built in 1922 along the St. Lawrence just west of the city’s historic quarter.The decline
in demand for newsprint throughout North America (a 10 percent drop a year since 2005), due, in part, to the rise of
the internet, has shaken the industry. On several occasions over the past two years, and particularly since the onset of
the global recession, the Kruger Trois-Rivières mill has had to temporarily shut down part of its operations. While 90
percent of the mill’s production is still destined for the United States, says Lafrenière, Kruger is working on developing
exports outside North America, where the market for paper is healthier.
Both mills are rare survivors of the deindustrialization that hit Trois-Rivières in the
1980s and 1990s. Thousands of Trifluviens lost their jobs, as manufacturer after manufacturer
closed their doors, victims of globalization and changing markets. Trois-Rivières was left
with the unenviable title of unemployment capital of Canada (unemployment rose to about 14
percent in the 1990s) and with a decaying city centre full of boarded-up businesses. Over
the past decade or so, as in the aftermath of the great fire of 1908, Trifluviens have had
to pick up, rebuild and redefine their city.
|Comments on this article||Leave 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
Enjoyed learning a bit more about the reigon. We visit Montreal frequently and this has inspired me to explore further.
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.