Subscribe and save!
magazine / apr09

April 2009 issue

« PREV  |  NEXT »
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 itself again.
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 mill.
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

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.

Trois-Rivières is banking, in part, on the redevelopment of a parcel of wasteland to shed its tarnished and outdated image as an industrial city in decline.
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.

“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.

« PREV  |  NEXT »

Search our sites: ,

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

Canadian Geographic Magazine | Can Geo Education | Mapping & Cartography | Canadian Geographic Photo Club | Kids | Canadian Contests | Canadian Lesson Plans

Royal Canadian Geographical Society | Canadian Geographic Education | Canadian Geographic Challenge | Canadian Award for Environmental Innovation

Subscribe | Customer Care / Login | Renew | Give a Gift | Pay a Bill | Digital Edition | Back Issues | Calendars | Special Publications

Jobs | Internships | Submission Guidelines

© 2016 Canadian Geographic Enterprises