Forges River Saint Maurice
Despite its vast mineral resources, Canada has not really developed its metallurgic industry; investors probably feared committing their capital in this country hard to work in during winter. The first French immigrants displayed more resolve, since they created, at Trois-Rivières, the foundry that can still be seen there. I therefore thought the reader would appreciate learning how and by which Frenchmen these works were undertaken in Nouvelle France. It is in 1668 that a Sieur de la Pontardière, from Québec, studied the Trois-Rivières iron ore. In those days, by royal decree, all the mines in New France were legitimately the property of the Compagnie des Indes occidentales; however, the Count of Frontenac, representing the Crown, visited the iron ore and the first foundries and recorded his findings in a report dated November 1672, which is still archived and which I quote: « The iron mine I just visited is very important indeed, and therefore I visited it myself in order to be more accurate. One of the deposits extends from Cap-de-la-Madeleine to Champlain along a distance of four leagues, and all the area is covered with iron ore; I endeavored to taste the water of the streams that run through these sites and found it strongly impregnated with rust and iron... As for the foundries to build, I would advise locating them along Ruisseau Pépin which runs through Champlain over to the Cap where the Jesuit Fathers already have a watermill in operation … »
Thanks to Frontenac's laudatory report and to those of governor Denouville who succeeded him, thanks ultimately to a sum of 100,000 livres granted later on in 1735 by Louis XV, a smelting furnace was erected which still stands nowadays, and on the way to this antique one can see a cast iron plate with a fleur-de-lis, the emblem of the King of France, and a date: 1752; I must add that, in 1743, the Crown had taken possession of those foundries. Therefore they were operated on the King of France's own money; thus he sent skilled craftsmen from France and Sweden and the sophisticated foundry they set up ran until 1753. Professor Peter Kahn from Sweden visited Trois-Rivières in 1747; his report is a testimony to the importance and the good installation of the equipment as well as to the energy of the Frenchmen who had set it up; he witnessed the casting of cannons and mortars of various sizes as well as of stoves for the settlers. However, his report criticizes the luxury and the numbers of officers and managers who, being paid by the King, spent more than reasonably required and did not put this admirable situation to the best economical use. This squandering, to call it bluntly, exposed by the Swedish metallurgist, caused some time later the transfer of the governor Marquis de Jonquière and the appointment of an Inspector, Mr. Franquet, whose report finds that the foundry is driven by the force of water, employs 180 French workers, burns the coal of the vast forest which covers the country, and that the iron produced to refine the cast iron sells for 30 beaver pelts per hundred pounds: despite this high price, the King is losing his money there and he would benefit by leaving it at one hundred pistoles per year, a price that would be paid.
On July 8th, 1760, following the French capitulation, the foundries were transferred to the British Crown, who kept them until 1846. During the invasion of Canada by the American rebels in 1775, the Frenchman Pélissier, who then managed the foundries, quickly started casting cannon balls and shells which were used to bombard the English in Québec.
Since the start of our visit, these foundries, so humble at the beginning, have developed in a big way, namely by manufacturing train wheels for all of North America, these famous cast-iron wheels, so economical and so enduring, that Europe still cannot or will not make.
Nowadays, along St Maurice River, the main river flowing here into the St Lawrence, there is an area which is little known to tourists and well worth a visit. Together with its tributaries, this river, which is navigable up to more than one hundred kilometers from its mouth, drains a 300 square kilometer wooded countryside, and the single Raduos foundry, fueled with charcoal, produces at present 50,000 kilos of cast iron per day, which is, to my knowledge, unequaled on the Old Continent.
St Maurice River takes its source up North, in the Laurentides Ridge. There, one can find only hunters tracking North America's big wild ruminants: the moose and the caribou. Cold and clear water lakes abounding with fish and booming waterfalls are plenty, with namely the 50-meter high Shawinigan falls which have, over the Niagara, the indisputable advantage of having preserved their wild and primeval scenery. As for the lakes, there are more than a hundred, among which Lac Wayagamac which is 30 kilometers around. Following a frequent custom in this country, a great number of nature lovers organize into clubs whose seats are in Montréal, this with the sole aim of preserving the primeval beauty of these hilly solitudes. They control the grounds and go there during the summer months to hunt, fish, and re-immerse in these true and healthy sources of life.
Now let us leave Trois-Rivières and the St Maurice and follow the St Lawrence to reach Montréal, today's Canadian metropolis; the humble Indian village that Jacques Cartier visited in 1536 is now the terminal of the great steamship "l'Europe", this because the rapids that block the St Lawrence upstream from the city prevent the navigation of ocean-going ships; however, channels enable smaller vessels to circumnavigate these obstacles and to communicate by waterway with the Great Lakes and the densely populated cities on their shores. Montréal is therefore the obliged warehouse of the vast western regions; this city is thus continuously expanding. However, together with its 250,000 inhabitants, it is beginning to diverge from Québec's exclusively French model: here, the new districts follow the dull but practical checkerboard layout of cities in the United States, with wide streets and tramways. The old French city steps up from the bank of the St Lawrence to the top of a rather steep elongated hill; on this top stand the principal monuments; beyond, the slopes are somewhat gentler and a very large area there is already covered with new districts. The famous Mount Réal will soon be surrounded – at least its base – by these dwellings, and its top can be reached by very good roads and a steep railroad.
By fair weather, the view from the top of Mount Réal is splendid: to the north, the long misty Laurentides Ridge, which is said to be one of the most ancient consolidated strata of our globe; at its foot, the city and its long hill where ancient and modern monuments stand majestically, then the vast river (still 1,500 meters wide) which the eye can follow far away through its silvery reflections.
Not far upstream from Montréal, the Lachine rapids where the St Lawrence waters depart from their impressive calm and bash from one rock to another, swirling white, as if furious and bellowing, while light steamships steered by Indian pilots do not fear to venture along them, carrying tourists eager for emotions; but elsewhere and as far as the eye can see, a wide plain where, here and there and similar to Mount Réal, other mountainous islets emerge, such as Mont Beloeil or Saint-Hilaire and others. As for Mount Réal, it seems to be formed of amphibolite, sometimes fine grain, sometimes containing beautiful horoblende crystals that I have only found in New Caledonia; quartzeous areas, which criss-cross these amphibolites and harden them in places, are probably the cause of those summits' resistance to the baring, the erosion which, with time, have reduced the countryside to today's low level. The mountainous summits emerging here and there from these wide plains remain as a testimony to the existence of ancient reliefs.
To one studies Montréal's population, it seems that the line of divide between the two races is less well defined here than in Québec, as one can find many rapprochements, except on religion. Englishmen only speak their own tongue, French Canadians use both languages and often have a better control of their adopted tongue: « What can I do, one of them told me, English is the language of business, and we need it to survive ». This rapprochement is more obvious among middle-class Frenchmen, who are naturally in greater numbers. However, whenever a French Canadian did engage in a conversation with us, bygone recollections sprang to life again and it was with surprisingly intense feelings and emotions that he reminded us of his origins and past; he became inexhaustible on that subject and seemed to become, for a while, immersed in a happy dream: the fact is that in each family, during the long winter evening gatherings, the old timers tell, with umpteen details, the history of the ancient immigration from France, this old and loved homeland which has remained their true mother... but when the Canadian wakes up to reality, to the requirements of everyday life, he is obliged to rejoin l'angleterre, which is definitely a cruel mother, but a mother made of business. Canadians visiting France, their homeland, are generally surprised at Canada not being better known here; they think our recollection of them should be in proportion to their recollection of us. However, let us not be mistaken: the French Canadians' warm and friendly recollection of their former homeland never leads them to wish they became French settlers again. As we said before, the English yoke is not heavy; taxes are low, specially in French Canada, and their freedom is as complete as possible; their only aspiration could perhaps be to severe the fragile bonds that still link them to l'angleterre, but they are too smart not to realize that this protectorate is the only thing that prevents them from being taken over by the United States, and likewise, l'angleterre realizes that any form of heavy yoke would propel Canada into the ever-open arms of the Yankees. There is therefore a somewhat tacit understanding benefiting the Canadians, and this balance, more stable than one could believe, can last a long time, i.e. until the time when this gigantic Canadian territory is sufficiently populated to become a force able to do without angleterre's tutelage, as well as to stand up to the United States' appetite.