Articles

THE MYSTERIOUS KINGDOM OF THE SAGUENAY

MARJORIE WILKINS CAMPBELL November 1 1952
Articles

THE MYSTERIOUS KINGDOM OF THE SAGUENAY

MARJORIE WILKINS CAMPBELL November 1 1952

THE MYSTERIOUS KINGDOM OF THE SAGUENAY

MARJORIE WILKINS CAMPBELL

The Indian chief talked about a strange, rich land of rubies, silver and gold. But it was beaver, logs and aluminum that carved out this new industrial colossus in the rugged heart of ancient Quebec

THE FIRST THING I did was to look it up on the map. I wanted to be sure that it was real.

For the Saguenay is one of the world’s far-away places. It exists, it has always existed, as much in the mind as in fact. It is a land of fabulous wealth and beauty; the very word

fabulous is dwarfed by its absolutely amazing industrial‘potential and its majestic scenery. It is the legendary Kingdom of the history books and a modern tourists’ mecca, the scene of the habitant classic, Maria Chapdelaine, and centre of a quarter of the world’s a uminum production.

Strange, romantic names spice its story Cartier and Donnacona. Champlain and Father A banel. Kenogami and Chicoutimi and Arvida are among its principal towns. Shipshaw, its vast hydroelectric plant, is the twentieth-century equivalent of Aladdin’s lamp.

I remembered once passing the Saguenay, on the north shore between Quebec and Father Point, as we sailed down the St. Lawrence toward England. I had tried to see Tadoussac at the river’s mouth through a misty spring rain. The great summer hotel looked like a picture taken out of focus and m the distance the ramparts opened dim and gloomy. You couldn’t believe that thev were mountains, the oldest in the world, rubbed down and rounded by time.

Autumn colors blazed along the St. Lawrence when I returned to Canada in October. Tadoussac lav relaxed and content in the sunshine. The Saguenav River had broadened greatly and iti* ramparts rose majestically into a cloudless skv. 1 thought, casually, that I must have mistaken Tadoussac for some other enchanting, remote Quebec village.

I had made no mistake as I learned later when I went to find out about both the fac's and tinlegends. Captain Carl Bodensieck. of the Canada Steamship Lines' Richelieu, has sailed the romanticcruise route fora quarter of a century. "Passengers ask me if I don't rind the trip monotonous ' he said, chuckling. "The truth is. the Saguenay is never the same.”

Nothing about the Saguenay is what you expect it to be. Offhand, you expect it to flow into the St. Lawrence from the north. Actually it flows in from the west-northwest, about one hundred and thirtv-five miles below Quebec City. Tadoussac on its north bank was an ancient summer rendezvous for Indians from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico before it liecame a fur-trading post and eventually site of one of the continent's finest summer hotels.

As you travel up the sombre stream you can't realize that the ramparts towering on either shore are two thousand feet Continued on pinte -ip

Continued on pinte 49

CONTINUED EROM PAGE 15

above the water, because the stream is so wide. Nor can you understand that the river beneath the deck on which you stand is nine hundred feet deep in places. For forty miles only an occasional lonely hamlet gives a hint that anyone ever lived along those forbidding shores. Yet each year hundreds of ships from all over the world snuggle up to the huge modem wharves at Port Alfred, the Saguenay’s great inland dock at the head of Ha! Ha! Bay. Nearby is Bagotville airport and Chicoutimi with twentyfive thousand citizens. One of the deepest rivers in the world, it has more installed hydro-electric power than any other (2.100,000 horsepower in twenty miles! though its length is scarcely more than a hundred miles.

It is more than a river. It is a valley and a region of some thirty thousand square miles—a fiord that is both river and tide flowing against each other between a fault in the Laurentian rock, in places two miles wide. It is also Lake Saint John, a natural saucer of a reservoir «cooped out by Ice Age glaciers and fed by a dozen rushing brown tributaries. The largest of these tributaries, the Mistassini and Peribonea Rivers are a good mile wide. And at almost every scenic site where a tributary flows into the Saguenay or its lake there is a town or village, built by pulp or agriculture —all roughly one hundred and fifty miles north of Quebec City.

Before I visited the region I thought the Saguenay had a truly great history. Most of its history is based on legend and for three centuries almost all who knew of it shunned it. I understood it had tremendous wealth—and its wealth consists of timber and water, about three hundred and fifty thousand acres of good clay farming land, a twomillion-dollar annual blueberry crop and a tourists’ and sportsmen’s paradise in big game and ouananiihe. the valley’s famous landlocked salmon. I expected to see several hundred native Montagnais and Mistassini Indians, but was told that few remain I had prepared myself to find the fabulous Saguenay Valley scenery violated by a Ruhr Valley or a Pittsburgh and. instead, there was a dean-lined plant a mile and a half long and Arvida, an utterly modern town.

I had to remind myself that this was northeastern Quebec Province.

For the Saguenay is still the end of a road. You don't pass through it on your way anywhere. Yet the legends haven't prepared visitors for Port Alfred, Canada’s third largest port in oceangoing tonnage, the modern city of Chicoutimi whose hills and churches are an echo of Rome, nor for all the pulp-and-paper towns from which comes one tenth of the world’s news-

I had expected the Saguenay to have the frontier feel of the Peace River, for its first major power project. Isle Maligne, was completed only in 1926 But half of today’s two hundred thousand |K>pulation. the habitants immortalized bv Louis Hémon in his Peribonca River romance, Marie Chapdclaine, are related to the handful of hardy Canadien settlers who came to the valley a hundred years ago. They have accepted the new industries, but they are not newcomers. There is nothing reminiscent of the frontier at Arvida’s Saguenay Inn. an exquisite French manor house built in 1937. nor in Chicoutimi’s ultra-modem metropolitan area.

Only two factors suggest the frontier

in the Saguenay Valley: the friendliness typical of people in sparsely populated areas and the trip into it. For whether you come by the S. S. Richelieu, over the new Talbot Highway through Laurentides Park north of Quebec City, or by plane to Bagotville. the northern Quebec geography insists that you have left civilization behind you.

For more than half a century wealthy tourists, honeymoon couples and teachers on vacation have been taking the Saguenay cruise. Even from the deck of a modem vessel you sense the awe which sobered the first white men who ventured upstream in their tiny bark canoes, bending back their heads till their necks ached to see up to the top of the mighty chasm. Some forty miles above its mouth the river branches into Há' Ha! Bay. named not from the hollow laughter of early explorers who mistook it for the North; west Passage but from the old French word used by Joan of Arc meaning an obstacle suddenly encountered.

Two capes—Eternity and Trinity — guard the entrance to Ha' Ha! Bay, vast brooding sentinels dwarfing the cruise ships and the hundreds of cargo ships that link Port Alfred at the end of the bay with the world’s ports And high up on Cape Trinity stands the benign white statue of the Virgin, erected in thanksgiving by a nineteenth-century French traveler who escaped after breaking through the ice on a winter trip.

Ha! Ha! Bay is large enough and deep enough to float the Royal Navy. Until the end of World War I when Port Alfred was developed as a great inland dock nearby Bagotville served the needs of the community. Now Bagotville gives its name to the RCAF jet station. Here the populated Saguenay commences.

Thirteen miles farther on by highway is the city of Chicoutimi, until reient years the farthest point up the Saguenay familiar to tourists. It is the county town, site of the téminairr and museum where Canon Victor Tremblay, lecturer in history and president of the Saguenay Historical Society, lovingly collects the lore and mementos of the land of his birth. Right in the centre of the city the Chicoutimi River hurtles into the Saguenay, a vast roaring torrent of brown water generating power on the spot.

Across the river from Chicoutimi a great cross on the rocky height of Sic. Anne de Chicoutimi, one of many throughout the valley lit by Saguenay power, nightly outwinks the stars above a twelve - foot tide This is the end of navigation, the place where the brackish tide meets the swift flow of the Saguenay’s rapids The river is more than a mile wide and very, very deep: the word Chicoutimi means "Here the river is still deep." Certain strong swimmers among local sportsmen like to time the brackish tide carefulh and in the twenty minutes calm between tide and swift water swim the Saguenay A strong swimmer can cross safely in eighteen minutes.

Immediately upstream are the rapids which produce the region's real wealth. In thirty miles the river drops over three hundred feet from Lake Saint John, roaring over the rocks at the rate of thirty-five thousand cubic feet a

The rapids built tilt* vast plant of the Aluminum Company of Canada and Arvida. the model town of thirteen thousand named after the first two letters in each name of Arthur \ tiling Davis, president of the Aluminum Company of America in 1927. the year Alcoa acquired rights to the enormous potential of cheap power needed to process bauxite into aluminum West from Arvida lie the two Shipshaw power

1 developments whose turbines harness I one and a half million horsepower of the i Saguenay’s invisible might.

Even then you’ve only begun to see the Saguenay. Five miles beyond i Arvida the two pulp-and-paper towns I of Kenogami and -Jonquière overlook , the Au Sable River and the eleven-milelong flume which floats logs overland from Lake Kenogami to the Price Brothers' mills. The logs are the Saguenay's other natural resource, carpeting the river-veined hinterland of Quebec Province, employing thousands of loggers in winter, choking the I streams when melting snows swell them J to flood level.

When the first settlers ousted the trappers they had to clear away the tall timber that grew to the shores of Lake Saint John. Now the descendants of those pioneers raise their scrubbylooking. sturdy Quebec cattle, and the farms produce dairy products for the community, excellent cheese for export, and the workers on which the aluminum and pulp industries depend. Towns ring the lake, linked by a highway as incredible as any of the legends. I had the good fortune to travel it clockwise. driven by German-bom Walter Rouel. of Arvida. whose wife is French and whose five children speak both French and English. Walter Rouel knows every half-mile of the road, having driven it summer and winter. When i the roads are icy he drives with absolute safety because he uses old tires slashed i crisscross to provide suction. But it was summer when we visited St. Gedeon's sandy beach and heard the haunting cry of the loons in the bay. At Desbiens the River Metabetchouan was choked with logs for the St. Raymond paper mill. At the Hudson's Bay Company's Pointe Bleu post one of the few Indians had just set up his canvas tent far from his trap lines. At Dolbeau the blueberry pickers were making as much as ten dollars a day. and the Canadien workers in Dolbeau's Lake Saint John pulp-and-paper mill were turning out their three hundred tons of newsprint and a hundred tons of unbleached sulphite pulp every day. and the only English spoken was in the homes of the mill's managers.

It's a strange and exciting country. Wayside shrines flank modern filling stations. Every neatly painted house has its long veranda and its rocking chair and often its outside stair. The farms are tidy, with neat woodpiles and rakish split rail fences. The Trappist monastery at Notre Dame de Mistassini lies hard by the modem Saint John pulp-and-paper mill, a curious mingling of the contemporary and the medieval the shrill whistle of the mill and the monastery bell calling to worship a little band of men vowed to eternal silence. Brown-robed, sandalshod. they shuffle into their exquisite chapel where women visitors are courteously requested to remain at the vestibule but where a beautiful eightfoot statue of the Virgin is enthroned above the altar, where they keep constant vigil and know the torment of prolonged fasting.

It was good to travel clockwise around Lake St. John, because that way you are in a mood for the shrine of Louis Hémon and the character he created in his book. Maria Chapdelaine. At the Peribonca River. Maria Chapdelaine might be any one of several "omen I met, I could see her in the mother of ten. quick and yet placid, with eyes so unlike those of the silent monks, and with whom I talked about education for women.

"But of what use is higher education for girls, madame'" I was asked. “It does not help to bring up the family. For boys, yes; for girls the home is the career.”

1 had to agree. She was gay. Her life was full. She had comfort in her church, an air of chic in her clean apron, and the knowledge that there was good pay in the mills.

We drove on. More romantic names —Ste. Monique de Honfleur, St. Henri de Taillon and delightful villages where the houses were furnished from Eaton’s catalogue and the philosophy is that of a hundred years ago. And then there was Isle Maligne and Riverbend, each an oasis of civilization on the all but unmarked map of northern Quebec.

It was J. A. Burgesse, property manager for Saguenay Power, and Canon Victor Tremblay who helped me to put together the legends and the history of their valley.

We sat in the museum at the Séminaire de Chicoutimi. Canon Tremblay is, as he puts it, of the Saguenay. In the eyes of this tall, devout scholar in his black robe trimmed with a wide magenta sash and buttons. 1 saw the native gaiety of his people. With him I glimpsed an earlier habitant life as we looked at the triple-decker cook-stoveheater, opening on both sides which came from his childhood home and which is now t treasured museum souvenir.

Jacques Cartier visited the mouth of the Saguenay in 1534 and, eager to inform his monarch of the country, carried to France one of the native chiefs, Donnacona. Desperatelv unhappy and homesick, Donnacona sought some means of securing a return to his beloved woods and streams and with Indian cunning told the king of the great riches of the Saguenay country. Naturally he translated his story in terms familiar to the king, and the riches became rubies and gold and silver. Seeking to snare the king's interest, Donnacona told a tale of strange people who “never eat, have no bottoms and do not digest food.” He died in France, but he had started something. Soon the French were seeking the rubies and the gold. When they failed to find either they turned to the whales playing at the mouth of the Saguenay. Soon ships were anchoring at Tadoussac. countless barrels of whale oil were being boiled and. in the sixteenth century, the Saguenay was providing light for Europe's capitals.

Champlain came later, sailed a few miles upstream, then passed on up the St. Lawrence. Champlain named the Saguenay the Domaine du Roi on his map, the French king having chosen the region as his personal fur monopoly. As early as 1647 a church bell sounded through Tadoussac’s fog and sunshine, the very bell which even today can be heard jangling unmusically.

There were many expeditions in search of Donnacona’s rubies and gold. The only riches discovered were the beaver, greatly in demand for making fur felt for hats for Europe’s gentlemen of fashion. When Wolfe had climbed the heights at Quebec and the fleur dc lis came down, the Domaine du Roi passed to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Then Napoleon forced the Royal Navy to search elsewhere than the Baltic ports for spars and masts for its ships. The admiralty's agent, one William Price, found the much-needed tall straight timbers among the white pine growing along the Saguenay.

IS VOI R SI BSCRIPTION DI ET

Subscribers receiving notice of the approaching expiration of their subscriptions are reminded of the necessity of sending in their renewal orders promptly.

The demand for copies to fill new orders Is so great that we cannot guarantee the mailing of even a single i>sue beyond the period covered by your subscription To •▼•id disappointment, your renewal order •hollid be mailed to us prompt'y when yon receive the “expiration” notice.

Price saved the day for the Navy and then decided to settle in the land of pine With James McGill, founder of McGill University, he went into the lumber business on the Ottawa and St. Maurice Rivers. But no river was large enough for both of those Paul Bunyan pioneer industrialists and Price hadn’t forgotten the timber on the Saguenay.

He opened stores, brought in cattle, operated a grist mill and circulated his own paper money. The Compagnie Price acquired more and more timber limits, either by purchase or lease, until it controlled much of the Saguenay country. And the regime turned out to be just according to the standards of the time. When William Price died in 1867 local residents demanded a continuance of the familiar Price notes, refusing to accept the new Dominion of Canada paper money. They erected a monument at Chicoutimi commemorating le père du Saguenay and acknowledging the feudal family.

William Price’s three sons carried on the business until the death of the last in 1899 when control went to a nephew and namesake, William Price, bom of a Chilean branch of the family, educated in England and in the Compagnie Price. By that time the tall white pine had gone and forestry conservation was husbanding the vast stands of spruce and balsam. A new era had come to the Saguenay and the twentieth-century William Price in 1902 purchased a Jonquière paper mill which had failed. Newsprint had proved its Canadian promise at St. Maurice and Price Brothers controlled a fortune in spruce and balsam. They had water to float their logs and process them, and the habitant families, content with their church and a little beer and some music, to provide labor. The railway had linked up Chicoutimi with Montreal and ocean-going vessels could haul newsprint and pulp right from the mills to the world's markets. The next step was hydro-electric power.

By World War I William Price had power plants at Jonquière, Kenogami, Chute Murdock and Chute aux Galets. He had built a modern newsprint mill at Kenogami. When he was knighted during the war he was virtually the uncrowned king of the Saguenay.

Down in the U. S the American tobacco tycoon. J. B. Duke, also interested in hydro-electric power, heard about the Saguenay, came up in his private car. looked it over and announced characteristically: “I’m going to buy this.”

The Duke-Price partnership was formed in 1922 and plans drawn for Isle Maligne's giant turbines. Those first half-million horsepower harnessed from the Saguenav's wasting water gave Chief Donnacona’s legend a prophetic twist. And there was Chute à Caron, near the mouth of the Shipshaw River, closer to tidewater than Isle Maligne and potentialis an even greater development. Among the bluets iin the Saguenay and Lake St. John country they call old-timers “blueberries" after the lush wild crops) they say that Sir William I’ricc had paid two thousand dollars for Chute à Caron rights which sold to J. B. Duke for six millions

A shrewd man. Sir William He was beloved of his employees and familiar with every operation in his empire. He was inspecting one of the hundred-andseventy-feet-high stockpiles, huge beehives of pulp logs, overlooking the Au Sable River at Kenogami when the bank slipped. Down, down to the river tumbled the logs and the president of the Compagnie Price When they found his body, it was as though the king had died. At each of the plants, in the towns and villages where his men

worked, they mourned him. His business associates set aside a park in his honor, and high on a foreland overlooking the Au Sable, the Saguenay and Shipshaw rivers they laid him to rest in sight of the twin pulp towns of Kenogami and Jonquière and with the majestic Laurentians to stand guard.

Price Brothers are no longer the only producers of pulp and paper in the Saguenay. Together with Consolidated Paper at Port Alfred, the St. Raymond Company and Lake St. John, they provide over eight hundred thousand tons of Canada's annual production of nearly ten million tons of newsprint and pulp.

But newsprint is a comparatively economical user of electrical power. It is the manufacture of aluminum into ingots, sheets and wire that consumes most of the two and a quarter million horsepower generated on the Saguenay, or a sixth of the water power developed in Canada.

Back in 1925 J. B. Duke traded his Duke-Price interests with Andrew Mellon, then looking for cheap abundant power for processing his vast bauxite holdings into aluminum. For his Chute à Caron rights. Duke received a one-twelfth interest in the projected §250,000.000 Aluminum Company of Canada, thereby providing an often overlooked Canadian slant to Doris Duke's colorful career.

Twenty-five years ago the Saguenay region was beyond the end of the road. Nowhere near the source of cheap power was there living accommodation for thousands of engineers and other imported workers. So Arvida came into being along with another Saguenay legend. In a single summer four farms between Chieoutimiand Chute à Caron became a town. Model houses were built at the rate of two hundred and seventy in one hundred and sixty-five days, with curving streets, a marketeria that looks like a suburban library, churches, schools, recreation centres. In no time streets named appropriately Mellon and Davis were nicknamed, also j appropriately. Maternity Row and I Pregnancy Boulevard—and in English as well as in French.

The first ingot was poured in 1926. Present capacity is two million pounds a day. a big fraction of the world's aluminum for planes and bam roofs, frying pans and insulating foil and patent medicines to ease the curse of stomach ulcers. For each ton of aluminum shipped by Saguenay Terminals from Port Alfred's ultra-modem dock facilities, four tons of mealy, pink bauxite is shipped in from British Guiana—through Port Alfred, together with cryolite from Greenland, petroleum coke from the U. S. and several other minor ingredients. They say in Arvida that you can find some one who can speak every known language. At Port Alfred, and even in Chicoutimi, sailors hungry for dates and speaking Norwegian. Italian. Portuguese. English and even Chinese, are teaching the local girls not only the languages heard at United Nations headquarters but many customs utterly unknown to the region a generation ago.

Almost legendary are some of the engineering accomplishments taken so casually in the valley. The central section of Chute à Caron's dam was constructed upright and dropped into place like a plug because the river flowed too fast for any other means: it was ninety feet across. Shipshaw Number Two was considered a fiveyear project until Hitler convinced the free world that more aluminum was needed for sturdy light planes: fortyseven thousand men did the work in half the time, thereby producing more real wealth—1,200.000 horsepower— than Donnacona ever dreamed of.

Construction of dams to ensure a constant water flow at Lake Manouan and Passe Dangereuse up the Peribonca River in 1942 resulted in the largest air-freight job in history—men. materials. food, machinery—everything needed for a vast project was flown in. And now Chute du Diable, on the lower Peribonca. is about to provide a further dam and two hundred thousand horsepower.

With no iron, no wheat, corn or cotton, employing a resource that was wasting but which never wastes and is never mined, the Saguenay is making its own millionaires among local residents. They say there are fourteen of them in and about Chicoutimi, and it is common talk that Odilon C re vier sold his bus company for a coo! million.

But what of the Saguenay’s future?

I thought about that as I sat on the terrace at Saguenay Inn and watched the evening mists rise above the shining surface of Shipshaw but still far below the purpling heights of the majestic Laurentians. And I thought of the simple, gay French folk to whom the Saguenay was home long before the river’s invisible power chan sed the countryside from a pastoral farming community to an industrial centre.

Was I mistaken in sensing a leashed resentment against the powerful interests which had accomplished what native sons had lacked both the vision and the capital to attempt? Could it be that the Prices, hinted in more than one local yam to have founded their fortunes on the hard-fisted business methods of pioneering days, were more loved than the great aluminum trust because they were a little less benevolent and so a little better understood? The Prices and the other pulp-and-paper companies whose towns are a poor second to the perfection of Arvida?

Probably. But Saguenayans 3re shrewd and sensible. Enough among them know that their Laurentian valley is only at the threshold of its history and its wealth that whatever you say about its future is likely to be understatement. New industries are following the pioneers, firms like the American Zinc Refinery, soon to build ^ twelvemillion-dollar plant. They can pay more for hydro-electric power than can the aluminum industry. And because the Saguenay's most fabulous legends are rapidly becoming fact it is no longer mere wishful thinking to prospect for minerals comparable to the four-hundred-year-old fabrication of homesick Donnacona at the court of Francis I of France I even find myself wondering when some one with vision and capital will divert the flow froirenormous Lake Mistassini from Hudson Bay to the St. Lawrence by way of the Saguenay, and thereby greatly increase Saguenay power—and future Saguenay industry.

VS "hoever it may be. Saguenayans are likely to give more credit to the genii in their river than to the men who harness it for them. Perhaps it is best that way. Though industries will come and go the Saguenay will flow on. That is the great fact. •*