The “power of water” of the river of the North

Le «pouvoir d’eau» de la rivière du Nord

Photo: Guillaume Levasseur Duty
Mario Fauteux, who has worked at the paper Rolland from 1978 to 2004, is unofficially as its “historian.”

This summer, The Need to get wet a little bit to tell stories of lakes and rivers. Today : the river of the North, in the Laurentians, and its critical importance in the industrial history of Saint-Jérôme.

By this weighing July morning, two fishermen throw their lines into the water. The scenery which is offered to them is not akin to the quiet wilderness of the Laurentians. Directly on the other side of the river rises a huge factory of red brick, of which the main tower stands even higher. Careless of the industrial appearance of the place, located a few steps from the city center of Saint-Jerome, they hope that it bites.

At this very spot in 1881, the parish priest Antoine Labelle had also hoped probably that bite. He was guest editor Jean-Baptiste Rolland and his sons to visit the village and its ” powers of water “. Instead of importing paper from Europe for his books, Mr. Rolland wanted to build her own stationery and was looking for a place to do this. His choice has stopped on this small town in pre-industrial, which is connected to Montreal by a railway from a few years ago.

Nearly a century and a half later, the idea of the editor has made of its roots. The plant, which produces a first sheet of paper on the 13th of October, 1883, is still in business. With the Dominion Rubber (rubber) and the Regent (textile), the Rolland was once the industrial heart of Saint-Jérôme. All three were directly dependent on the river on the North. Without this water course, which takes its source in the lake Burned in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, and which empties into the Ottawa river at Saint-André-d’argenteuil, the small village would certainly not become the town of 80 000 inhabitants that it is today.


To (re)read

The ancient texts of the series “Stories of water”

“What they need to run their machines, it is of hydraulic power. The three factories which locate in Saint-Jérôme have something in common : they alter the course of the river to create a retention basin, ” says Mario Fauteux, speaking loudly to cover the noise of the rapids.

This retired paper mill is presented informally as ” the historian of the Rolland “. He remained there from 1978 to 2014. Before him, his father worked there from 1941 to 1982. Towards the middle of the Twentieth century, most families jérômiennes were related, in one way or another, to one of the three main factories of the city. At their peak, the Rolland, the Regent and the Dominion Rubber employed, respectively, 1000, 1300 and 1500 people.

Even today, a concrete dam crosses the river edge-to-edge to the height of the plant, Rolland, in the south of the city. The water flows gently, touching the top of the book. On the west side of the river, one sees a water outlet, that goes to the stationery. Even if the plant no longer depends on the hydraulic power since 1956, the manufacture of paper still requires the assistance of the water to prepare the fibers and spread them on a flat surface.

A history of water, from the beginning

Since the foundation of the parish of Saint-Jérôme, in 1834, they erected mills, drawing their power from the river to the North. At the limit of the canadian Shield and plains of the St. Lawrence river, the village enjoys a certain elevation creating fast, while being close to the farmers who want to grind their wheat. Over the following decades, artisans and small entrepreneurs settle in the vicinity of the watercourse : mill carder (used to comb the wool of the sheep before spinning), a mill drill, a smelter, saw mills see the light of day. On the river, the logs arrive from the north, thanks to the care of the rivermen. The village is bustling with activity.

Then, the curé Labelle arrived in 1868, tells the story of Linda Rivest, executive director and archivist to the Society for the history of Rivière-du-Nord. “He was full of ideas, it is someone progressive enough. He sees it’s big for St. Jerome, who quickly becomes the hub of the development of the Laurentians to the north. The train from Montreal stops here in 1876. In 1872, the curé Labelle and the elite jérômienne are doing a study on the potential of the river. We are mapping the river, it evaluates the power of each of the powers of water. And then, we publish this information here in order to attract larger industrial. “

At a certain time, if you wanted to know what had been manufactured at the Rolland you were going to the end, down there, and you could see the water color change

— Mario Fauteux

In the report in question, the engineer Charles Legge lists a succession of waterfalls and streams with a total height of 305 feet (93 meters) over a distance of six miles (10 kilometers). This segment of the river “has a strength of 120 000 horses, while the water is the lowest at the time of the drought,” he wrote. This power is twelve times greater than that which is endowed Lowell, Massachusetts, which is often regarded as the cradle of the industrial revolution in the United States. It would not take much, judge Legge, for Montréal to become the Boston of Canada, and St. Jerome, his Lowell.

Following the dissemination of this study, the first major industry to settle down — its owners bought a plot at the end of 1879 — is the Pulperie Delisle, north of the city, which was later to become the Pulperie falls Wilson. It produces the pulp used to manufacture paper of low quality, such as that of newspapers. The stationery Rolland, who settled shortly after, it instead uses the ” cloth “, that is to say, scraps of fabric, to make the paper thinner. The rubber factory (1896) and textile (1916) settled along the river in the following years. They will work to full capacity for decades.

Le «pouvoir d’eau» de la rivière du Nord

Photo: Guillaume Levasseur Duty
Linda Rivest, our executive director and archivist to the Society for the history of Rivière-du-Nord

Coincidence or not, their decline will take place at the same time, the modernization of industrial processes. In the 1950s and 1960s, the international competition intensifies in the sectors of paper, textile and rubber. The Regent, who becomes a cooperative self-managed by employees (Tricofil) in the 1970s, went bankrupt in 1981. The Dominion Rubber, renamed Uniroyal in 1966, ceases its activities in the 1980s. The Rolland, in turn, slows down its operations, but is good. It was purchased by Cascades in 1992, who sold it in 2014 to u.s. interests.

On the environmental front, the reduction of the industrial activity on the river is definitely beneficial. “At a certain time, if you wanted to know what had been manufactured at the Rolland you were going to the end, down there, and you could see the water color change,” says Mario Fauteux. Even if the paper mills are among the pioneers in the water treatment, he says, several species of fish have disappeared from the rivers. “The newspapers of 1840 said that the salmon came back up the river to the North. It is far from it today ! “


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