Shawinigan, cradle of Canada's aluminium industry, is situated in Mauricie Region.
Its population is of about 30 thousand. Beckles Wilson described this area as follows: "Some four and twenty miles up the river the, St. Maurice is narrowed by two rocky projections and an island which divides its deep channel in twain. Then comes the drop in level and a swift rush of foaming waters, fall after fall, leap after leap, the whole might flood dashes down, hurling itself against barriers of adamant, such are the Shawinigan Falls.
Settlement in Shawinigan began in 1897, after Boston businessman John Joyce had bought rights to develop the local falls’ hydroelectric potential. The Shawinigan Water and Power Company began operations the following year. Next year Charles Martin Hall, founder of North America’s aluminium industry, chose the site to build Canada’s first smelter. For many years Shawinigan prospered as an industrial centre and its electric power, aluminium, paper and chemical plants attracted engineers, chemists, millwrights and other professionals from around the world.
By the 1940ies, Shawinigan Falls would be one of the most prosperous cities in the world.
Shawinigan neighbourhoods still recall the prevailing social hierarchy: Maple Street with its prestigious houses was an English enclave populated by mill bosses; Saint-Marc Parish with its tenement dwellings in the shadow of Alcan’s chimneys was working-class. Shawinigan High School on rue des Cedres is the cultural heart of the city’s English community. Other interesting landmarks include the Shawinigan Falls Protestant Cemetery, open in 1900; St Peter’s Catholic Church on Hemlock Street; the city’s ornate brick fire-hall, built in 1921 on Champlain Street; and Jacques Plante Arena, named for the legendary hockey player, born here.
The Cité de l’Energie Museum on Melville Island is worth a visit. It tells about Shawinigan’s industrial heritage. Panoramic views await guests at the top of the museum watchtower.
Price of admission includes a ferry ride to the historic mill district, featuring Shawinigan Water and Power Co.’s first generating station and original headquarters of the Northern Aluminium Company.
Vintage postcard of the boulevard along the Saint-Maurice River in Shawinigan Falls (circa 1950)