A Small Taste of This French Canadian City Will Leave You Hungry for More
It was supposed to be a trip to Quebec City, then on to Montreal. The circumstances that landed my husband and me for 24 hours in Trois-Rivières, a charming medium size city between the two, aren’t important. What matters is they led us to art, culture and history we might never have found otherwise. We spent 24 intense but energizing hours in Trois-Rivières, and left wishing we had more time.
The name Trois-Rivières – translation: three rivers – is a misnomer. Situated at the confluence of the St. Maurice and St. Lawrence Rivers, early settlers mistook the three mouths of the St. Maurice flowing between two islands into the St. Lawrence for independent rivers. And the name has stuck to this day.
The oldest industrial center and second oldest city in Canada, the area known as Trois-Rivières was once a summer stop-off point for native Algonquins and Abenakis. French explorer Jacques Cartier first took notice of the area in 1535. Fellow explorer Samuel de Champlain reported back to the powers that be in France of the potential for establishing a permanent settlement at this location in 1603. And on July 4, 1634, the area officially became a French settlement.
The city thrived as an industrial center until the latter part of the 20th century, when a sharp decline in Trois-Rivières’ primary industry, pulp and paper, caused severe economic upheaval. But the city soon began attracting new industries through the establishment of technology parks and other incentives for investment. Today, Trois-Rivières is once more flourishing.
The city’s atmosphere is friendly, upbeat and optimistic. We took our time strolling Boulevard des Forges, a main social and retail thoroughfare located in the heart of Old Town. City blocks lined with historic buildings presented us with an eclectic array of venues for eating, drinking, dancing and shopping.
Trois-Rivières also hosts several annual international music and art festivals. Our visit coincided with the International Festival of Poetry. Mounted plaques and plastic sleeves held in place with clothes pegs, strung on lines between trees decorated the town. Each bore a poetic offering for all to peruse, ponder and enjoy.
Our 24 Hours in Trois-Rivières
Our Lady of the Cape Shrine
Arriving in Trois-Rivières mid-afternoon on a brilliant October day, our first stop was Our Lady of the Cape Shrine, Canada’s National Shrine to Our Blessed Mother. Father Bernard Menard warmly greeted us wearing a windbreaker, open-neck shirt and slacks. With patience and reverence, he told the story of the shrine, the magnificent basilica and the two miracles that transformed a small chapel into an international pilgrimage site.
We wandered the grounds, admiring the statues and gardens before entering Notre-Dame-Du-Cap Basilica with its stunning stained glass windows and imposing Casavant organ. Our Lady of the Cape Shrine and her story both inspired and humbled us.
Fatigued we reviewed our day over comforting bowls of pho at Chez Lotus, a popular Vietnamese restaurant. Following this, wholesome, tummy-warming meal, there was nothing more fitting than concluding the evening with a restful night at Gouverneur Hotel.
The following morning, we grabbed a less-than-healthful but delicious breakfast at Nys Patissier, located next door to Information Touristique. Our haste was due to an appointment to tour Borealis, Trois-Rivières’ pulp and paper museum.
If this sounds boring to you, think again. The guided tour not only traces the history of the pulp and paper industry in Trois-Rivières, it incorporates interactive sensory experiences such as viewing original machinery, the sensation of touching pulp, the smell of pulp before and after sulfur is added and the sounds and sensations once experienced by the workers.
Located on the banks of the St. Maurice River, an old water filtration plant near the site of the demolished Canadian International Paper (CIP) mill houses Borealis. Florence, our guide, shepherded us through the museum, which opened in 2010. While explaining the entire process from pulp to paper she showed us models and original machines.
We learned the recipe for paper: 100 tons of water to 1 ton of wood to make newsprint. For other types of paper, that nasty-smelling sulfur is added.
CIP opened in 1920 and closed in 2000. Environmental regulations, aging machinery and the decline in demand for newsprint proved to be the end of this particular company. However, Trois-Rivières still is home to three other pulp and paper mills.
Today, a new tree must be planted for every one cut down. Trees used in the pulp and paper industry are primarily conifers, which are easy to cut, and can be grown in a 20 year rotation.
Trois-Rivières is still in the process of transforming itself from economic reliance on an environmentally damaging industry to a city where preservation, conservation and economic progress are not mutually exclusive.
The Old Prison
Our fascinating Borealis tour meant we ran overtime, and had to eat our midday meal on wheels. Quick take-out from Cafe Morgane suited this plan well. We shared a smoked meat wrap – unusual, but fresh and tasty – as we drove to our appointment at Trois-Rivières’s Old Prison and the Quebec Museum of Folk Culture.
In what could be considered the show and tell from hell, we received our introduction to a side of Quebec culture and history that could give you nightmares.
Between 1822 and 1986 the Old Prison served more as a den of hopelessness and despair than an institution for rehabilitation. The unsanitary, debilitating conditions finally closed the doors on a particularly ugly chapter of Quebec history.
Small cells outfitted with bunk beds, and a single bucket serving as toilet, made the rapid spread of disease a certainty. Poor ventilation along with no heat or air conditioning also contributed. Rough and scratchy blankets and a tiny window in each cell giving little daylight completed the picture.
What Claire referred to as the dungeon presented the most disturbing sight of all: narrow windowless cells with low ceilings and sandy floors. Since no bucket was provided, you can guess the purpose of the sand.
“It was a prison within a prison,” Claire observed. With bread and water brought at irregular times, pitch blackness 24-7 and being secured by shackles, starvation, illness, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, or insanity must have claimed many of the prisoners whose misbehavior landed them in the dungeon. We’ll never know, because no records are available for most of the prison’s lifespan.
While this tour was neither fun nor entertaining, I highly recommend it for the purpose of understanding the plight of the prisoners, as well as for achieving new perspectives on your own life.
Quebec Museum of Folk Culture
The Quebec Museum of Folk Culture was created in December 2001 and is connected to the historic Old Prison. Visit both, and you will save on a combination ticket that includes the two venues. Ready for some cheering up, we embraced this museum like a friend and soon retrieved our smiles.
Our guided tour started with a set of exquisite wood engravings inspired by renowned Quebec artist and wood engraver, Rodolphe Duguay. A display of original engravings, displayed along with interpretations by 10 artists, make for a unique and fascinating peek into the artistic mind.
The cartoon exhibit not only held displays of classic drawings and comics, it condensed the lengthy process of drawing a cartoon page into a six minute video using time laps photography. But perhaps the best feature for children and adults was the wall upon which everyone could take a crack at being a cartoonist. For those too shy to try, the museum provided stacks of comic books for hours of blessed escape.
An impressive toy collection amassed by one man and loaned to the museum contained playthings going back decades. A Meccano building set for my husband, and a Betsy Wetsy doll for me brought back memories.
With time running out we tore ourselves away from toy land and headed for “What Is That? A Gadget? A Gizmo?” in the Discovery Area. Once there a delightful hodge-podge of gadgets and gizmos appeared before us. Creative minds at the museum took items from various collections, and combined them into an interactive learning experience.
And so our day ended all too soon. Before we knew it, we found ourselves back in the car, headed for Montreal to continue our schedule.
Unexpected Occurrences Provide Some of our Best Travel Memories
The moral of this story – not that it needs one – is to be open to the surprises. When plans go awry, it may be an opportunity in disguise. The tally for us went like this: The snag: an unscheduled day in an unfamiliar town between two scheduled cities. The experience in Trois-Rivières: priceless!
If You Go
Conveniently located within easy walking distance of The Old Prison, Quebec Museum of Folk Culture and other sites.
Wheelchair accessible rooms available.
Restaurant: Le Rouge
Address: 975 Rue Hart
Trois-Rivières, Quebec G9A 4S3 Canada
Phone: 1 888 910-1111
Email: [email protected]
Read reviews or book a room at Gouverneur Hotel on Trip Advisor, a MilesGeek affiliate
Our Lady of the Cape Shrine
626, Notre-Dame Est Street
Trois-Rivières, Québec G8T 4G9
Old Prison and Quebec Museum of Folk Culture
Purchase tickets for either the prison or the museum or a combination of both. Admission prices and hours of operation are available on the museum website. Prison tours are not recommended for children under 12.
Address: 200, rue Laviolette
Trois-Rivières, Québec G9A 6L5
Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: During our visit to Trois-Rivières, we received assistance from Innovation et Développement économique Trois-Rivières, as well as a media rate from Gouverneur Hotel. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.