Founded in 1634, Trois-Rivières is the second oldest city in Quebec and one of the very first cities in Canada. Located at the confluence of the St. Maurice and St. Lawrence rivers, the site had been frequented by Amerindians since prehistoric times. The French established a fur trading post there to take advantage of this Indigenous meeting place. Stimulated by administrators and the religious communities, Trois-Rivières became one of the three service centres—one of the three cities—of New France. A number of buildings from that era are still standing and are open to the public in Old Trois-Rivières, whose charming streets illustrate the evolution of the city over the centuries, when its favourable geographic location near the forest industry turned it into the world’s pulp and paper capital.
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Historic district of Old Trois-Rivières
Trois-Rivières is one of the first settlements of New France. While few traces remain of the first decades of occupation, with the exception of the street configuration, a number of buildings from the French regime are still standing in the historic district of Old Trois-Rivières. This peaceful sector of the city, classified as a heritage site by the Government of Quebec in 1964 to ensure its conservation and development, also illustrates the evolution of Trois-Rivières in the 19th century. Walking these inviting streets dotted with green spaces, monuments, historical plaques, interpretation signs and works of art gives visitors a glimpse of Quebec history, just a few minutes’ walk from downtown’s main commercial thoroughfare, Des Forges Street.
Heritage of the French Regime
Heritage buildings include the Boucher-De Niverville Manor, which has one of the rare authentic wooden frameworks dating from the French Regime. This interpretation centre has exhibits on the lifestyle of the early Canadians. The Récollets site, on Des Ursulines Street, is a religious complex developed in the middle of the 18th century, including St. James Church, connected to the stone rectory by a covered road. Nearby, the Ursulines convent includes a chapel built in 1715, a cloister, a school and a hospital, as well as the Ursulines Museum, which presents the rich cultural heritage of the community in a permanent exhibit based on oral accounts.
This sector also includes old private residences built at the turn of the 18th century, all in the French style: Tonnancour Manor, which houses the Galerie d’art du parc, St. François House, which has been converted into a restaurant, Georges-De Gannes House, and Hertel‑De La Fresnière House, where artisans run a shop.
Heritage of the 19th century
Among these relics of the French Regime, Old Trois-Rivières includes beautiful upper‑middle‑class residences of the second half of the 19th century, many of which line streets that lead to the river. Further back, boomtown-style workers’ houses and apartment buildings from the early 20th century illustrate the industrial character of Trois-Rivières at the time.
One of the heritage treasures of Trois-Rivières is the old stone prison, built at the beginning of the 19th century and used until 1986. Classified as a historic monument, this prison is now an interpretation centre that is part of the Musée québécois de culture populaire. The museum illustrates the history of both this establishment’s role as a prison and the province by means of exhibits, tours and memorable experiences, including the possibility of spending a night in a cell!
Evolution over the ages
Trois-Rivières is located in a strategic place marked by history. Indigenous peoples camped there as far back as 4,000 BCE to meet nations from very remote regions, travelling through a vast river network of which the St. Maurice and St. Lawrence rivers are important features. When French explorer Jacques Cartier passed through the area in 1535, he met many Indigenous peoples. He named the place Trois-Rivières because of the islands that divided up the mouth of the St. Maurice River into three branches.
In 1634, Samuel de Champlain entrusted to Laviolette the construction of a trading post here. From 1650 to 1660, Pierre Boucher organized the town and had fortifications, houses and a royal storehouse built. He turned Trois-Rivières into a city, or service centre, and became its first governor.
Although Trois-Rivières gradually lost out to Montreal and Quebec City, it won back its influence in 1792, when the city became the seat of a judicial district and a local diocese. Forestry then began to develop to the north of Trois-Rivières, in Mauricie, and the city became an industrial pulp and paper hub. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian International Paper Company and St. Lawrence Pulp and Paper helped to turn Trois-Rivières into the world’s paper manufacturing capital. Pulpwood was floated down the St. Maurice River, and paper was exported by ocean-going ships thanks to the city’s deep-water port. Trois-Rivières has remained an industrial goods manufacturer and service centre. Today, it has a population of 135,000.