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An Iron Town on the Saint-Maurice!

For the Week of Monday, March 20, 2017

On March 25, 1730, François Poulin de Francheville was granted a monopoly on iron production in the area around Trois-Rivières, Quebec. This led to the development of the Forges du Saint-Maurice, Canada's first and, until the early 19th century, one of its most advanced iron foundries.

A watercolour by George Seaton (1819-1905), a British officer who served in North America from 1844-48. It shows a view of the town and foundry at Forges du Saint-Maurice on September 19, 1844
© George Seaton / Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1953-75-11

The foundry’s facilities included a massive blast furnace, two forges, and seven waterwheels, located along the Saint-Maurice River. Serving as a transportation network, the river moved products and supplies to and from the foundry. The location also provided access to hydraulic power, abundant supplies of wood for fuel, and iron ore.

The foundry benefitted from a diverse mix of iron-making traditions. French iron masters from Burgundy, Champagne, and Franche-Comté brought techniques and innovation, which influenced the foundry’s construction and practices. For more than 110 years, the Saint-Maurice facilities produced consumer products including kitchen stoves, kettles, nails, anvils, and ploughshares, as well as military products such as cannonballs and cannon. In the 1850s though, the foundry switched to producing unrefined iron, which was then used in other foundries in Trois-Rivières and Montréal.

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Most of the original buildings and facilities at Forges du Saint-Maurice have decayed. Today symbolic structures, seen in this image, have been erected to represent the blast furnace and waterwheel complex that drove the foundry’s activities
© Parks Canada

A small industrial community developed around the foundry, which, by 1842, had a population of 425 employees and family members. One of the first in the iconic tradition of Canada’s single-industry towns, life in Forges du Saint-Maurice was inseparable from the iron industry.

Despite many successes, by the 1880s the foundry had become obsolete. It was shut down in 1883, and the town around it declined. Even so, the Forges du Saint-Maurice left its mark on the region. During its long run, it had stimulated local economies by creating merchandise for, and attracting trade to, the surrounding areas. It also drew in numerous specialists and expert workers who went on to work in other similar industries in the area.

Today, the Forges du Saint-Maurice is a designated national historic site. To learn more about single-industry towns and heavy industries in Canada read Powell River: Company Town and From Carriages to Cars in the This Week in History archives. March 20th is the International Day of La Francophonie, and 2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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