Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site of Canada

The Iron Resources of New France

An historical drawing representing the complete village of the Forges du Saint-Maurice by Capitan Pigott, in 1845. We can see on the left, the Blast Furnace Complex and the workers 'houses, on the right, the Grande Maison overlooking the St. Maurice River. The complete village of the Forges du Saint-Maurice by Capitan Pigott, in 1845. We can see on the left, the Blast Furnace Complex and the workers 'houses, on the right, the Grande Maison overlooking the St. Maurice River.
© Archives du Séminaire de Trois-Rivières / TI-258, no 48, 1845
A drawing from 18th. century representing miners extracting bog iron ore from swamps and loading a cart. A drawing from 18th. century representing miners extracting bog iron ore from swamps and loading a cart.
© Diderot and d'Alembert, Encyclopédie / Briasson, David, Le Breton / 1765

By the mid 17th century, the colonial authorities had already surveyed the mineral resources of New France. In 1670, a French ironmaster assured the intendant of New France, Jean Talon, of the very high quality of iron ore found in the area of Trois-Rivières. A year later, the intendant indeed had 800 tonnes of ore extracted, but many years would go by before any industrial development actually took place.

Francheville's Experiment
A drawing of Bernard Duchesne representing a reconstitution of the small forge of Francheville on the St.Maurice. then we can see , workers, with a horse and wagon and a forge boutique. This drawing of Bernard Duchesne representing the housing developpement at the beginning of the site on the St.Maurice. On the left, a wood shelter for a small furnace and a waterwheel and also, workers, horse and wagon and a forge boutique.
© Parks Canada

It was only in 1730 that the King of France granted François Poulin de Francheville, seigneur of St. Maurice, a royal warrant to work iron ore mines and to manufacture and trade in iron for a 20-year period; the King also advanced him a generous loan. In 1733, Francheville founded the Compagnie des Forges de Saint-Maurice, but died that same year.

Not long afterwards, a small forge began operating, but the process used to reduce ore proved unprofitable. Nevertheless, the experiment succeeded in proving the quality of the region's iron ore.

Vézin Builds the Forges
On this photo a personnage representing Sir De Vézin who brings his hand to the chin as a person imagining his project of a big forge. Sir De Vézin imagining his project of a big forge.
© Parks Canada / Jean Audet

François Pierre Olivier de Vézin, a young ironmaster from Champagne, France, was only 28 years old when the Ministre de la Marine (i.e., The royal secretary for the navy and overseas colonies) sent him to the site to determine whether or not Francheville's experiment should be pursued. Vézin confirmed that the project was viable provided that another process for reducing iron ore be used. Vézin was then put in charge of erecting a full-scale ironworks.

After overcoming a long series of technical problems, Vézin finally blew in the blast furnace on August 20, 1738. The following year, an additional forge was built, thus rounding off a complex of workshops it had taken Vézin three years to construct and which were to last for close to 150 years.

The Forges and Military Production
A drawing of Bernard Duchesne representing two war sailboats with canons breathing thick smoke. This drawing of Bernard Duchesne representing two war sailboats with canons breathing thick smoke.
© Parks Canada / Jean Audet

During a period when France was almost continually at war, the iron industry filled an enormous need in the kingdom. Accordingly, the Forges were established primarily for the purpose of providing bar iron for building and fitting out ships in the royal navy.

Under the French Regime, the major portion of St. Maurice bar iron was shipped to the Rochefort arsenal in France. Other bars were sent to the royal shipyard at Québec, which started up the same year the Forges went into operation.