part IV - HISTORIC TROIS RIVIERES
So leaving Le Platon, I walk round the corner slap-bang into a most unusual church, with its upperworks all sheathed in copper.
This is the Church of St James, and although you might not think it to look at it from here, it is potentially one of the most exciting buildings in Trois Rivieres.
The Recollet Order was the first to build on this site, constructing a wooden monastery and a chapel in the 1690s. These didn't last long in the kind of weather that you can have around here and so in 1754 they were replaced by stone buildings, of which the church was part.
The city fell to the English in 1760 and after the conquest many English-speakers, most of whom were Protestant, moved to the area. At first, the Protestants and the Catholics shared the church but in 1777 the Protestants took over completely. It was at the monastery attached to the church that the French were obliged to surrender their arms and to swear an oath of loyalty to the Knglish king at the conclusion of the Anglo-French hostilities in North America.
The church was disaffected in 1779 and until 1823 the monastery was used as a hospital. During this period the church had a varied career, being initially used as a store for medical supplies and then a tribunal and even a prisonand finally as offices, before being rededicated in 1823 as a Protestant church, following a programme of restoration.
I heard an interesting story about the church while I was here. It seems that a murder had been committed in the vicinity and an Indian was suspected of of the crime. The local Europeans grabbed hold of the first Indian that they met and true to form, neither knowing nor caring whether he was the guilty party, lynched him then and there.
Seeing that his protestations of innocence were of no avail, the Indian swore a curse upon the church. Many people therefore blamed the somewhat erratic history of the church upon this curse and even today, the appearance of several cracks in the stonework and other defects that have recently come to light have caused the old Indian curse to resurface.
So if you are in Trois Rivieres and you fancy a bilingual mass, then this is the place to be, every Sunday at 11:00. But enter at your own risk just in case another manifestation of the old curse resurfaces while you are there.
What is significant about this photo is not necessarily the objects that you can see in it - and we'll talk about these in due course - but the spot from which the photograph as taken and the actual view that the photograph depicts.
There's a famous painting of Trois Rivieres by an artist named Pierre Labreque, and it was painted from exactly this spot and depicting exactly this view.
What is even more of a coincidence is that I didn't realise that until a couple of weeks later when I happened to see a copy of it. I was impressed to think that a painter of some repute has my eye for art. Mind you, I bet that he didn't have to deal with the traffic that I encountered.
Trois Rivieres is famous for its Ursuline Monastery (in fact this street is called the Rue des Ursulines), dating from the arrival of the Order here in 1697.
The brick-built part of the building is a later addition to the monastery, dating from 1907 and replaced an earlier building of 1700-1701. And if that's the case, the earlier building would have been one of the orginal structures of the monastery. It seems a tragedy that they decided to replace that, given the history that must have been in there.
Your attention will probably have been drawn to the sundial on the end of the white building. That sundial dates from 1860.
The sundial is quite famous and is known throughout Canada, and even as far away as Toronto they recall the same story about an event that occurred here not long after the sundial was installed.
Two Québecois were inside the building and one asks the other "what's the time?"
"I don't know" replied the other. "I don't have a watch"
"Well go outside and look at the sundial"
"Don't be silly. It's dark outside"
"Well take a blasted torch with you!"
There's a slogan inscribed around the sundial that says, in Latin, Dies Sicut Umbra which when roughly translated, if I can remember my Latin from 1970 when I struggled to an 'O' level pass, means "The Days Are Just Like A Shadow", and of which the significance totally eludes me. It does however remind me of the other two people having a discussion, one of them saying "Time flies like an arrow."
To which the other person replied "So what? Fruit flies like a banana"
The Ursuline Monastery is certainly the most impressive structure in Trois Rivieres and it was well-worth having a prowl around, even given the limited time at my disposal.
As I said, the Ursulines arrived here in 1697 and in those days when there were only 350 or so inhabitants. The Ursulines quickly took charge of the social welfare of the town, and they ran the education system, even for girls which was a pretty remarkable thing back in those days, as well as setting up a hospital here.
The glorious stone-built chapel was built in 1715, rebuilt after fires in 1752 and 1806, and was renovated in 1897. It's dedicated to Sacré Coeur, the Sacred Heart.
The magnificent dome was not originally there, but was added during the renovations of 1897. It's the work of the architects Joseph and Georges Héroux. I'm not usually a fan of modern additions to older buildings as you can in almost every instance see the join, but in this case it seems to be quite appropriate to say chapeau to them for this.
The two statues on the front of the chapel are of St Joseph and St Augustine, but I have no idea which is which. It is possible to distinguish the different saints by the objects that they carry, so I was told by an author friend of mine said he, shamelessly name-dropping, but I wouldn't really have a clue.
The wings on either side of the chapel that are there today were added at a later date and are built in what is known as the Nouvelle France or French-New-World style. On one side was where the hospital was during the period 1715 - 1886 and on the other side was the school for external pupils, by which one means that they were probably not boarders.
A little further along the Rue des Ursulines is the College of Marie de l'Incarnation, Mary of the Incarnation who, as everyone knows, is the patron Saint of tinned milk. This brick-built edifice, because as you know, there are no immeubles or batiments in Québec, is also well-worth coming to see because it really is a most outstanding construction.
It's not just the building either that is worthy of note. Have a good look at the scrollwork in the iron fencing. This is impressive enough in its own right.
I don't know what the rest of the town is like but I can safely say that if it is any better than the Rue des Ursulines it must be really quite outstanding.
Even the banal private houses down at the far end of the street have a certain je ne sais quoi (well, we are in a Francophone region), a certain magnificence about them that I haven't seen in too many other North American cities
Just round the corner from here is the rue Saint Cé:cile, one of the network of streets on the eastern edge of the city.
All of this area is covered with a collection of the most astonishing workers' houses that I have seen. They are in fact typical edifices in the Quebecois style. These ones are three-storey buildings with two flats on each floor, with external stairs and balconies.
Quite impressive to the casual visitor such as Yours Truly, but it must be hell in winter for the residents.
Which of course reminds me of the two Quebecois discussing a girl walking down the street
"Don't you think that she looks like Helen Black?"
to which the second Quebecois replied "she doesn't look any better in blue".
Heading back down the other side of the rue des Ursulines, a house that is well worth stopping to see is n°669, and for at least three good reasons too.
You probably noticed that one of the photos of the Chapel of the Ursulines was taken from within a small park , and I've just walked past there now. And each time I pass a certain spot, there's an overpowering smell that reminds me very much of honey. I've asked 3 people so far, all of whom say that they are local, about what this smell might be and no-one seems to have the answer. It must be a plant of some description so please if you have any idea.
Well, all I can say about this is that now I have seen everything. It's definitely one up on a dogsled, isn'tit?
I met the same guy a little later (he was the person who told me the story about the Indian and the church) and had a chat with him. I made the suggestion that he tries a larger dog so that he can travel farther and faster, as the little pooch that he has was definitely panting on the uphill stretches. Apparently he has tried a larger dog but finds them much more difficult to control.
I asked him about the smell as well. He reckons that it's something to do with the torrefaction of coffee that takes place here, but I treat that explanation with some lack of enthusiasm.
Now if you were to ask most Canadian kids about who was responsible for the opening up of much of the interior of Canada back in the 17th Century, they would reply without hesitation "Gooseberry and Radish". By this, of course, they mean Pierre-Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law, Medard Chouart, Sieur de Groseilliers, who lived from 1625-1698.
These two pioneers were very active in the fur trade (remember that Trois Rivieres was originally set up to be a fur-trading outpost) and their activities led to them roaming far inland opening up new routes and new trading opportunities with the First Nation inhabitants.
In pretty much an accurate reflection of the times, their allegiance fluctuated from the French to the English and back to the French, and then once again to the English, and they certainly contributed a great deal to the early success of the Hudson's Bay Company.
And so what is significant about this building is not the building itself, which dates incidentally from 1901, but the site upon which it sits. For this is the site of the home of "Gooseberry", the Sieur de Groseilliers.
You have to feel sorry for "Gooseberry and Radish" though. Having done so much for opening up the interior and having bent with the wind on several occasions, the final indignity was having extricated themselves from the English and returned to the bosom of the French with a huge load of furs in respect of which which they had been promised a large profit, that profit was immediately confiscated by different French authorities as "taxation".
What we have here is a cannon numbered 1828 N-21144 and the fact of the date and that it's a Russian cannon will tell you that it is a war trophy from the Crimean War.
"Here" by the way, in case you are wondering, which I am sure that you are, is at the town end of the Rue des Ursulines at the Place d'Armes. This was originally the camping ground of the Algonquins when they came to trade their furs, and between about 1750 to 1815 was the military parade ground.
The cannon was presented by a grateful Her Majesty's Government to Trois Rivieres for having "participated in the effort of the war", although what that participation might have involved, I have yet to find out. I don't know either the battle from which this cannon was captured. I do know however that the Crimean War was generally-speaking a disaster, being the first British involvement in a major war since Waterloo. British senior officers, who had been very junior officers in the Napoleonic War, were desperately trying to remember tactics long-forgotten of which even then they only had a limited grasp and which were hopelessly out-of-date 40 years later.
Couple that with supply lines that instead of being just a couple of hundred miles were several thousand miles long and fighting in a bitter winter for which they were simply not prepared, and you have a catastrophe in the making. It was only the fact that the Russians were even more hopelessly disorganised that a total disaster was averted.
Mind you, what a discussion about the Crimean War has to do with Trois Rivieres I really have no idea.
One edifice that I have always seemed to miss on my journeys here is the local nick. In 2013 however, I took the time to go for a wander out that way. It always pays to know what my future accommodation is like if ever the Canadian authorities catch up with me before I can make good my dash to liberty.
It was designed by the architect François Baillairgé, whom we have met on several previous occasions, and was built between 1815 and 1819. It's said to be the finest example of Paladian architecture in the whole of the Province of Quebec, something which undoubtedly gave to its inhabitants a great sense of comfort and pride.
You might be mocking the idea of comfort, but the same writer went on to say that the nine chimneys poking up above the roofline give some indication of the efforts made to provide the prisoners with certain level of comfort, clearly implying that the laws of habeas corpus applied nowhere else in the Province of Quebec.
And these "efforts made to provide the prisoners with certain level of comfort" cut no ice with the board of prison review which, during an inspection at the beginning of the 20th Century, roundly condemned the prison as being unfit to serve its purpose. Even so, the authorities did not act upon the board's recommendation and close down the prison until ... errr ... 1986.
So much for the "certain level of comfort"
Given the urban milieu in which the prison finds itself today, you'll be surprised to learn that when it was built, it was well outside the city limits. It wasn't until the 1850s that the city's urban sprawl overwhelmed it.
Today, the prison is a museum and you can pay to go in for a look around at the exhibits. It's not for me, though. Why should I pay good money for something that I can usually manage to achieve without any effort on my part and without any expenditure at all?
We haven't finsihed with François Baillairgé yet, because another task that he undeetook for the city of Trois Rivieres was to design the Palais de Justice just down the road from the old prison.
This was built in 1823 and enlarged in 1913, with part of the original construction being restored at that date.
These days there's also a ghastly steel-and-glass extension to the rear that looks totally out-of-place. While it's not as disastrous as the shameful steel-and-glass extension to Barlow and Ordish's masterpiece at St Pancras , it's hideous just the same.
Here in Trois Rivieres we had 100 years ago some architects and builders who could design and build an extension to a building that so replicates the original that you have to look long and hard see the join, and in modern times we have some architects and builders who can't even be bothered to make an effort.
The lack of skill and craftsmanship in modern construction really is shameful. I lived in Brussels, Belgium for 20 years and I was seeing office blocks built after my arrival being torn down, yet the medieval Flemish archtecture will last forever.
I have a theory about this ... "I might have known" - ed.
Go and look on any building site today and you'll notice the crane. Every site has at least one and they are used for hoisting bricks, concrete blocks and roofing tiles and the like up to the work.
In the old days before Health and Safety regulations, construction sites had young boys straight out of school running up and down ladders with bricks, cement, tiles and the like (in the UK they were called "Hod Carriers"). While they were running up and down ladders they would see what was going on, ask relevant questions, maybe even lend a hand, and after 10 years or so, would fell confident enough about setting up business on their own.
Today, we have cranes. All the young boys fresh out of school are on unemployment because they can't find a job (the machines have taken over) and consequently once all of the older generation passes on, we won't be able to find any craftsmen because no-one learned the trade. I could make a pretty long list of trades that have died out over the last hundred years because of mechanisation.
The Western world has got it all back to front. These days, businesses have to pay taxes on employment. In my opinion, employment should be non-taxable and we should be paying taxes on machines instead.
So having dealt with the old town, let's go off and look at the more modern bit.
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