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Men in front of a lumberjack camp

Settling - Saguenay : An exceptional fjord!

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Musée du Fjord

(1838 à nos jours)

In the middle of the XIXth century, the vocation of the region changed with the arrival of social professional groups.
The region was settled while the fur and agricultural businesses slowed down in the Saint-Lawrence River Valley. The forest industry took advantage of this situation to develop while England resorted to its colonies for wood supplies. A group of individuals from Malbaie and Baie-Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region exploited the bountiful forest while solving the problem of overpopulated land. They met with government authorities to acquire lumber cutting rights for the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. The Société des Vingt-et-Un was then founded and got its cutting permit in October, 1837.

In the spring of 1838, Thomas Simard's schooner left Malbaie to drop off men at Petites-Iles, Anse-au-Cheval and Anse-Saint-Jean. In each sector, they quickly began building the first sawmills. Then fourteen men land in Grande-Baie, the future Saint-Alexis parish, on June 11, 1838. They built a shanty and began exploring the pine forest between the Ha ! Ha ! River and the Mars River.

The Saguenay lumberjack
House of Patrice Fortin

In October of the same year, another group of men, women and children settled in Grande-Baie. This event marked the beginning of permanent settlement in the Saguenay region. The first weeks were very hard: less white pines than foreseen, thick clouds of mosquitoes, harsh climate, disease and deaths.

In spite of this, the colony increased to 67 persons including five families in a few months only. The newcomers got organized quickly!

Photo Price Brothers & Co.

They built a dam near the mouth of the Ha ! Ha ! River and cut the lumber required to build a sawmill. To provide transportation for themselves and their wood, the pioneers started building schooners. With the advantages provided by the Saguenay sea route, the economy was centred on the Bagotville wharf that local entrepreneurs also benefited from. The Grande-Baie wharf was also used to load lumber being shipped to England for the wealthy William Price.

The seasons determined the survival of the families. In the fall, the lumber camps were the only source of subsistence for the settler and his family. In the spring, it was timber driving down the river. Then in the summer, it was basic agriculture on the farm.

In spite of the austere life and environment, more than a thousand inhabitants settled in the three urban poles by 1845: Grande-Baie, the shores of the Mars River and Anse-à-Benjamin. The religious and school institutions followed the growth in population. As soon as the economy improved, parishes opened and schools were built. With the ten sawmills and the three villages of Anse-Saint-Jean, Grande-Baie and Bagotville, the region quickly expanded its economy.

Victoria Street in 1906

"The official and general census of 1871 reveals there are over 17,500 inhabitants globally. This population was established within thirty years, the population prior to 1840 was negligible, from 1861 to 1871, the increase was 7,000 persons; in addition to immigration was natural growth; the birth rate was high".1

The beginning of XXth century was marked by the advent of heavy industry, particularly on the shores of Anse-à-Benjamin in 1902. The Battle Island Paper Company of New York was the first major industrial company to invest in the Baie des Ha ! Ha ! area. A deep-sea port then became a necessity and a priority. The Compagnie de pulpe de Chicoutimi set up its railway service site in Baie des Ha ! Ha !. A railway was therefore built leading to the Bagotville port facilities.

Lumber driving
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1 Pépin, Pierre-Yves, Le Royaume du Saguenay en 1968, Ministry of Regional Economic Expansion, Ottawa, 1969, p.42.