Heart of the Laurentians

The Laurentians

           One hears various definitions of the Laurentians. First, does this word indicate the natural region based, in this case, on the presence of a portion of the mountain range which gave it this name? It is also based on a feeling of belonging of its inhabitants or label given by outsiders, tourists especially. It is the geographers’ region.
    Does one rather speak about the immense administrative region, one of the 16 created in 1987, detached from Montreal’s one? A half million inhabitants and 20.560 km ² which thus stretch from the Thousand Islands River to the Baskatong Reservoir in the north-west, trapped between the Outaouais region at west, and Lanaudière’s one, in the east?
This administrative delimitation followed that of the regional municipalities of a county (mrc), brought back to life at the same time and which compose its three sub regions, following Tourisme Québec: Map of Heart of the Laurentians. One thus has: 1. Portes des (or Basses-*) Laurentides (m.r.c. Thérèse-de- Blainville, Deux-Montagnes, Mirabel and Argenteuil); 2. Cœur des Laurentides (m.r.c. Rivière-du-Nord, with Saint-Jérôme ; Pays-d'en-Haut, with Ste-Adèle, St-Sauveur and …Wenworth-Nord !) ; Laurentides, with Ste-Agathe and Mont-Tremblant ; 3. Hautes Laurentides (m.r.c. Antoine-Labelle, with Mont-Laurier).
Where thus have gone our Pays-d’en-Haut, the loyalists’ North Townships or our former High and Low Laurentians?  In fact, in the majority of organizations, services, statistical or other publications, one now includes the governmental designation, the number 15 administrative region, and an achievement in its self. It thus appropriated the geographical area, the tourist one, the economic one, etc.  I can hardly however, associate the St. Lawrence’s plain, between Laval and Saint-Jerôme, between the Ottawa River and the foothills, with the name of a mountain range be it low!
Didn’t curé Labelle’s «Pays-d’en-Haut» start with Saint-Jerôme, the former Door of the Laurentians? Wasn't one, then only, in Low Laurentians as far, I imagine, as one did not reach the latitude of the Mont Tremblant and then the High Laurentians? But if these last were prolonged beyond, it was not to be any more as much by the altitude of its tops but, perhaps, by the fact that one went up higher towards north, in fact north-western.
Until further notice and though the concept of region is, like that of the language, evolutionary, it seems difficult for me to go against official designation. I will thus choose to be interested only in the “Coeur des Laurentides”’ sub region which, in any event, concerns us in the highest degree. I would like, in articles to follow, to briefly recall its physical geography, its history and demography, its economy as well as the radiance of its cities or villages and of its tourist centers. Meanwhile, I would incite you to get hold from the MRC, of the pages that I collected at the Pavilion heading «Au cœur des Laurentides», with the articles of Chantal Ladouceur and Pierre Grignon, a well presented picture.
* Term used by the MRNF and rather indicated as Porte des Laurentides in the “official tourist guide”. 

                                   Carl Chapdelaine

physical geography (Part 1)

Coeur des Laurentides sub region, from St. Jerome to Labelle, with the MRC Rivière-du-Nord, Pays-d’en-Haut and Laurentides, corresponds to a piece of the Laurentian Plateau. Itself is part of the Canadian Shield with its hard Precambrian rocks especially gneisses in the case which interests us.
We are here in the presence of an old platform. Result of cycles of erosion starting at the Precambrian age, it is more and more strongly jagged as one goes down towards its southernmost part which is next to the St. Lawrence Lowlands. What’s left from it is named peneplain and now seems to us being multitude of valleys and hills which we call the Laurentians and which we take for mountains.
The highest summits generally reach a maximum, in Coeur des Laurentides, of approximately 500 meters. It is their altitude around lake St. François-Xavier. However, they exceed this dimension in the north-east of the sub region with Mont Tremblant reaching 968 meters for example. Nevertheless, the highest in this `mountain range’ is mount Raoul Blanchard (1166 m) north-east of Quebec City, by the name of the French geographer that had described these geomorphologic phenomenon. In High Laurentians, that we do not cover here, the platform is less parcelled out and thus more apparent.
In the south, do not seek for an escarpment at the junction of the peneplain with the St. Lawrence Lowlands, because the first is rather slowly inserted under the ground of the latter in the Piedmont (166 to 330 meters) from where top of hills still break through. One could try to draw the northern limit of the Piedmont by an arc connecting the lakes Louisa, Barron, Marois and de l’Achigan.
The erosion of the plateau, mostly for its fluvial component, is still in acceleration; that results from the isostatic rebound of this part of the continent following the recent (±9000 years here) melting of the Laurentides Ice Sheet (more than ±3 km thick at its peak). The movement is naturally more pronounced downstream or on its southern side and is so accentuated that today, a human could have noticed it during his life.
At melting of the ice and still left down from the former weight of this enormous sheet, the surface of the earth's crust had then a much lower altitude. That explains the presence of alluvia and terraces left by the ancient Champlain Sea at the current 190 meters mark. This appendix of the Atlantic had already filled up the St. Lawrence Lowlands around 11000 years ago. The sea water of which the level was itself raised by the melted ice, thus could invade the current Rivière du Nord valley up to Mont-Roland for example, before the isostatic uplift started repositioning the continent.
The glacial print also appeared by the erosive action specific to the glaciers. It is known that these masses slip slowly having certain plasticity. By their passage, the glaciers modified the aspect of the valleys often creating the typical U-shape. They had usually by the way, over deepened the mother rock, sometimes in succession, leaving basins that would later become lakes. At the same time, the rock barrier often remained intact downstream from these basins while a waterfall may have been astride upon. Would our lake not be the remainder of one, even two of those basins? Wouldn't the Lisbourg road which crosses over its actual overflow, be then on part of its barrier while on its south-easternmost part, the probably former lake discharge gave power to the Montfort water sawmill?
The rock materials torn off and transported by the glaciers also sanded and striated the bed rock. It is given to everyone to note these last effects while going for a walk or climbing a hill everywhere the rock is still uncovered. Harvested by the glaciers, an abundant moraine, round rocks of all dimensions and sands, settled everywhere at the bottom of the valleys, not giving a big deal to agriculture. Large blocks even used these means of transport to often stop right in the middle of nowhere; they are the boulders.
Carl Chapdelaine

physical geography (Part 2)

Lake St-Victor and the waterway in which it discharges remain directly in line with Lake St-François-Xavier. However, with its tributary lake Notre-Dame and in spite of the insignificant border of division of waters separating them from our lake, they take the opposite way and join the Rivière Rouge basin while passing by Laurel. The Rouge drains all the north and the west of the Coeur des Laurentides. It collects water while going through Lake des Seize Îles and will eventually join the Ottawa River just west or Grenville-sur-la-Rouge.
The hydrographical network had an important role to play in the development of the region. Let’s think of the colonization, the exploitation of the forest, the localization of mills, villages or cities and later on, the development of countryside frequentation. Today with a modified vocation, it is the quality of its water that becomes a major stake.
The climate, mild compared to the whole of the Laurentians, does not much differ from that of the plain close south but maybe, by being short of a few degrees. Summits might be colder. For one thing, this variation supports an earlier snowing up or freezing and a later spring melting. The annual average temperature varies from 2, 5 to 5°C as much according to the latitude than altitude. In summer, the wet heat episodes known in the St. Lawrence Lowlands are felt only seldom here. In the same way, in winter, this drier air can attenuate our perception of the disadvantage of the degrees deficit. Except according to its relief, precipitations pattern is hardly distinguished from that of the close plain, so much it is orchestrated by the same low pressure systems.
The forest covers almost the totality of the territory; it is mixed, with a broad prevalence of the leafy trees. One speaks of maple grove with yellow East birches. This forest is more productive than that of North because the trees grow more quickly here. However, considering the proximity of the great urban area, the tree settlements are young in account of having been over-exploited; and the more appreciated species have become sparser.
Fauna is quite present in Coeur des Laurentides though it is affected by the increase in human activity. Virginia stag, black bear and also moose are the primarily large mammals that one finds here. There is the range of smaller quadrupeds and other species too, of which certain being endanger.
Lake perch and yellow walleye, introduced fishes from the St. Lawrence Lowlands, as well as the large pike might bite at our fishhook. But the MRNF recalls that the brook trout, formerly pearl of many of our lakes and rivers, has become sparser in the Rivière du Nord basin. It is often replaced by introduced species like the rainbow trout we stock and the brown trout of Eurasian origin. The brook trout seems more affected by pollution of its environment and generally doesn’t match its cousins’ competitiveness. Log floating had already taken its toll.
Even if the number is small, I would not forget the presence of our loons, mergansers, herons, kingfishers* and several other birds on our waters. That’s without counting all the smallest winged fauna, especially migratory birds that brighten up our environment.
*They all have a taste for the Schell rainbow trout, specific to our lake…     Carl Chapdelaine 

history and demography

At the beginning of the 18th century, the naming of "Pays-d'en-Haut" designated all the former region of the Laurentians and even lands beyond, in the North and on the West. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Algonquians occupied this territory; the "trappers" were afterward going to frequent it.
The region acquired more fame with the arrival of Curé Labelle who, from 1860, devoted himself to the colonization of the region. Agriculture was his main achievement even if the results were disappointing seen the nature of the relief and the soils. He will have created «20 villages-parishes bearing the names of the saints of the catholic calendar (the North of Montreal is nicknamed the Valley of the Saints) » *. The forestry development, in fact, was better convenient for the region. Before the road, the natural orientation of rivers was moreover going to allow the floating of logs towards sawmills then sawing or pulp and paper plants of the villages.
In the twentieth century, the agricultural and forest activities of the Pays-d'en-Haut would be competed by the arrival of the skiers, the fishermen and the other sports or activities of leisure lovers to which this region of hills and lakes fits so well. Le Petit train du Nord, then the 117 and finally the highway would occupy an important place in this development. At the same time, tourism and vacation resort would be following the rate of the increase of the population of Greater Montreal; they still draw the future of a block of the regional economy.
Canada’s census teach us that the permanent population of the MRC was in sharp increase during the last decades; it reached 36 573 inhabitants in 2006. A publication of the CLD, “Profil socio-économique des Pays-d’en-Haut ”, studies it: «Between 1981 and 2006, its population records a 98 % growth while for the whole Quebec, it is 19 %.» In Wentworth-Nord, the increase was 160 %, one of the strongest of the MRC, the figure climbing from 593 to 1353 persons (and maybe three times more seasonal residents). It is especially between 1986, 1991 and 1996 that the movement was to its peak in the municipality, with 32 and 33 % rates.
The report attributes mainly this trend, at the MRC’s level, to a choice for the quality of life by the professionals and the retired people or the semi-retired persons among whom some convert their vacation home in main house. In spite of a negative natural increase, the report underlines that newcomers’ contribution will continue to push up the number of inhabitants.
The median age of the population of the municipality in 2006 was 52,7 years, against 48,6 for the MRC. 22,5% were 65 years old and over in Wentworth-Nord, against 18,8% for the MRC. Per capita incomes were superior in the MRC to those for the whole administrative region or those of Quebec; with however, according to the report, a considerable gap between low and high income.
Census’ 2006 Communities Profiles also reveals that, for the MRC, 86 % of the persons were of French mother tongue; it was only 68 % in Wentworth-Nord. 10 % more often spoke English at home at the MRC’s level; it was 28 % in W-N.
12 % of the 25 to 64 years old of the MRC had no diploma; at the other end, 29 % had a certificate or a university rank. Among twelve categories, the main field of study the best represented in the 15 years and over, was: “business, management and public administration”, with 4 355 persons (60 % of women); then: “architecture, engineering and related technologies”, 3 135 (93 % of men); and “health, recreation and fitness”, 2 215 (70 % of women). In Wentworth-Nord, the category architecture, etc. (75 % of men) walked past that of the business.
The employment rate was 57,4 % in the MRC against 40,8 % in W-N. For the MRC, the most indicated occupation was: “sales and services”, with 27% of the working population, then came “management” and “business, finance and administration”, with each 16 %. In Wentworth-Nord, “sales and services” were also in the lead in the occupations, followed of “trades, transport and equipment operators”.
For the MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut, the usual working place, except the residence, was in the same municipality for 22 %, in the rest of the MRC for 15 % and out of the MRC for 63 %. This last figure climbed at 68 % for the workers of Wentworth-Nord.  www.statcan.gc.ca
*Source: quid.fr/monde
(Note to final translator: reverse.net used as translation tool)                                                                                                                                                          Carl Chapdelaine


Historically, it is the progress of the first road then that of the railroad, in the axis Montreal – St. Jerome – Mont-Laurier, which will pull the economic development of the Laurentians. It is in 1909 when the railroad of the Pacific Canadian will reach finally this last city, writes Serge Laurin in his histoire des Laurentides. Curé Labelle had moved heaven and earth up to his death, in 1891, to obtain this line the completed realization of which he cannot see.
However, the train had already connected St. Jerome to Montreal in 1876 and allowed that dynamics village to see being born its industry. " Besides, the Canadian Northern (?) acquired the Railroad of the colonization of Montfort - St. Jerome to Arundel in 1897. " Thanks to the railroad, the Coeur des Laurentides, always in active colonization, was going to be able to stress the development of its farming and of its forest exploitation.
While alongside the Riviere du Nord and its hydrological potential, at the end of the century the train was going to attract, underlines Serge Laurin, two weighty companies near St. Jerome, the Delisle pulp mill and the Rolland paper company. Of course, the forest of the region supplied the raw materials for the paper pulp besides feeding multiple sawmills. Montreal and, beyond, the United States already well needed lumber and paper. Some doors and windows factories were joining in the forestry development. 
He also indicates that the thin agricultural production turned at the same time to the production of milk and butter for the now accessible metropolis market. Dominion Rubber and Regent Knitting would also be added to strengthen St. Jerome economic development and to create multiples jobs. Train stations had themselves become growth poles. 
Tourism and holiday resort would benefit just as much of the penetration of the Laurentians by this Montreal - Mount-Laurier axis of transport. St. Sauveur, Ste. Adele, Ste. Agathe, St. Jovite and many other villages were going to grow rapidly and soon become the actual tourists resorts. Without these activities, these villages would rather have for most collapsed. Lakes in summer and ski resorts in winter or more globally the recreo-touristic activities would become the regional economic driving force.
From the forties, the road with its possibilities of joining any destinations, got back to its original vocation and tried to supplant the railroad. The post-war years would moreover allow a lot of families to buy itself an automobile, whereas the truck would confront in the train for the transport of goods. When the highway joins St. Jerome at the end of the fifties, the P’tit train du Nord has lost any reason for being.
For their part, the forestry and agricultural could already see their best years behind; the companies which were associated with it were mostly going to disappear. The light industry would take over in St. Jerome, pole of development which would also see then and still today the multiplication of companies of business and services serving a good part of the Coeur des Laurentides.
The economic statistics hardly correspond to the demarcation of our territory of analysis. However, by consulting the Canadian census 2006 Communities Profiles, for the division (MRC) of Pays-d'en-Haut, we can encircle the range of its current economic constituents in terms of employment. We even have specific statistics for Wentworth-Nord. www.statcan.gc.ca
The following table gives this distribution of the manpower by industry for the MRC and the municipality in 2006:
                                                  MRC              Nord
Industry Total labour force:   19195              505
Agriculture, other resource       315                 10
Construction                            1 600                85
Manufacturing                          1 710                60
Wholesale trade                          890                15
Retail trade                              2 565               45
Finance and real estate            1 215               30
Health care, social services     1 930               60
Educational services                1 345                35
Business services                     3 615                65
Other services                           4 015              100      Stat. Can. catalogue nº 92-591-XWE
The figures of this table indicate us that the exploitation of resources occupies now only 1.6 % of the working population in our MRC (2.0 % in Wentworth-Nord). The construction groups together 8.3 % (16.8 % in W-N), and the manufacturing 8.9 % (11.9 % in W-N). The diverse services thus accounts for the immense majority of the workforce in Pays-d'en-Haut, with 15 575 jobs, that is 81 % (82 % in 2001) of the labour force of the MRC. It is 350 persons or 69 % (65.6 % in 2001) in Wentworth-Nord. In Quebec, the services offered 76.5 % of jobs in 2006.
In its Énoncé de vision stratégique 2011 – 2020, the CLD of Pays-d'en-Haut indicates that the number of companies in the MRC had grown from 1281 to 1352 between 2006 and 2009. In 2009, 90 % of these companies had less than 20 employees, among which 59 % had less than 5.
The number of jobs in the sectors of wholesale and retail trade had grown for 30 % between 2001 and 2006 but the number of companies had stayed the same, what implied an increase in their size.
The economy was dependent on the performance of the tourist sector. However, in spite of the continual increase of the receipts of this sector, one had to notice that the MRC attracts more and more tourists while the hotel infrastructure doesn’t keep up.
 Carl Chapdelaine       


In our previous article, we had already mentioned that tourism had benefited from the access way created by the Petit train du Nord. Thanks to it and then to road and highway, St. Sauveur, Ste. Adele, Ste. Agathe, St. Jovite and many other villages would grow fast and become tourist stations of today. This activity would soon constitute the regional economic driving force.
Hills among those located on this axis would transform into ski centres, highly valued by visitors from Montreal and beyond. The proximity of the metropolis is the key factor that fuels tourism in the region.
Skiing in the heart of the Laurentians originates in the early 20th century, at Ste. Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson for one. The distinction between cross-country and downhill skiing and the recognition of the latter came in 1930. In the following years, Montrealers would benefit from the available train for a day of skiing or weekends  at the Big Hill or coast 70 in St. Sauveur-des-Monts, where the first fixed lift in the world was installed in 1934.
Tourist activities are multiple: cottage resorts (villégiature), discovery trips(overnight or same-day), by car, bus, bike, using our many lakes, rivers, country and hill panoramas, while maximizing the green of summer, colours of autumn or winter whites. Add to it visits to tourist villages and stations, camping at Mont-Tremblant Park or on private sites,  cross-country and down hill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cycling. The Aerobic Corridor, the Petit Train du Nord linear park, the campsites on Mont Tremblant, helped to develop  the Laurentians. Local residents benefited in activities and services such as cultural  and festive events, holiday centers, congress halls, shops, art galleries, regional publications and other resources.
Essential to the economy of “ Coeur des Laurentides”, tourism development also helps the trade balance of all of Quebec. Ontarians and Americans coming to the region already represents a valuable resource. It is inevitably the result of the international caliber of certain destinations or activities of leisure which are offered and of sometimes centuries-old reputation. Mont-Tremblant, the modern and affluent tourist resort station, has its casino and now its international airport at La Macaza with Porter airline offering direct service from Toronto.
The effect of this development on our balance of trade has another double component: it not only attracts  tourists from Montreal, cottagers included, but it prevents them to some extent to travel outside Quebec. It competes with the attractiveness of the beaches of the Eastern coast, sky centres and other tourist attractions of our neighbours. And this also applies to all other destinations.
The accommodation infrastructure becomes an essential precondition to the arrival of all these visitors. According to the Réseau de veille en tourisme of UQM, the majority of the international tourists who came to Quebec in 2008, from the United States ,more than two-thirds stayed at the hotel.
However, private or rented cottage resort was the mode of accommodation for 35% of personal travels from "Canadian leisure tourists (including Quebecers) in Quebec", followed by hotels (21%), relatives or friends (17%) and camping (16%). The Laurentian region is at the forefront of this dominance of the cottage; visitors mainly urban come from the Montreal area and incidentally from the Ottawa-Gatineau conurbation. (Rvt, UQM)
This dominance is beginning to be recognized in the region where was created «Le Comité du Créneau d’excellence Tourisme de villégiature quatre saisons», which makes it its main issue. Because cottage residence is a dominant force in the Laurntians, MRC and the municipalities must involve the community when planning the development of the territories.
One can imagine that this phenomenon also increases the average and total overnight stays  of travellers in the region. Associated spending and job creation are probably at the forefront of the tourism benefits to “ Coeur des Laurentides”. At the same time it emphasizes the positive effect on the Quebec balance of trade mentioned above. Shouldn’t therefore the development of the cottage resort following the Mont-Tremblant experience be promoted where it is already of some renown, in Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau?
But this is likely to come in conflict with the preservation of the environment (lakes, landscapes, and others), the character of the villages, etc. Urbanization could thus be accelerated, the secondary residence sometimes becoming the main dwelling while pressure on the services or infrastructure supporting this trend. Permanent residents and cottagers themselves are no more indifferent.
The big loser is the hotel activity that the increase in the proportion of same-day visitors in the total number of visitors did not help. Alternatives to traditional commercial accommodation also benefits from the growing popularity of online reservation observed since more than a decade.
According to Statistics Canada and as an average for 2009 and 2010, estimated tourists* from the province in the "Laurentians tourist region" were 2 million. Their average stay was about 2.5 nights, for a total expenditure estimated at ±342 M$. (Tourisme Québec, on data from the TSRC**)
A table from the CLD des Pays-d'en-Haut (on data from the TSC**)), indicates that the number of overnight and more visits* is of an estimated 0.5 million in the MRC, for an average of 2.8 nights. 1.2 million same-day visitors add for 216,5 M$ of combined expenses.
The CLD reported a total of 593 tourist companies in the MRC in 2010, with 28% in accommodation, 30% of shops and 26% of restaurants. They are mostly located in St. Sauveur and Ste. Adèle, the main tourist poles of the MRC. The occupancy rate of these accommodation facilities, at 31.4% in 2009, comes down below 25% only in April.” Coeur des Laurentides” therefore approaches the four-season destination. Wentworth-Nord is the second municipality of the MRC in importance, after St. Sauveur in terms of tourist accommodation units with its three vacation centers and its two campings…
In its development goals, the Comité du Créneau d’excellence insists on consolidation of achievements and assets, on the improvement of access to the region, on the enrichment of the travel experience and of the brand mark of the Laurentians.
*This should include cottagers (but not same-day visitors).
**Travel Survey of (Residents) of Canada, Statistics Canada.
 Carl Chapdelaine