Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Val-Jalbert Expedition

When traveling in Quebec, Canada recently, I had the opportunity to visit a fascinating location called "Val-Jalbert". I had read that the Ouiatchouan Falls, a centerpiece of the attraction, was higher than the more famous Niagara Falls, which I had also visited in previous years. The top photo in this collage shows the falls from a distance, along with the mill and production plant visible on the left. The bottom photo shows me out on the glass viewing platform of one of the lookouts closer to the falls. In fact, it was so close, I was thinking that a waterproof camera would have been a good idea! There is a cable car that can take visitors to the top of the falls, and hiking trails are also available around the falls. The park is called "Val-Jalbert" because the village was started by Damese Jalbert around 1901. Mr. Jalbert started the construction of a mill, to harness the energy of the waterfall, and the plant was operational, with pulp production in 1902. The "golden age" of the village was considered to be 1909 - 1922. It was a true "company town", that was using the most up-to-date principles of urban planning available at the time. In the early 1920's, the Jalbert village was known for its modern conveniences, and was the envy of the surrounding communities, because it had electricity and running water decades before other towns in the area.

The larger, center photo of this collage shows the exterior of the Catholic convent on the property, which also served as the school for the children of the workers. The building has been restored, and now serves as a museum to show articles of furniture from that period, as well as other historical artifacts (lower photo). The top two photos show the chapel used by the nuns (photo on the left), and the right photo shows the Director of the attraction, Dany Bouchard, as he tells our group interesting tidbits of history about the building. As has happened with some areas of present-day employment locales, the economic bounty did not last forever. There were administrative problem issues that caused setbacks, plus the fact that changes in the paper production industry made a plant that only produced pulp as its main product, less profitable. These factors led the pulp production to be permanently suspended in 1927. The Quebec government expropriated the property for unpaid taxes in 1942, and it lay dormant as a ghost town.

Fortunately, the ghost town was revived in the 1970's to be turned into a Historical Village, which slowed the deterioration of buildings on the property. Then their big break came in 2009 when the historical village received a grant for almost twenty million dollars for a complete overhaul of the infrastructure, interpretive activities, and improved tourist experience. This grant provided for the complete modernizing of the "company store" (top photo), and the construction of brand new "company-style" housing to accommodate all the needs of today's modern tourist. I especially liked how the new units incorporated articles from its historical past, such as the weathered wood that was used for the design of the new bed headboards (lower right photo). In addition, the design of the bathroom fixtures were a suggestion of the 1920's era, even though they are totally modern (right photo).

As I toured the area of Val-Jalbert where the employee housing had been, it was quite evident which houses had the benefit of preventive maintenance over the past few decades (top photo), and which houses had not had the benefit of preventive maintenance over the past few decades (bottom photo). These were good visual reminders to me not to be guilty of "deferred maintenance" on my own house, AND not to be guilty of "deferred maintenance" on the "house" that I call my body! Although this is a historical village, steps have been taken so that even younger generations, who go into withdrawal if they do not have an electronic device in their hands, can find an activity that interests them! The most fun and popular such activity is a "Georally" around the park, using GPS devices that are available through the visitor's center. I think the twenty-first century developers of Val-Jalbert Historical Village have done a magnificent job of exactly what is described in literature of the first century: Isaiah 61:4 says "They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." I think the Catholic nuns that lived and taught in the Jalbert village would be pleased to see that their legacy lives on for future generations. If you would like to learn more about this fascinating time period, and plan a visit to this beautiful area of Saguenay-LacSaint-Jean, just log on to www.valjalbert.com . Miles of smiles! Tricia
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