Trois Rivieres | July 13
Hilton Dier III
We chugged into Trois Rivieres on Thursday, July 10th, after a day of fighting current, wind, and periodic squalls. Our berth was a high concrete wall, which presented us with the eternal problem of boarding ramp improvisation. We have two 12' ramps with rollers on one end and pivots on the other, a 6' square platform that can hang on the side of the boat like a porch, a couple of 4' square 1' high plywood boxes, and an assortment of planks and blocking. Every time we come into a new port we solve a novel access problem with these building blocks. The platform went on the dock, the plywood boxes went on deck, and the ramps angled down steeply. We all memorized the phrase "Attention a la marche!" (Roughly, "Careful how you walk!")
Lois McClure at the dock in Trois Rivieres. Photo by Kerry Batdorf.
With this engineering problem out of the way, we could pay attention to Trois Rivieres. The city is an appropriate place for a replica 1862 canal boat to visit, as it once saw hundreds of similar vessels, carrying pulpwood, lumber, iron ore, and manufactured goods. Presently it has a new-looking waterfront with a museum dedicated to the paper industry, a stage for concerts, a restaurant (Poivre Noir, the kind providers of ice for our icebox), and a brick-paved square. The main street, des Forges, is chockablock with restaurants and stores. The architectural fabric of the city is fairly well preserved, with some nice old brick and stone buildings.
The key locations were the ever helpful tourist office, the internet café, and our room at the Hotel Gouverneur, provided by the city. Several members of the crew each spent a night each at the hotel, and we all made use of the shower. Lois's shower was transformed into valuable storage space last year, so the pursuit of hot showers is one of our ongoing challenges.
Friday was a mixed bag for weather, with relatively light attendance. It gave me a chance to ramp up my French language interpretive skills. I had been taking weekly French lessons all spring in anticipation of this trip, but that didn't prepare me for rapid fire questions in the distinctive Quebecois accent. Our resident Quebec native, Jean Belisle, was in his element. Jean has spent the last few decades teaching history at Concordia University in Montreal and became the professor of our floating classroom. Zach Ralph, our bilingual crew member on loan from the National Parks Service, produced a flurry of French verbiage in response to questions. I asked people to repeat their questions more slowly and hacked the French language into submission. A few people asked me where I had learned my French; perhaps they were plotting revenge. Christina and Anthony, a couple of friendly and enthusiastic employees from the local tourist office, provided invaluable interpretive assistance.
A company of reenactors portraying an 18th century militia company drilled on the nearby square. For an hour every day our conversations were punctuated by distant fife and drum music, shouted commands, the rattle of musketry, and the definitive thump of their cannon. Another entertaining diversion in the square by the dock was the local chess master. A gentleman in the black robe of a British professor laid out a huge fabric chessboard with two-foot tall pieces and took on all comers. He was there much of Saturday, quietly battling it out with a series of opponents.
Saturday was clear and warm. People crowded the waterfront. Three small ships from the Canadian Navy docked a few hundred feet up from us. They were coastal patrol vessels, mostly assigned to monitor commercial traffic, but presently on a recruiting and promotional mission. The ships attracted crowds, which spilled over to us. The Lois was busy most of the day, with a final visitor count just over 1200. As with many of our stops, we had a few visitors who told us of relatives who worked on the canal boats at the end of the era in the 1930's.
The era of cargo traffic on the St. Lawrence never ended, of course. On Lake Champlain we are one of the larger boats, but on the St. Lawrence we are a minor vessel. One of the pleasures of this river is watching the variety of large commercial ships go by. Imagine a high rise apartment building on its side with a good sized house sitting on one end and you get the scale of these vessels. A lot of the traffic is freighters coming from Sept-Isles, carrying iron ore for the steel mills further up river. Some of the ships had improbably tall stacks of cargo containers on deck. Down in the hold of the Lois we could hear the rhythmic wash of their propellers, followed shortly by the wake tossing us around.
Wakes were a general problem. The Trois Rivieres section of the St. Lawrence River sees a lot of recreational boating. Some boaters were quite polite, slowing to a crawl near us, or at least keeping their distance. Some, however, decided to show off their combined lack of boating skills, judgment, and consideration, by roaring past at top speed.
On a break, I went down the dock to check out the patrol boats. There was a huge line for the tour, so I had to give up. I ended up talking with a Canadian naval officer, who generously offered to arrange a special tour for our crew members.
Sunday dawned rainy, cool, and windy. It wasn't a huge day for attendance, but respectable. Those who did brave the weather generally took their time and asked lots of questions. People seemed quite intrigued by the concept of a family spending their lives in the tiny cabin on a boat.
Art Cohn went out to the Forges-du-Saint-Maurice
, a Canadian National Park. The park is based on an extensive archeological study of the foundries that operated there for hundreds of years. Art came away very impressed with the site, remarking on its engaging and comprehensive presentation of both the technical and social history. Our crew member Jean Belisle was part of the team that created the site thirty years ago.
Early Monday morning we pulled away from the dock, headed for Sorel, against strong wind and current once more. C'est la vie.