The Raftsmen of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers
A review of The Raftsmen Of The Ottawa And St. Lawrence Rivers by Léon A. Robidoux
Published on October 11, 2007
The Raftsmen Of The Ottawa And St. Lawrence Rivers
Léon A. Robidoux
Living in Montreal, it is sometimes easy to forget that less than three hours away lies Quebec City, a place possessing every bit as rich a cultural and economic history as our own. Two new books give very different perspectives on that history, one intensely personal, the other mostly archival. Léon A. Robidoux’s book is both scrupulously researched and affectionately, even joyfully, related. It could be argued that there’s no point in writing about a rather obscure segment of history – particularly Canadian history, which is reputed to be boring – unless you are passionate about the subject. Robidoux does not disappoint in that regard. His passion may be explained by a familial connection: One of the St. Lawrence River’s great raftsmen was Aimé Guérin, the author’s great-grandfather.
For centuries before the last raft went under the Victoria Bridge in 1905, vast assemblages of cleverly bound logs shared the waterways with canoes, boats, and barges as modes of transport in Quebec and Ontario. Songs and sagas were written about them. Jean Talon (1625-1694) was the first builder of the timber rafts used to transport merchandise between Montreal, Quebec City, and Trois-Rivières. Philemon Wright, an American, saw the benefits of the industry after initially intending to clear his land for agriculture. The raft-making and rafting industries could not have existed without a robust timber trade, which in turn grew out of the need to open land to cultivation, then quickly outpaced agriculture as an economic force in the colonies. As roads improved, engines were invented, and timber became scarcer, rafts disappeared.
Robidoux’s book is a fine insight into a bygone era. mRb
Louise Fabiani is a Montreal-based freelance writer. Her poetry chapbook Cryptic Dangers was recently published by Alfred Gustav Press.