A territory to be shared

In the early days, Indigenous peoples and explorers traveled along the Rivière Saint-Maurice to access different parts of the territory. The river was then used to transport timber to the sawmills and pulp and paper plants that proliferated in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the Saint-Maurice became a source of energy, generating hydropower. In the early 2000s, after log driving was prohibited, the area’s residents focused on developing vacation and tourism activities, which have become increasingly popular throughout the Saint-Maurice watershed.

The community of Wemotaci

The land’s first inhabitants

The Atikamekw Nation considers Nitaskinan to be its ancestral land. Nitaskinan covers the entire Rivière Saint-Maurice watershed, including Gouin reservoir. The watershed is home to three Atikamekw reserves.

Obedjiwan [information in French only] is located on the northwestern shore of Gouin reservoir, some 70 kilometres from Gouin dam as the crow flies.

Wemotaci [PDF 123 Kb] [information in French only] is located on the north shore of the Rivière Saint-Maurice, 78 kilometres downstream of Gouin dam. The community of Wemotaci also uses the lands of the Coucoucache reserve on the north shore of the Rivière Saint-Maurice and of Blanc reservoir, 130 kilometres downstream of Gouin dam.

Manawan [PDF 118 Kb] [information in French only] is located in the Lanaudière region, near Lac Métabeskéga, almost 38 kilometres as the crow flies from Manouane-A dam on the Rivière Manouane. This river is one of the 15 main tributaries of the Rivière Saint-Maurice.

Today Hydro-Québec maintains an ongoing dialogue with the Atikamekw Nation. This dialogue promotes a relationship of trust and is the basis for reconciling the interests of all parties when making territory-related decisions.

The Belgo mill in Shawinigan in the 1920s.

First phase of industrialization

In the 19th century, pulp and paper was the main industry in the Mauricie region. Logs were transported by water from logging sites to mills like the Belgo in Shawinigan (shown in the photo), although most were sent to mills in Trois-Rivières. Log driving was an effective, reliable and inexpensive way to transport timber. To transport the logs to Trois-Rivières, the eight generating stations built before 1990 on the Rivière Saint-Maurice were equipped with log chutes. Log driving was prohibited in 1992 and, by 1995, no more logs were being sent down the river.

Today, forest timber is transported to mills by trucks, which drive along the multipurpose roads used by Indigenous people, vacationers and Hydro-Québec employees.

Aerial view of the city of Shawinigan in the 1920s.

Second phase of industrialization

In the mid-1870s, the timber industry was hit by a crisis that shook the regional economy. The ensuing industrial transformation of Mauricie was led by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company (SWP) . In 1901, the company commissioned the Shawinigan-1 generating station. SWP adopted a strategy to diversify its activities and attract electricity-intensive industries to Shawinigan, such as pulp and paper, aluminum and chemicals. Attracted by the readily available power supply, natural resources and labour, several industries responded to the call. The early 20th century was a period of intense industrial development in Shawinigan, on the shores of the Rivière Saint-Maurice. To learn more about the birth of hydropower in the region, you can visit the Cité de l’énergie interpretation center.

Emergence of the service industry

Around 1868, exclusive hunting and fishing leases were granted to individuals or corporate entities for certain parts of the region’s public lands. Private clubs emerged and reached their peak between 1945 and 1952.

In the late 1960s, there was strong opposition to private hunting and fishing clubs in Québec. In 1978, the government adopted a new policy for wildlife management, providing universal access to wildlife resources and forest-based leisure activities on public lands. Private clubs were abolished and replaced by controlled harvesting zones (ZECs), wildlife reserves and outfitters with and without exclusive rights.

The end of log driving and the presence of hydropower facilities on the river created a perfect environment for the development of vacationing activities:

  • The regulation of water inflows prevented flooding.
  • The stabilization of water levels in summer allowed for navigation.
  • The construction and maintenance of multi-purpose roads provided easy access to the area.

A lot has changed since the early 20th century when Gouin dam was isolated and inaccessible. The areas around the reservoir have been developed, as have those along the shores of the Rivière Saint-Maurice and its tributaries. In 2017, the Rivière Saint-Maurice watershed was home to:

  • Some 10 controlled harvesting zones (ZECs) [information in French only]
  • 28 outfitters with exclusive rights
  • 54 outfitters without exclusive rights
  • Over 12,000 cottages—5,000 on public lands and 7,000 on private lands
  • The Aire faunique communautaire du réservoir Gouin
  • La Mauricie National Park
  • The Réserve faunique du Saint-Maurice [information in French only]
  • Various parks, beaches and campgrounds along the shore, as well as companies specialized in water sports and related events
  • Hydro-Québec maintains an ongoing dialogue with the host community to ensure harmonious coexistence with its neighbors. While respecting its obligations and taking its operating constraints into account, Hydro-Québec has been able to meet the community’s request for more boating on summer weekends. To do so, Hydro-Québec conducted an instream flow test on the Saint-Maurice.

Hydro-Québec maintains an ongoing dialogue with the host community to ensure harmonious coexistence with its neighbors. While respecting its obligations and taking its operating constraints into account, Hydro-Québec has been able to meet the community’s request for more boating on summer weekends. To do so, Hydro-Québec conducted an instream flow test on the Saint-Maurice.

City of La Tuque

The Rivière Saint-Maurice

At first people settled in Trois-Rivières, along the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence River). The shores of the Saint-Maurice were gradually developed as logging companies built camps for their workers. With the rise of industry, these logging camps became municipalities.

The construction of dams in the watershed (Manouane A, B and C, Gouin and Matawin) made it possible to regulate 40% of the water inflow to the Rivière Saint-Maurice.

  • 1885

    Grandes-Piles

    – The parish municipality of Saint-Jacques-des-Piles is officially founded. In 1966, it is renamed Grandes-Piles.
  • 1898

    Grand-Mère

    – The village municipality is officially founded.
  • 1899

    Shawinigan

    – Shawinigan is Québec’s first city with an urban plan. In 1899, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company mandates T. Pringle and Son, a Montréal architectural and industrial engineering firm, to draft the city’s first development plans. The location chosen for the future city is right beside the Saint-Maurice, near the falls.
  • 1905

    La Tuque

    – The Brown Corporation purchases the waterfalls in La Tuque, and builds a pulp mill running on hydraulic energy nearby. Today, visitors can see vestiges of the Brown mill downstream of the La Tuque hydropower facility. On March 24, 1911, the municipalities of La Tuque and La Tuque Falls merge to form the city of La Tuque.