THE HISTORY OF OUR
Even before the city of Quebec was founded, Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor in a cove which he qualified as dangerous and having small lush prairies as well as a small river. We are in 1603. He believed that settlers could farm and settle the land, being that the site was already frequented by the Montagnais. The first settlers would in fact take up residence on the coast of Beaupré between Montmorency and the Valley of the Gouffre as early as the mid 1700’s. Real colonisation would begin in 1675 when the regions’ first farmer, Claude Bouchard, arrived. This is how the village of Petite-Rivière Saint François was founded. Sixteen more settlers would soon follow, Pierre Laforest, René de la Voye, Pierre Tremblay and Noel Simard among them. The descendants of these first pioneers still make up the basis of the villages’ population.
The soil was poor in the early years and despite being on the shores of the St Lawrence river, the settlers only barely managed to scrape by a subsistence. Also, the region was very isolated from the rest of the world being that until the early 19th century no land route linked Petite Rivière Saint François to Côte de Beaupré. Being that the village is located between the St Lawrence on one side and steep mountains on the other, it comes as no surprise that the villagers would rapidly learn to navigate the river and fish for eels near the shore. Thanks to the many natural resources provided by the forests around the village, its residents would also become gifted shipbuilders of goélettes as well as talented seafarers.
“ The peasants had learned from the land about the slow and calm wisdom, about the tenacious will to reach, about the patience of the slow sprouts, and of the joy of the generous explosions of life [...] The coureurs des bois had conquered the forest itself with their boldness in the midst of perils, with their endurance to misery and with their ingenuity in order to fufill all their needs. They had created their soul like the soul of the woods, fierce, jealous, and enamored of liberty; they had carved a love to the extent of the great outdoors. They all had, since their distant and prodigious hikes of the past, a pride of caste and a sense of birthright over the sedentary fields.”
Menaud, maître-draveur (1937), Félix-Antoine Savard, éd. Fides, coll. «Bibliothèque québécoise», 1992, p.8
LIFE BACK THEN
This passage from Menaud Maître-Draveur accurately describes the nature of the people who settled Petite-Rivière towards the end of the 17th century. The abundance of the forests as a natural resource, the access to the river and the expansion of the railway network, contributed to the development of the village. In fact, at one time, there were as many as seven mills in Petite-Rivière. Some establishments were steam powered while others were fueled by bucket wheels. Their production varied according to their uses: spindle wood, bars, timber, and cedar shingles. These precious materials were used to hatch the village. Numerous logging camps could be found around Petite-Rivière; these camps are now gone but many people in the village continue this tradition by continuing to make their own firewood.
As early as the beginning of the 18th century, schooners (Goélettes) began to crisscross the river. Since then, necessity has generated many maritime vocations for Petite-Rivière due to it being isolated by land for so many years. Shipbuilding has its origins in ancestral tradition. From 1863 to 1959 sixty-four schooners were built here. In front of Petite-Rivière, the beach follows a very gentle slope and the shoreline between low and high tides is very broad. This peculiarity favoured the construction of ships in temporary shipyards along the river. Until 1927, when the wharf was built, boat captains cast anchor as close to shore as possible and waited for low tide to pick up and unload their goods. The pier was used so much that it had to be extended in the early fifties. Although there are no more schooners at Petite-Rivière, the current version of the wharf remains a very popular place and a fabulous sightseeing location.
After the first world war, the steel horse business is back in the saddle. The caps were blasted and the coves backfilled. The railroad now crosses the village from Quebec to La Malbaie. The steam train revolutionized the region.