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Visiting Ville-Marie, Quebec: Remembering La Minerve, the Patriotes and the Hidden Francophone History of the Meteor

Updated on September 15, 2021
Flag of Quebec
Flag of Quebec | Source
'Our Northern districts', 1894 A.S.Hardy, Ontario. Dept. of Crown Lands, Toronto,Warwick Bros. & Rutter
'Our Northern districts', 1894 A.S.Hardy, Ontario. Dept. of Crown Lands, Toronto,Warwick Bros. & Rutter | Source
Flag of the Patriotes
Flag of the Patriotes | Source
Ville-Marie (Québec).
Ville-Marie (Québec). | Source

Overlapping ripples of Quebec Republican memory on the eastern shore of Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming

Many Anglophone people from Northern Ontario are pleased to be able to trace their ancestry back to settlers who first sailed to New Liskeard, Ontario on Lake Temiskaming's western shore in the late 19th and early centuries (1) on the S.S. Meteor. As writer Bruce W. Taylor has said: 'To have come north on the Meteor, or even to have had an ancestor come up on that famous boat, is, for Northerners, akin to having an ancestor come over on the Mayflower.' (2)

There is a parallel, true story about Francophone settlers who, generations ago, sailed to Ville-Marie and district on the eastern shore of Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming in Western Quebec. The steamboat in question was named La Minerve, after the Montreal newspaper first edited by Ludger Duvernay (1799-1852) (2).

This newspaper was first known for its Republican stance at the time of the Patriotes' resistance to autocratic rule in 1837-38; subsequently it backed responsible government within the Province du Canada / Province of Canada; a later cause it also adopted, prior to its closure in 1899, was the settlement of Western Quebec.

Built in 1886-7, and sponsored by the Société de Colonization du Lac Témiscamingue which commissioned the building of a steamboat at Ville-Marie, the vessel being named La Minerve thus had a strong resonance of events and causes in Quebec within living memory.

A story comparable with that of the Meteor? Well, yes indeed, especially since La Minerve and the Meteor are one and the same vessel.

In 1887, after twice weekly ferrying passengers — not a few of them Francophone settlers to the region — to Baie des Pères, at Ville-Marie, La Minerve ran aground, necessitating extensive repairs. Changing ownership and thus its name also, the refitted vessel now known as the S.S. Meteor continued its work of plying along Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming, now bringing many Anglophone settlers heading to New Liskeard, Ontario and the wider area.

This work continued for some decades; increasingly, after 1905, the Meteor faced stiff and ultimately prohibitive competition from the railway.

Interestingly, the Meteor was also used for excursions by many groups from both sides of Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming. Various of these groups which hired the Meteor for these lake excursions were church affiliated: these Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists from the western shore of Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming. Not to be outdone, members of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Ville-Marie on the lake's eastern shore did likewise.

Finally, the end of the Meteor came in 1926, when the Meteor caught fire (3), while on its way under tow to Ville-Marie. In a manner of speaking, the story ended where it began.

But what a story! of which the marina at Ville-Marie, still very popular with boating enthusiasts represents in some sense a living continuity (4).

Interestingly, today the population of City of Temiskaming Shores, Ontario — encompassing New Liskeard, Haileybury, Dymond and North Cobalt is 31% Francophone.

For its part, Ville-Marie, the most populous town in the Municipalité régionale de comté de Témiscamingue — itself within Abitibi-Témiscamingue region — has a Francophone population in excess of 98%.

These statistics arguably bear out that one of the particular visions — submerged or not — of 'La Minerve', for which the vessel which plied the waters of Lac Témiscamingue / Lake Temiskaming was first named and for which vision the vessel was first commissioned, has — coincidentally or otherwise — to a considerable extent been realized.

March 6, 2020


(1) Among these were some of my wife's family.

(2) See also:

(3) Its remains were finally disposed of in 1928.

(4) A regatta is held at Ville-Marie every July.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Front page of the August 21, 1837 edition of Lower Canada (present-day Quebec) newspaper La Minerve.
Front page of the August 21, 1837 edition of Lower Canada (present-day Quebec) newspaper La Minerve. | Source
 Ludger Duvernay (1799-1852), 1832
Ludger Duvernay (1799-1852), 1832 | Source

Also worth seeing

Fort Témiscamingue , near Ville-Marie, is a National Historic Site which displays the remains of a French trading fort, dating from the 17th century. Off Route 101 there is a noted Enchanted Forest (French: Forêt enchantée) with trees said to have been bent by northerly winds.

Laniel, (distance: 39.8 kilometres) is where the Kipawa River (French: la rivière Kipawa), flows into Lake Kipawa (French: le lac Kipawa); a boathouse is among the local landmarks.

The town of Témiscaming (distance: 87.8 kilometres) has a museum in the former railroad station, and scenic walks.


How to get there: Air Canada flies from Montreal (Aéroport-Montréal-Trudeau) to Rouyn-Noranda (Aéroport de Rouyn-Noranda), where car rental is available. By road from Rouyn-Noranda (distance: 136 kilometres), take Route 101 south. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, Quebec
Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, Quebec | Source

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