History of Lanaudière
Yesterday to today, river to mountain
The history of Lanaudière is mainly a story of the great settlement movement along the St. Lawrence River Valley. For centuries, the river had been the only major highway for the indigenous peoples to cross the province. It was soon adopted for the same purpose by the new arrivals from France.
The 17th century legacy of New France is apparent in the geographical shape of the region: a long rectangle set perpendicular to the river, reminiscent of the shape of the seigneuries (lordly manors). These lands alongside the river were the site of the first settlements and were subdivided into long narrow lots. This allowed access to the waterway for the greatest number of people. The seigneuries of Lanaudière were among the earliest established along the St. Lawrence Valley; they included Repentigny (1647), Saint-Sulpice (1640) and d’Autray (1637). Some of the officers of the Carignan Regiment obtained concessions to which they gave their names and which live on today as town names: Berthier, Lavaltrie, La Noraye, etc. These military men would become land-owning entrepreneurs.
Villages sprang up along the river, close to waterfalls and rapids, to harness their power for saw and flour mills. This is the origin of most of the villages of the plain and foothills. An early pioneer, Barthélemy Joliette, built towns by exploiting the resources of the forests and waterfalls to the maximum. In the 1820s, he founded the town that now bears his name: Joliette. This would become the archdiocese – in effect, the regional capital. More than a century later, the name of his wife, Charlotte de Lanaudière, was adopted as the region’s identity. The final stage of settlement was the conquest of the upper Laurentians, led in large part by the curates Provost and Brassard in 1860. The Matawinie region was seen at that time as the gateway to the promised land of the North.
Manawan - Atikamekw community
Situated 89 km to the north-west of Saint-Michel-des-Saints is the aboriginal community of Manawan, where the Atikamekw language is spoken along with French. Set on the shores of Lake Metabeskega, Manawan is surrounded by black spruce, silver birch and aspen, in a region of lakes dotted with many islands. The name Manawan derives from that of the Manouane River, whose source is nearby. In 19th-century documents, the site of the early community was called Metapeckika, which means a savannah or marsh near a bay.
A former clan meeting place, Manawan evolved into a village by 1850 with the arrival of the logging companies. A promoter started a business on the shores of Lac Metabeskega and hired local aboriginal people to cut and float logs. The regular pay brought an end to the nomadic ways of the Atikamekw. Within ten years, there were several work sites along the Manouane River. In 1871, a trading post was established at Manawan and by 1873 a steamboat was being used to tow the logs of the logging companies on Lac Kempt. The creation of the Manawan reserve in 1906, combined with mandatory schooling, brought an end to the community’s nomadic way of life.
The King’s Road (Chemin du Roy)
In 1706 the Conseil Supérieur of New France decided to build a road alongside the river to link Montreal with Quebec City. Work began in 1731 and it was completed in 1737. The first navigable highway in Canada, it was intended for mail delivery and the transportation of voyageurs. Today’s Route 138 roughly follows the path of the original highway. The tourist section of the King’s Road in Lanaudière begins at Repentigny. It traces an important part of Quebec’s early history, with magnificent scenery and lookout points along the river and a rich heritage of mills, churches, ancestral homes, gardens and art galleries.
The arrowhead sash, emblem of Lanaudière
The traditional arrowhead sash, known as the L’Assomption sash, became Lanaudière’s regional emblem in 1985. Still woven by hand today, its striking pattern of flame and lightning symbolizes the energy and passion of the Lanaudois people. It was worn about the waists of the men (voyageurs) who travelled across country in canoes and was used as a medium of exchange with local Indians during the fur trade era. Still today, artisans make the sash by hand. This skill is unique to Quebec.
Nature at its best
In March 2004, the Laurentian chain, which traverses Northern Lanaudière, was named the 7th-best-preserved destination in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine. Lanaudière is a vast territory framed between river and mountain, where most types of québécois landscapes can be found.
It is a rich blend of places and attractions, unique in their character and charm, which is why the region is often called “Quebec in miniature”!
A rich heritage to discover
The history of Lanaudière can be easily explored today in its towns, cities and villages. For example, many traces of the past are evident on Boulevard Manseau and Place Bourget in Joliette; or on Rue Frontenac in Berthierville; along Rang York and Rang Saint-Louis in Saint-Barthélemy; in the block-houses of Saint-Esprit; or Rang Saint-Albert in Saint-Thomas, with its former tobacco dryers. All these places help us to better understand the ways of life of our predecessors.
The province’s religious heritage is also very evident, notably in the Church of the Purification in Repentigny, at the Marie-Reine-des-Coeurs Sanctuary in Chertsey and at the church of Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier, where you can admire some true architectural splendours. The many historical sites and museums, like the historical site of Île-des-Moulins in Terrebonne, ensure our rich history and heritage live on.