Essence of French Québec
Original Algonquian name: Saguenay, probably meaning 'water flows out'
Current official name: Saguenay River, from the Native original.
Source: Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec
Mouth: St. Lawrence River at Tadoussac
Direction of flow: east
Length : 165 kilometres from Lac Saint-Jean to Tadoussac
Main Characteristic: heartland of French-speaking Quebec
It was called the ‘Kingdom of the Saguenay’ by French explorer
Jacques Cartier. He had interpreted Native descriptions of
the Saguenay River in 1535 to mean the Saguenay River basin
was the homeland of a rich and powerful people.
There was no ‘kingdom’ in the European sense, but there was
a wealth of water power and forest resources that have made
the region’s modern-day French-speaking population prosperous
The sense of self-sufficiency enjoyed by the Saguenay region's
residents has given them a powerful political strength felt
across Canada. The region has become the spiritual source and
most loyal voting base for Quebec's modern independence movement.
The true nature of the Saguenay's power and wealth would be
understood and exploited only recently, four centuries after
Jacques Cartier's encounter with its Native people. Today,
the Saguenay region is Quebec's most visible model of economic
success. It is the most thoroughly French-speaking region of
Quebec, and has become the political stronghold of the drive
for Quebec independence.
The tremendous flows of the Saguenay and its tributaries provide
its people with electricity and jobs. Big, ocean-going ships
purr through the lower Saguenay's deep, narrow fjiords directly
to aluminum smelters and paper factories far into the Laurentian
Bauxite ore is shipped from mines around the globe directly
to Jonquière where it is refined into aluminum, using
huge amounts of electrical power generated by company-owned
dams. Using yet more electrical power, paper companies take
trees from the surrounding boreal forest and turn them into
rolls of newsprint for shipment to publishers around the world.
The full force of the Saguenay's physical power was not witnessed
until the summer of 1996. Reservoirs behind the private industrial
dams along the Saguenay's tributaries overflowed in unison.
The floodwaters washed away homes and killed 10 people.
Unusual torrential rains were the obvious cause. But some
local residents complained the flood was caused by poor management
of private company dams. Water, they said, should have been
released gradually instead of letting the reservoirs overflow.
The provincial government rushed to investigate the cause
of the disaster, while money from the federal government and
private citizens poured in to help flood victims rebuild their
homes and their lives. The disaster was seen by some people
as a chance for other Canadians to show that they cared about
Quebeckers and wanted them to remain part of Canada.
Quebec's modern independence movement owes much of its strength
to the people of the Saguenay region. The first dependable
voting support for the Parti Québécois came from
the region. It provided the party a solid platform in the provincial
legislature from which it argued for Quebec's secession from
The case for independence was helped by the example of the
Saguenay's economic health and virtually unilingual French-speaking
culture. The Saguenay region showed the rest of Quebec that
French can be a language of economic success, and that economic
success can mean increased support for sovereignty.
The most obvious example of that is Quebec Premier Lucien
Bouchard, a successful lawyer who was born and raised in what
Quebeckers still like to call the Royaume du Saguenay.
Saguenay River (Adobe PDF document)
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