The Historic Village of Val-Jalbert National Historic Site
Founded in 1901 around a pulp and paper mill, and deserted since 1927, the village of Val-Jalbert is a prime example of an early 20th century pulp and paper industry company town. It is remarkable for its authenticity and the preservation of its built environment. Designed in successive phases according to an urban plan that guided its growth, the village of Val-Jalbert features two distinct districts, the upper town and the lower town, as well as a unique array of industrial equipment, institutional and commercial buildings, and four different types of workers’ all-wood houses found along over a half-dozen streets. In the early 1960s, this deserted “ghost town” was conserved and developed into an open-air museum, typifying the growing interest in heritage preservation that took place across the country during the second half of the 20th century.
Covering an area of approximately 1.7 square kilometres, the historic village of Val-Jalbert is in the Regional County Municipality (RCM) of Domaine-du-Roy, southwest of Lac Saint-Jean. Archaeological studies have shown that human occupation of this region dates to at least 6,000 years ago. In the 1840s, when colonization began in the region, this was Innu territory. The development of the forest industry, through the granting of timber cutting territories and the construction of pulp production plants, encroached on Innu territory and they petitioned authorities for compensation and the protection of their lands. In 1856, the Mastheuiatsh (Pointe-Bleue) reserve was created. It is the only Innu community in the Lac-Saint-Jean region.
In 1898, forestry entrepreneur Damase Jalbert began the development of a pulp mill on the Ouiatchouan River. The construction of the mill, inaugurated in 1902, and the planning of the first residential area of the village took place simultaneously. The site features numerous natural elements, including the Ouiatchouan River and its waterfalls, the river canyon, forest, and the topography of the site and its network of roads and trails. Over the years, four different types of workers’ housing were erected in the village’s two primary residential areas, known as the upper and lower town. In 1924, a crisis in the pulp industry led to hard times and workers who lost their jobs sought employment in nearby communities. The Val-Jalbert mill officially closed its doors on 13 August 1927 due to financial difficulties.
In August 1949, the Quebec government acquired the Val-Jalbert facility, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the site opened to visitors. Largely unchanged, the site has retained its spatial organization. Some 30 houses have been restored over the years, as have other major buildings that today serve various functions for visitors, including the plant, the general store, the old butcher shop, the convent school, and a guest house. Another 10 houses have been intentionally left in a state of ruin, and there are several overgrown foundations that evoke the former era of this ghost town. Today, the Historic Village of Val-Jalbert welcomes 60,000 visitors each year.
The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
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