It's not that I'm squeamish about staying in a centuries-old
jail. It's just that I'd rather enjoy the comforts of a hotel.
This thought occurred to me as I toured
known as the Old Prison, now a historic monument in downtown
Trois-Rivieres, which is a Canadian city located
between Montreal and Quebec City.
At this masonry jail-cum-tourist attraction, visitors can opt
for a tour led by a former inmate. Michel, the tour guide
leading me down hallways and in and out of cells, was
incarcerated here in 1978 when he was 18 years old. His crime?
Possessing 30 grams of marijuana.
I cringed at the plea that a prisoner had carved into a cramped
cell's wall, and again I cringed when I saw the solitary
confinement cell. The musty odor and the sterile, forlorn
atmosphere were chilling. I wondered how many souls had known
the oppressive isolation of this prison between its debut in
1822 and its closing in 1986.
A message on the wall of a cell at Vieille
Prison (in Trois Rivieres)
The fact that I was in Trois-Rivieres was due to its location
along the St. Lawrence River. I was on an exploratory mission to
visit a few cities that border the St. Lawrence, if only for a
one-night stay in each city. I regret having time to investigate
only the downtown area rather than Trois-Rivieres as a whole,
but what I saw was appealing.
I began my journey in Montreal and ended it in Quebec City.
Oddly, what I remember most about Montreal and Quebec City is
not the pedestrians livening the streets, not the great
restaurants and attractions, but rather the reds that made these
pretty cities pop -- the red blooms sprouting in local parks,
red flowers for sale in stalls at local markets, reds on
billowing flags above storefronts. Vibrant, vivid reds. Like a
Crayola box on speed.
Trois-Rivieres seemed low key in comparison, an almost welcome
change, at least for a day. As I was told, the city is so named
because of its location at the confluence of the Saint-Maurice
and Saint Lawrence Rivers, and the Saint-Maurice River appears
to have three mouths. Thus, Trois-Rivieres -- three rivers.
July 4, 1776 remains the most cherished holiday for Americans.
It was the birth date of their new nation, but July 4 belonged
to Canada long before America claimed it. On July 4, 1634, a
Canadian celebration took place --- the birth of Trois-Rivieres
in the Mauricie region of Quebec. Because of its position along
the St. Lawrence, the settlement developed into a vital fur
trading center with a burgeoning population.
At the end of the 17th century, the Ursuline Sisters founded a
convent in Trois-Rivieres. It was the Mauricie region's first
school for girls. The Ursulines, founded in Italy in 1535, are
an order of Catholic nuns devoted to teaching and care-giving.
Musee des Ursulines ( in Trois Rivieres, Quebec).
While strolling along rue des Ursulines, I found myself peering
at, and admiring, a beautiful dome above an expansive,
impressive gray and white building -- the Ursulines' monastery.
They welcome visitors to peruse the exhibits at the Ursuline Museum inside.
The chapel with its statues and stunning architecture and
frescoes, the Sisters' handiwork in textiles and ceramics, the
convent garden, the permanent exhibition titled "Over 300 Years
of Memory" that examines three centuries of community heritage
-- they are an inspirational tribute to the selfless
Notre-Dame-du-Cap is another spiritual attraction in
Trois-Rivieres. It is the second-largest Marian shrine in North
America. Its history dates to the 1600s. Sanctuaire
Notre-Dame-du-Cap opened in 1720 and is Canada's oldest church
in which Mass is celebrated daily.
The church's basilica can seat 1660 people. Its dome rises to
125 feet and its jewel-tone stained glass windows are stunning,
as are the church's gardens.
Trois-Rivieres touts itself as the once-upon-a-time world
capital for the production of paper and pulp, two vital items
needed for the existence and success of the newspaper industry,
but we know that the huge growth of online newspapers has
diminished newspapers' (and many magazines') print versions.
This, in turn, diminished a need for the paper-and-pulp factory
that once thrived in Trois-Rivieres.
Today, the filtration plant of
Paper (CIP), built in the early 1920s in Trois-Rivieres, is
"Borealis, Pulp and Paper Industry Exhibition Centre,"
showcasing the history of the area's paper industry.
Borealis (Exhibition Centre), Trois Rivieres
The Centre offers an enlightening journey past machinery,
descriptive panels, artifacts, and exhibits, and interactive
opportunity. Get a close-up view of pulp fibers; feel the pulp
in order to discover the connection between logging,
lumberjacks, pulp, paper, factory workers and the community
I learned how water is removed from pulp. It involves
steam-heated cylinders. The paper sheet then passes through
rollers that squeeze even more water from the paper. The exhibit
reveals a lot more than this, and now that I'm armed with a
greater understanding of the paper-making process, I no longer
take newspapers for granted.
I even picked up an amusing morsel of trivia. Paper originated
in China and was made from vegetable fibers until, in the year
105, a Chinese man observed women washing clothes, which gave
him the idea to add woven fibers such as rope and rags, which
created a more resistant grade of paper. Who knew? Maybe someday
this will be a "Jeopardy" answer!
Many cruise lines offer cruises in the St. Lawrence region. This
includes Fred Olson Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal
Caribbean Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Saga Cruises, and
Cruising the St. Lawrence River is a serene and scenic
experience. The river is fed by the Great Lakes. Flowing
eastward for 745 miles, the river kisses the shores of Montreal,
Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City.
In recent years, to accommodate a growing number of visiting
the Port of Trois-Rivieres created Hector-Louis-Langevin Park on
the riverbank, built a pedestrian walkway to the park and
debuted a new cruise terminal. It's lovely to stroll around
A view of the St. Lawrence River
In 2009, Trois-Rivieres was named the Cultural Capital of
Canada, thanks to its Parisian-style cafes, historic sites and
artistic venues -- street theatre, orchestra concerts, art
galleries, museums, poetry festivals, a heritage trail, etc.
Speaking of art, as I leisurely strolled the streets surrounding
the Musee des Ursulines, I came upon a sloped road, Cote
Plouffe, with a long wall that had become a canvas for local
artists. On the wall, they had painted an extraordinary fresco,
La Fresque de Trois-Rivieres. Approximately 900 yards long,
this painting is the largest of any historical fresco in Quebec.
La Fresque de Trois Rivieres (fresco)
Motorists drove by and bicyclists pedaled by, and I seemed to be
the only one who noticed the long fresco. My guess is that the
locals are used to this work of art and so they no longer "see"
it. I, on the other hand, was smitten with it.
La Fresque de Trois-Rivieres
illustrates the history of the city through its changing seasons
-- its beginning as a fur-trading colony, its lumberjacks and
other people, its industrial development and cultural
influences, and the importance of the river. The artwork is
beautiful, virtually an outdoor art museum.
I had a casual dinner at Sugar Shack Chez Dany, where the
comfort food ranged from meat pies and salt pork to yummy
pancakes. Sugar Shack Chez Dany is a restaurant inside a cabin
with a rustic, wood-paneled dining space that reminded me of the
dining room at my childhood summer camp.
I overnighted at the
Delta Hotel Trois-Rivieres, conveniently located in the
downtown core, and a brief walk to the riverfront. My
comfortable guestroom was simply but tastefully decorated. The
hotel has a restaurant, bar, spa, gym and indoor pool.
I'd jump at the chance to return to this hospitable city to
explore the rest of it, because Trois-Riviere is tres enjoyable.