One of the best historical attractions I’ve seen is the ghost town of Val-Jalbert in Quebec’s Saguenay– Lac-St. Jean Region. Val-Jalbert in the 1920s was a bit like Fort McMurray of today – a bustling town built around one industry. Damase Jalbert built a pulp mill near two falls on the Ouiatchouan River in 1902, the tumbling water a cheap source of electricity. American shareholders bought the mill in 1909 and modernized the facility. Skilled mill workers lived in a master planned community with homes boasting electricity, water and indoor toilets. A worker would make $25 a week but pay only $11 a month for a large home. A convent school and post office were within walking distance. It is said that the living standards were the equivalent of people living in Boston in 1921 and the town was the envy of surrounding communities.
Unfortunately, the plant only produced pulp and without the ability to produce paper could not compete globally. The mill was closed in 1927 and workers were forced to downsize their lifestyles as they looked for work in nearby Chicoutimi. Val-Jalbert lay dormant until it was converted to a tourism attraction in the 1960s. With over forty buildings remaining it is the largest ghost town in Canada. For a night I was one of seven temporary inhabitants – several of the homes having been converted to tourism accommodation – and I wondered if I was getting a glimpse of Alberta’s world post-oil.
During the day Val-Jalbert interpreters acted out the roles of 1920s residents although the ‘mayor’ was driving the tram that shuttled visitors along Rue St-Georges, something I’m sure the real mayor didn’t do. The mill had interpretative signage and an immersive spectacle with a hologram-like presentation making me feel the original residents had come back to life.
I didn’t run into any ghosts that night but I enjoyed wandering the empty tree-lined streets alone after dark. The mill was silent but the natural beauty of the falls remained. I could picture some of the 900 residents sitting on their porch a century earlier listening to the falls in the distance or the soft hoot of a great horned owl in the thick forest. I imagine many of them never thought the good times would end. The similarities to Canada’s current dependency on oil frightened me in ways a ghost never could.
To arrange your visit go to http://www.valjalbert.com/en/home
A visit to Val-Jalbert, a ghost town in Quebec, may leave you frightened in ways a ghost never could. Click to Tweet.