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"THE LAURENTIANS"

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According to Quebec’s Commission de toponymie, the chain of mountains known as the Laurentians (les Laurentides in French) extends from Lake Témiscamingue on the Ontario border all the way across Quebec to Labrador. Geologically, the Laurentians were formed over a billion years ago and constitute Quebec’s portion of that vast u-shaped region around Hudson Bay known as the Canadian Shield. The Laurentians are famous for their lakes, mountains, and abundant natural resources. They are also home to some of the finest skiing in eastern North America.

According to the Commission de toponymie, the term “Laurentians” was coined by Quebec historian François-Xavier Garneau who, in his Histoire du Canada (1845), wrote “because this mountain chain has no recognized name of its own, we shall call it ‘the Laurentians’, which to us seems quite appropriate for these mountains which follow a direction parallel to the St. Lawrence River.” Garneau’s term apparently gained favour with the public, and came into popular usage in a fairly short time.

For many years, the term “Laurentians” was used in its broadest sense, ie., it was applied to all of that upland region north of the St. Lawrence. Hence, in 1895, the Parc (today Réserve faunique) des Laurentides was carved out of the wilderness north of Quebec City. T. Morris Longstreth, in his 1922 book, The Laurentians: The Hills of the Habitant, defined the region’s boundaries as “the St. Lawrence River on the south, the Ottawa on the west, and the Saguenay toward the east, with an arrangement of mystery and mountains, called the Height of Land, for northern limit.”

In time, however, as the skiing and tourism industries began to develop in the part of the Laurentians northwest of Montreal, the term “Laurentians” began to be associated increasingly with that area alone. Today, this “playground of Montreal” has almost come to monopolize the term.

This narrowing of the definition of “the Laurentians” has been amplified in recent years with the creation in Quebec of administrative regions, tourist regions, and MRCs. The Laurentides Administrative Region and the Laurentides Tourist Region (about 22,000 square km) correspond roughly to the more modern, narrow conception of the Laurentians. The smaller MRC des Laurentides is situated at the heart of the administrative and tourist regions, and includes Mont Tremblant, for many people the quintessential Laurentian mountain. Official definitions notwithstanding, many people in the adjacent regions -- especially the Lanaudière and the Outaouais -- still think of themselves as living in the Laurentians. A perfect example is the Town of Saint-Lin-Laurentides, the birthplace of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which is actually situated within the administrative region of Lanaudière.

References:
Association touristique des Laurentides, Laurentides 2004-2005: Guide touristique officiel, 2004.
Commission de toponymie du Québec, Noms et Lieux du Québec: dictionnaire illustré, 1996.
T. Morris Longstreth, The Laurentians: The Hills of the Habitant, 1922.