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(Continued from Part 1)

Ski Train. (Photo - Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club)
Soon after the railways were established, summer visitors began to come by train for the season, and a tourist industry began to take shape in the little towns along the rail lines. Large boarding houses dotted the main streets of villages and farms expanded their living quarters to take in summer visitors. This created prosperity. It also brought more contact with the outside world.

One of the first municipalities to profit from this new trend was Shawbridge, the closest settlement to Montreal. Some of the first organized ski destinations were established in Shawbridge. In 1930, Alex Foster invented the first ski tow at Shawbridge, and downhill skiing was born. Previously, all skiing was what we would call cross-country, brought to Quebec by Scandinavian immigrants and popularized first by McGill academics and Montreal sporting clubs that were almost entirely Anglophone at that time. The best known of these were the Manitou Club at Mont Tremblant, Gray Rocks near St. Jovite, and Laurentian Lodge in Shawbridge, the latter two of which are still in operation. Anyone interested in the skiing history of the Laurentians should visit the Ski Museum in Biggies’ Restaurant in St. Sauveur, which has an interesting and extensive collection.

Mill, Lachute. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)MILLS AND MARKETS
Some secondary industries, such as textile mills, were developed in Lachute, the largest town and administrative center of Argenteuil County, which covers much of the Laurentians. Most of these mills, however, have closed in the past 20 years. Lachute was also a market town and still hosts the venerable Lachute Fair every summer -- a wonderful display of country items, ranging from fancy chickens to teams of Percheron horses, with various events like fiddle contests and demolition derbies. This is possibly the oldest ongoing fair in Canada, having been established by the Argenteuil Agricultural Society in 1826.

When people from Montreal first began coming to the Laurentians for the summer, and later on in the winter as well, they stayed in large boarding houses, usually run by farmwomen with outstanding culinary and managerial skills. Many families started renting homes, as well, though actual summer cottages at this time (c.1900-1920s) were rare. Echo Lake. (Photo - Sandra Stock)The appeal of the many beautiful, clean lakes in the Laurentians enticed people to visit. Early promotional literature about Morin Heights, for example, boasts of “an elevation of over 1200 feet” and “hay fever free air”. The healthful effects of the natural landscape plus opportunities for sports such as swimming and boating encouraged more and more city residents to come north. This health-related aspect of the Laurentians was the reason why two famous hospitals for respiratory diseases were built in Ste. Agathe (Mount Sinai and the Ste. Agathe Chest Hospital) after the First World War, and why Ste. Agathe’s tourist industry grew.

The third phase of development in the Laurentians began around 1960. Until this time, most of the region, especially the more rural areas, had not changed much since the early 1900s. In winter, sleighs were still the usual mode of transport in the backcountry -- if roads were open at all. Many farms had no access to electricity until the 1950s and some cottagers were still using kerosene lamps and “the little house out back”. The country experience was quite different from urban life in Montreal.

The "National Route", L'Annonciation, c.1920s. (Photo - Farfan Collection)MODERN HIGHWAYS
All of this changed with the vast improvement to roads that began to take place at this time, and the completion of the Laurentian Autoroute that supplanted the legendary but slow Route 11. More city families moved to the Laurentians permanently in the 1960s and the economic base became more diverse. The railways were dismantled and the automobile dominated. People actually began to commute to work from the Laurentians to Montreal. This was also the period of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. The education system was updated with secondary education more easily available in the rural areas. The dominance of the Church was loosened and television brought the world to both French- and English- speaking residents.

Ski jumper. (Photo - Skiing Legends...)WORLD CLASS SKIING
The ski hills particularly of St. Sauveur created what we now call a “world class” tourist trade – and not just for the Montreal-based. Everywhere, hotels and later condominiums replaced the older boarding houses and small hotels. With the quicker Autoroute, Montrealers could now come for the day, without having to stay overnight. The two old railway lines were converted to cross-country ski trails in winter and hiking trails in summer, and a few of the old stations were saved or their appearance replicated as tourist information centres.

As the Laurentians enter the 21st century, there has been a rapid growth in population and new housing developments -- especially in the lower regions around Piedmont, St. Sauveur, Ste. Adèle and Morin Heights. The village cores of many towns have lost businesses to suburban-style shopping malls. The future development of many areas has become a major concern. The threat to the natural environment and the loss of the region’s historical and cultural heritage by homogenized global/North American society are profound. If too many people want to live by a lake, they destroy the lake that initially attracted them -- the awful paradox of development.

The Rouge River. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)The Laurentians still retain much of their original natural vegetation (coniferous forest, marshland, lakes and rivers) in generally good condition. The region is an outstandingly beautiful place that has attracted artists and other creative people to it for over a century. This artistic tradition continues, for example, with the well-known 1001 Pots festival in Val David, the August Route des Arts throughout Argenteuil, the music camp at Lake Macdonald, and many other events and activities.

There is also growing interest in the preservation of heritage sites and buildings. Many of the original pioneer square log houses remain, most of them evolved into modern homes. A few surviving barns and mills still dot the landscape. Many rivers have old dams that once provided energy for the mills. Nearly every municipality has a historical society, many of quite recent creation, and there is a strong trend towards preserving and recycling old structures and celebrating our more than 150 winters and summers in our challenging, wonderful land.