White Rapids

Reviewed by Phil Koch

Posted May 10, 2010

The rise and fall of resource-based towns follows a familiar pattern told again and again across the country. In White Rapids, a graphic novel-cum-historical vignette, award-winning cartoonist Pascal Blanchet provides an intimate and entertaining window into the life of one such village as well as the decisions made from afar that led to both its birth and its eventual abandonment.

It took six years for the Shawinigan Water & Power Company to build the power plant and dam that opened in 1934 on the St. Maurice River, as well as the “stately brick houses,” co-op, churches, school, curling club, parks, and tennis courts that comprised the village of Rapide-Blanc, Quebec.

The “elegant little town, on par with Montreal’s most stylish neighbourhoods,” was key to the company’s effort to lure workers to the remote wilderness. With a ski hill and beach nearby, hunting and fishing opportunities all around, and modern conveniences and appliances brought in by train, workers and their families enjoyed an almost idyllic lifestyle.

Blanchet’s illustrations delight the eye and suit the optimistic mood of a bygone era. For, as we now realize, the very forces of modernization can silence the streets of towns like Rapide-Blanc.


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