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Trip Report Why is Canada’s 2nd Oldest City Forgotten by So Many Guidebooks?

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Blowing the candles out this year on its 375th birthday, I only became aware of this fact from the artistic“375 ans” signs as I approached the city of Trois-Rivières (pop. ca. 120,000) on my Orléans Express bus from Montréal along Autoroute 40. The middle child, second-oldest city, squeezed between the showier stepsisters… the elder 400-year-old statesman Québec City with its walls, government buildings and oh-so-important historic battles and the younger (well, 3rd oldest) Montréal with its brash skyscrapers, heady nightlife and multicultural pizzazz… middle Trois-Rivières is often bypassed altogether as tourists, Canadians and international, whiz by on Autoroute 20 on the opposite shore, completely oblivious or indifferent to its presence. Even though I decided to visit by bus today (for what is incidentally my first visit ever after nearly 12 years of living in close-by Montréal!), Montrealer friends ask (we Montrealers can be such royal snobs sometimes) “why are you going THERE????”.

A day off work, curiosity had taken me along the 1hr.40min. journey along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence to visit the last city I had yet to see within several hours of Montreal. My first impression of the city was… well, in truth, it was the city`s only otherwise uneventful skyscraper… an uneventful rectangular skyscraper except for the fact that it was entirely blue! Well, aside from that building, the historic aspect of Trois-Rivières struck me very quickly with the narrow streets with clapboard homes on either side coming in by bus.

The bus station is located very centrally, with several trips from Montreal and Quebec daily, making a day trip quite do-able. I recommend marching down one block like I did straight to the Infotouriste center on 1457 Notre-Dame. The woman behind the counter was very kind, giving suggestions as to pleasant walks to see historic homes and churches, explaining to me that much of Trois-Rivières was destroyed in a terrible fire in 1908.

One pleasant thing about Trois-Rivières is that not only is the (old) Vieux Trois Rivières part very walkable, but it’s right next to the waterfront, as well as the restaurants, cafes and bars along and nearby Rue des Forges downtown. The recommended historic walk (self-guided) starts on rue des Casernes by the bust of the founder Sieur de Laviolette and then winds along rue des Ursulines where one passes lovely homes like the Manoir de Tonnancour (rebuilt 1795), fascinating churches like the Église St. James (built originally by les Pères Récollets in 1754) ori and the unique white-building flanked centrally-copper-domed Monastère des Ursulines (taken possession by the Ursuline nuns in 1700). The recommended walk passes close by the waterfront, which makes a pleasant detour, as one can see the silver-steepled church across the river at Ste. Angèle de Laval and pass through a park in front of the Ursulines with modern art and informative plaques. Finally, the arrows on the map weave their way past the white stone with red-shutters Manoir Boucher-de-Niverville (built 1729), ending at the magnificent Cathédrale de l’Assomption de Marie, a beautiful green-stained stone house of worship with green-framed stain-glass windows and tall green spire with clock.

After a visit at the Musée Québécois de la Culture Populaire ($8, more for kids I think), as I walked back toward the bus station for the ride back to Montréal, I was impressed by the general liveliness and youthful energy on the streets on rue des Forges and adjacent streets as I stopped at the local chain Morgane Café. It was a windy 5˚C, yet the overwhelmingly smartly dressed francophone crowd were sitting out on the sidewalk on stools in front of bars, sharing pitchers of beer and laughing with their friends. I kind of wished I knew somebody in their group so as to join in with their good times, but was happy enough just to observe.

As the bus pulled out of the station, I could not but think that maybe that the middle child Trois-Rivières was doing just fine… maybe in fact better off, happier being off the tourist map (and better off without snobbish Montrealers passing judgment). A place with history and joie de vivre for those who live there and the mildly curious to go appreciate.

Happy travelling Daniel

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