Sherbrooke | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Sherbrooke, Quebec, incorporated as a city in 1852, population 172,950 (2021 census), 161,323 (2016 census). Located 147 km east of Montreal, Sherbrooke is the principal city of the Eastern Townships. Situated in the heart of a region of lakes and mountains near Mont-Orford provincial park, it was for many years a commercial, industrial and railway centre. During the 1960s it also became a service centre. Sherbrooke is home to the region’s Catholic archdiocese and headquarters of the judicial district of Saint-François.

Settlement and Development

Located on Abenaki land, Sherbrooke was initially known as Ktinékétolékouac or Grandes Fourches (“The Large Forks”). It was the site of a portage at the foot of the falls of the Rivière Magog. The first permanent settlement was established in 1802 when American pioneers from Vermont built several mills. The village took the name of Governor General John Coape Sherbrooke in 1818. The city owes its initial urban growth to industrialization, which occurred in waves from the 1840s. It became a textile centre with the establishment of Canada’s first cotton manufacturing plant in 1844 and a large wool plant in 1867.

The town’s success in the 19th century is due as much to its dynamic anglophone businessmen, who established a regional bank and promoted railways and new industries, as to its francophone population, which supplied much of the industrial manpower.

The development of agriculture and mining in the region also enhanced Sherbrooke's role as a wholesale trade and services centre. Since the 1950s, the city has had difficulty attracting new industry and has experienced a decline in its textile and clothing industries. The founding of Université de Sherbrooke in 1954 and the decentralization of the province's administration have helped restore much of the city's dynamism.


Located at the confluence of the Magog and Saint-François rivers, Sherbrooke resembles a basin, the curved sides of which have become residential areas. After 1950 the urban community expanded along an east-west axis under the polarizing influence of the university and the outlying commercial centres. The city centre, the traditional commercial area, took on a new vitality in the 1970s. Several residential areas near the centre contain predominantly wooden buildings that display 19th-century Victorian and American architecture. The city's many open spaces, a lake located right in town and a mountain offering ski trails, provide an abundant source of outdoor recreation for its citizens.


Because of its fluctuating industrial activity, the city's demographic growth was slow in the 19th century. It had 3,000 inhabitants in 1852, 10,000 in 1891 and over 50,000 in 1951. In the 1970s, the population declined but there has been marginal growth since then. Many people have moved to the city's suburban communities of Fleurimont, Ascot and Rock Forest. The percentage of francophones rose from 50 per cent in 1871 to 92 per cent in 1996. Today, 89.6 per cent of Sherbrooke’s population has French as their mother tongue, according to the 2016 census.


Sherbrooke's industrial base is still dependent upon the clothing, textile and machinery industries, and has expanded into the electronic parts industry. Since the 1960s, however, most of the work force has been involved in the tertiary sectors of commerce, teaching, health services and regional administration.


Sherbrooke is governed by a mayor and councillors representing four wards. From 1890 to 1952 the mayors were alternately francophone and anglophone. Since 1908 the city has had its own electrical system, supplied by several hydroelectric dams.


For nearly a century, Sherbrooke has been a major intersection for railway lines radiating towards Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax, and to Portland and Boston in the United States. Passenger service, which had been offered since 1853 with the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, ceased in 1981 but was offered again between 1985 and 1994. The city is now at the intersection of the Trans-Québec Autoroute, running north towards Trois-Rivières and south to the US, and of the Autoroute des Cantons de l'Est to Montreal. Tramways were the predominant form of urban transportation from 1897 to 1931, when trams were replaced by buses.

Cultural Life

In the heart of a region that attracts many artists, Sherbrooke has an active cultural life. It is home to the university's cultural centre, a symphony orchestra and several theatre groups. It also has a Musée des beaux-arts (1982), the Sherbrooke Museum of Nature and Science (1879) and the Centre d'interprétation de l'histoire de Sherbrooke (1992). Sherbrooke has two daily newspapers, La Tribune (French) and The Record (English).

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