Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Que | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Que

Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Que. Vast region to the north of Quebec City whose population of about 300,000 (1991) is concentrated principally in the urban centres of Chicoutimi, Jonquière and Alma. From 1652 to 1842 the territory was set aside for the fur trade.

Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Que

Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Que. Vast region to the north of Quebec City whose population of about 300,000 (1991) is concentrated principally in the urban centres of Chicoutimi, Jonquière and Alma. From 1652 to 1842 the territory was set aside for the fur trade. Only commercial traders and missionaries were authorized to enter it. The missionaries turned to good account the taste and talent that the Natives had for music, and made use of these with the Montagnais at the trading posts at Tadoussac, Chicoutimi and Métabetchouan. The first indication regarding this is given by Jean DeQuen, discoverer of Lac St-Jean, who had 'des cantiques spirituels' sung on May 21, 1652, on the present site of Belle-Rivière (Relations des Jésuites, 1652). In 1683, Thierry Beschefer, head of the missions, wrote: 'At Chicoutimi and Lac St-Jean we have well adorned missions and chapels. It is there that the Montagnais and Algonquins, who are all Christians, assemble [....]. In the evening, they make prayers, singing alternatively with the French who, hearing the chants of the Church, sing in Latin, while the others sing in their own language." (Evocations et témoignages: centenaire du diocèce de Chicoutimi). In the following century, Father Jean-Baptiste de la Brosse taught the Indians of Tadoussac to read, write and solfège and 'this was not without a favourable result; there had not been vespers in the montagnais language for many years; I made sure that they sang in the customary way, with two alternating choirs; they were sung for the first time on the day of Epiphany 1767' (Annales missionis ab anno 1766 of Father de La Brosse, translated by Léo-Paul Hébert). When James McKenzie passed through Tadoussac in 1808, he noticed that the Montagnais were "excellent in the singing of hymns and that those who sang in Church read music sufficiently well to sing properly". (Léo-Paul Hébert, 'La Brosse', DCB vol. 4). The same events are corroborated by François Pilote in 1851.


On 11 June 1838, the first colonists, coming principally from the region of Charlevoix, disembarked at Grande-Baie (now Ville de La Baie). The Saguenay was officially opened to lumbering and agriculture in 1842. The pioneers amused themselves in their leisure time with singing, and often had no other instrument but the violin. At Chicoutimi, as early as 1843, one can go back to the first fiddler, Charles Belleau, who was soon followed by another, John Chaperon. This tradition of fiddlers, of which Louis "Pitou" Boudreault was an example, stayed alive for a long time. The first piano, bought around 1855 by Father Georges McKenzie, was transported on two open boats by native Indians. It was immediately re-sold to Charles Roy of Grande-Baie. There was an organ at St-François-Xavier de Chicoutimi before 1873, an instrument in a bad state of repair, whose pedals would never have worked, and which was called "the pump handle" because of the lever arm of the bellows. The church was elevated to the status of a cathedral on 7 August 1878, but it was only in 1895 that an organ by the Quebec manufacturer Napoléon Déry was installed. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the fire of 1912. As early as 1888 an organ had been bought from Bernard and Allaire of Quebec by the parishioners of Saint-Alphonse de Bagotville.

Geographically isolated, the area depended culturally on the efforts of the religious orders, of the members of the clergy, on a few generous laymen, generally self-taught, or on passing professionals. From the arrival of the Soeurs du Bon Pasteur in Chicoutimi in 1864, one teacher, Mary-Ann O'Reilly, looked after the teaching of piano, and the pupils practised choral singing for half an hour a day. In 1898 an M.T. Jenkins announced 'that he will undertake to train young pupils in the school of Bach, Clementi, Hummel and Kuhlau, who are the masters taught in European conservatories" (Le Progrès du Saguenay, October 20, 1898). In 1877 at the Séminaire de Chicoutimi, Mgr. Victor-Alphonse Huard started a choir, the Union Sainte-Cécile, which still exists in 1991 under the name of the Chorale Ste-Cécile. The first brass band was established in 1879 at the same place. It was heard at the Christmas mass at the cathedral, playing 'La Fille du régiment' for the entry of the bishop, 'God Save the Queen' after Communion, and the 'Chicoutimi Waltz' by David-Odilon Dufresne after the mass. Before 1918 strings were sometimes added to the woodwinds, brass and percussion to make an orchestra, undoubtedly the first in Saguenay. Among the priests who conducted these differents groups, mention should be made of D.-O. Dufresne, also organist at the cathedral (1881-9), David Chénard, Narcisse Desgagnés, Mgr. Jos-Wilbrod Dufour, choir director at the cathedral, Mgr. Albert Tremblay, Herménégilde Fortin, the cathedral organist (1912-43) and professor of piano (1912-55). Fortin taught Romuald Chayer and François Brassard, among others. And finally, Maurice Constantin, born in Roberval in 1896, also conducted the Fanfare de Chicoutimi and became its composer and arranger when the opportunity arose.

The first municipal band was the Union musicale de Chicoutimi, established in 1888 by Ludger Alain. The Fanfare de Chicoutimi, with L. Fyfe at its head, replaced it in 1904. It was reorganized several times between 1932 and 1947, and appeal was often made to the priests of the seminary to conduct it. From 1947 the band found a competent and permanent head in the person of Yvon Gaudreault, who started free lessons for wind instruments. In 1935 the Association. des fanfares amateurs de Saguenay was created, then that of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, in which the bands of Chcoutimi, Saint-Dominique de Jonquière, Kénogami, Port-Alfred, St-Joseph d'Alma, Dolbeau, the Association. catholique de la jeunesse canadienne, the Chevaliers de Colomb, etc, took part.

Moreover, the years 1930 to 1940 witnessed a lively growth in the arts in the Saguenay. In 1932, the first baccalauréat in music in the region was obtained by Anna-Marie Plourde, a student of the nuns of the Bon-Pasteur Order at Jonquière. Between 1935 and 1939 Les Voix du Saguenay, a vocal octet accompanied on the piano by Juliette Riverin, and brought together by Vilmond Fortin for CRCS radio, was often heard. Along with the Marviro Trio, it provided some of the music broadcast daily by this station which, in 1939, became CBJ Radio-Canada. One of the singers, Lucien Ruelland, who had a career as a tenor, studied with Rodolphe Plamondon at Chicoutimi (1938-39) before making his way to Europe. Concerts were presented by the Société musicale de Jonquière (1935-6) where soloists and large and small ensembles alternated under the direction of Herménégilde Poirier. François Brassard took part in them. Starting in 1939, the Société des concerts (Community concerts) of Chicoutimi welcomed many great artists of the time, such as Szigeti, Piatigorsky, Serkin, Novaes, LeBlanc, Malcuzynski, Francescatti, Primrose, the St-Louis Sinfonietta; singers Bidú Sayao, Wilbur Evans, Igor Gorin and Edna Phillips. Active until 1970, the Société also presented in the 1950s, Gérard Souzay, Pierrette Alarie and Léopold Simoneau, Maureen Forrester, the Buffalo Orchestra, the choirs of the Vienna Academy, the Festival Strings of Lucerne, etc. Le Cercle musical de Chicoutimi (1945-65) also presented artists of international standing, as did the Société de concerts d'Arvida, the Société des concerts de Jonquière and even the Société St-Jean-Baptiste, which itself had 2025 members from Chicoutimi to Alma. In the meantime, Arthur LeBlanc gave several recitals at the seminary, at the École normale and elsewhere. At Arvida, Alcan (the Aluminum Co. of Canada) was the financial backer of the band established in this town in 1930; the Arvida Concert Association started a symphony orchestra that gave eight concerts between 1940 and 1943, the year that its conductor, Oscar E. Dahlstrom, left. For the most part the musicians were the anglophone employees of the company, or members of their families. The Fanfare d'Arvida recovered and reorganised the orchestra, which became the Petite symphonie, in the autumn of 1944. Some musicians from Chicoutimi, Jonquière and Kénogami joined the orchestra. Jean Back took up the duties of artistic director of the band and of the Petite symphonie in 1949; subsequently the activities of the latter seemed to diminish in favour of those of the band. Lastly, in 1947, the Arvida Choral Society presented Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance , and several operettas in the following years.

From the 1960s onwards, the municipalities and the governments provided slightly more support to those individuals who devoted themselves to music teaching, which became increasingly structured. The Institut des beaux-arts de Jonquière, established by Pierrette Lamontagne Gaudreault, came into being in 1959. Incorporated in 1961 under the name of the Institut des arts du Saguenay, it consolidated the teaching of music, ballet and the plastic arts. François Brassard, Raoul Jobin, Jean Manny, Jean-Eudes Vaillancourt and Lucien Ruelland taught there. From 1963 Jean Cousineau gave lessons in the Suzuki method and conducted the orchestra. In 1967 the Institut moved to the Centre culturel du Mont-Jacob. At Chicoutimi in 1964, Gabrielle and Yvon Gaudreault established the Société philharmonique de Chicoutimi Inc. consisting of several entities: a band, a choir, an orchestra, a school of music and solfège, and a ballet school. The music school extended and replaced the school established by the Fanfare de Chicoutimi in 1956. The orchestra became the Chicoutimi Symphony Orchestra (1967-76), conducted by Yvon Gaudreault, also founder and artistic director (1967-84) of the Orchestre des jeunes. The revival of music schools, combined with the teaching already in existence in the religious orders, enabled several groups and individuals to distinguish themselves at the time of the finals of the Festivals de musique du Québec and the Canadian Music Competitions.


At Lac-Saint-Jean, which developed a little later than the Saguenay, the first important parish, Hébertville, was settled beginning in 1849 by the Société des comtés de l'Islet et de Kamouraska. Between 1870 and 1910 31 missions or parishes surrounded the lake; by 1901 Roberval had a population of 8000. There, as in the Saguenay, violins and accordions supported the singing in the church while awaiting the arrival of a harmonium. This was the case in Hébertville until 1871. In that year the notary Severin Dumais took to transporting his harmonium to the church in a small wagon. The parish finally bought an instrument in December of 1882. At St-Gédéon, the Conservative member Joseph Girard, choir director, saw to the acquisition of a harmonium in 1882. In the year of his death in 1933, at the age of 80, he introduced the Solesmes chant, and planned the purchase of an Casavant organ for his parish. In his famous novel Maria Chapdelaine, Louis Hémon pays hommage to these humble musicians of the small parishes of Lac-St-Jean in writing: 'Is there anything more beautiful than the midnight mass at St-Coeur-de-Marie, with Yvonne Boily at the harmonium and Pacifique Simard who sings Latin so beautifully!' (Chapter IX).

The Ursulines established themselves at Roberval in 1882, where they immediately started teaching music. At the turn of the 20th century they taught piano, voice, organ, violin, guitar and mandoline. Two Ursuline nuns, the Constantin sisters, have left religious and secular compositions. A band was set up in the same town in 1887, preceeding by several months that of Chicoutimi. At first the clarinetist Joseph-Désiré Marcoux conducted it, and gave free lessons until his tragic death in 1888. His brother Thomas took over from him.

A St-Cecelia choir was formed in 1912 at Alma by Imelda Lavoie. Her sister Cécile replaced her in 1920 and organized evenings of music and drama; the choir often performed outside of the region. Outside of the parish choirs, the establishment of music groups or bands constituted the nucleus of music activities and encouraged instrumental studies. Alma had its band from 1928; it also had a Société des concerts, established in 1944 by a member of the St-Cecelia choir. In 1950 Roberval had its own concert society.


The 1960s witnessed the regionalization of these services. The Camp musical du Lac-St-Jean, established at Métabetchouan by abbé Raymond Tremblay in 1964, also serves the people of the Saguenay. As well, the Conservatoire de Chicoutimi, established in 1967, is also intended for the people of Saguenay, Lac-St-Jean and a part of the north shore. A choice of music and vocational music training was offered at the Lac-St-Jean College in 1970, then at the Alma Cegep starting in 1972. The accessibility of higher education in music for the outlying areas has encouraged the growth of musical life. Thus, from 1971, the Carnaval souvenir de Chicoutimi was enhanced by the production of an operetta, which played to full houses for two weeks. Latterly one could have heard Jean-François Lapointe, Agathe Martel, Claudine Côté, Maureen Browne, etc. The Alma native Normand Laprise began to conduct the orchestra and the musicians in 1978.

There was not a true regional symphony orchestra before 1978. Since then, the Orchestre symphonique du Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean has gathered together some forty musicians under the direction of Jacques Clément. Using a smaller ensemble, the chamber orchestra (an ensemble in the Baroque style, directed by the violinist Jean-François Rivest), has given more than 15 concerts a year in different towns in the area. A formal understanding allows advanced students from the conservatory to take part in it. Since 1989, the orchestra has welcomed a quartet in residence, the Quatuor Alcan (Brett Molzan and Nathalie Camus, violin; François Bertrand, viola; David Ellis, 'cello), sponsored by Alcan. Two other ensembles had already distinguished themselves: the Trio Giguère established in 1984 and bringing together the three sisters - Pascale (violin), Claudine (viola) and Nathalie ('cello) - as well as the Trio Nelligan established in 1985 and made up of Hélène Collerette (violin), Annie Gadbois ('cello) and Sandra Murray (piano). Several choirs also pursue regular activities. In 1984 four music schools in the region alone registered 50 percent of the pupils attending those schools in Quebec subsidized by the MACQ. Besides the organizations already mentioned, the JMC (YMC), the Amis de l'orgue (1984 - ), the Cercle Germaine Lavoie (Hébertville), CBC (Chicoutimi), the Rendez-vous musical de Laterrière, Producson (Jonquière), the Corporation culturelle, artistique et sociale (Alma), as well as the Comité des spectacles de Dolbeau which concerns itself with the production and distribution of music. At Chicoutimi, the Coopérative de développment culturel has managed the shows in the auditorium Dufour since 1974. Furthermore the region was one of the first to experiment with a cooperative formula in this sphere.

Among the musicians born in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean are Cécile Bédard, Pierre-Michel Bédard, Roger Bédard, Carol Bergeron, Josée Blackburn, Denis Bluteau, Roger Boudreault, François Brassard, Claude Brisson, Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux, Jacinthe Couture, Alain Desgagné, Vincent Dionne, Marc Fortier, Hélène Fortin, Geneviève and Raymonde Gagnon, Lucie Gascon, Jean Gaudreault, Sylvie Genest, Jeannine Gobeil-Lebrun, Jean Harvey, Bernard Jean, Marc Laberge, Véronique Lacroix, Jean-François Lapointe, Marcel Lapointe, Jean-François and Dominic Laprise, Guy Latraverse, Robert Lépine, Monique Leyrac, Monique Munger, Claire Ouellet, Claude Ouellet, Gaston Ouellet, Mario Pelchat, Johanne Perron, Louise Portal, Yannick Rieu, Marie-Josée Simard, Dominique and J.-Éric Soucy, Alice Tremblay, Édith Tremblay, Gilles Tremblay, Marc Tremblay, Sylvie Tremblay, Jean-Eudes, Lorraine and Pauline Vaillancourt.

Further Reading