Once apathetic toward its torrents of power and avalanches of ore Quebec now rides them high and handsome into an industrial boom which may eventually threaten Ontario's leadership. Here’s our country’s biggest untold story

FRED BODSWORTH February 1 1951


Once apathetic toward its torrents of power and avalanches of ore Quebec now rides them high and handsome into an industrial boom which may eventually threaten Ontario's leadership. Here’s our country’s biggest untold story

FRED BODSWORTH February 1 1951



Once apathetic toward its torrents of power and avalanches of ore Quebec now rides them high and handsome into an industrial boom which may eventually threaten Ontario's leadership. Here’s our country’s biggest untold story


LAST NOVEMBER a plane carrying Quebec pilgrims home from Rome crashed in the Alps. Fifty-eight people, including prominent clergy and laity from some 40 Quebec communities, were killed. In devout Quebec it was the biggest news story since VJ-Day. But it stayed in the front-page streamers of Quebec newspapers for only one day. Next day the Iron Ore Company of Canada announced plans for a $200 million financing of the gigantic Quebec-Labrador iron development. That was the day, too, that French mountaineers brought down first details of the air tragedy, but in most Quebec newspapers the plane crash went to the bottom of page one and the iron ore story went up top.

A Montreal newspaperman commented: “When Quebec will read

an industrial story before it reads about a tragedy that killed 10 priests, it’s final proof that industry has assumed a new place in the thinking and lives of Quebec people.”

Quebec, for three centuries indifferent and sometimes undisguisedly antagonistic to industrial expansion, has experienced a dramatic change of heart since the war and is now wooing industry with all the vigor and aggressiveness of a Don Juan sure at last he has found his true love.

And the wooing is meeting phenomenal success. With more electric power than it knows what to do with, a sea route to its very cheap labor and undeveloped ore bodies whose size no one really knows,

Quebec is gathering industries into its lap as effortlessly as a sugar bowl gathers flies.

Starting during the war and speeding up greatly since, heavy industrialization in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Valley has gone on largely unnoticed by the rest of Canada, greatest; untold news story. In Quebec they show you startling figures and unblushingly claim that the St. Lawrence Valley’s industrial boom will do bigger things for Canada’s future than even Alberta’s oil.

Official government statistics, usually two to three years out of date before they see light, show little of the story yet, for many of Quebec’s biggest industrial gains haven’t had time to become statistics. At last report (1948) Ontario, the self-styled banner province, was still well out in front in the industrial race. It was responsible for 48%, of Canada’s total industrial production; Quebec was still a poor second with 31%,. But Quebec is rapidly closing that gap.

Since 1939 the value of Quebec’s manufacturing production has jumped by about four times — Ontario’s by about three times. Between 1939 and 1947, according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Quebec added 3,000 manufacturing establishments while Ontario added 2,000. In the past 10 years Quebec’s mineral production has more than doubled while Ontario’s has increased by about one third. Between August, 1947, and August, 1950, the number of persons employed in Quebec jumped 100,000; in Ontario about 65,000.

Electrical consumption graphically lights Quebec’s industrialization story; kilowatts, not steam, are the bread and butter of Quebec’s new machines. Quebec today is burning up more electricity per capita than any other part of the world. In 1949 it used 6,600 kilowatt hours per person. The runners-up were: Norway, 4,700; British Colum-

bia, 3,320; Ontario, 2,770; Sweden, 2,320, and the U. S., 2,260. The big aluminum smelters of Arvida, 100 miles north of Quebec City, where 25% of the world’s aluminum supply now originates, alone use more than 20 million kilowatt hours per day —more than all domestic and industrial consumption of Montreal and Toronto combined.

Quebec’s gargantuan appetite for electric power has increased by about one billion kilowatt hours over the monthly average of 10 years ago - more than half the increase for all Canada. During the same period, power-short Ontario, by squeezing its own resources and buying heavily from Quebec, has increased its consumption 600 million kilowatt hours per month.

Quebec is now producing nine tenths of all Canadian tobacco products, three quarters of our cotton goods, two thirds of our women’s clothing, silk products, boots and shoes, and more than half of Canada’s men’s clothing, railway rolling stock and pulp and paper. Canada’s aluminum industry, second only to that in the U. S., is confined entirely to Quebec. Our asbestos production, more than 70% of world supply, is entirely Quebec’s baby.

On the top floor of Montreal’s Dominion Square building, rotund and shaggy-browed Valmore Gratton, Montreal’s industrial commissioner for 15 years, leans happily across his big desk and says: “In 10 years 1,500 new manufacturing industries have been established in Montreal alone. In 10 years ships leaving Montreal with cargoes have increased from 2,000 to 5,000 per year. Construction figures show that Montreal is expanding faster than any other North American city except Houston, Texas -and Houston, in the middle of an oil boom, is just a jump ahead of us.

From Carpets to Girdles

“We expect that Montreal, with a population of \]/¿ millions today, will be up to 2,!.f millions in four years. In towns along the St. Lawrence the same thing is happening. Quebec province is becoming the Ruhr of Canada.”

Gratton throws statistics at you by the hour to prove his points—although he doesn’t explain where jam-packed Montreal is going to find beds and lodging for that new three quarters of a million.

During the first six months of 1950 there was more than $50 millions in new construction in Montreal. Other cities which came closest were Toronto ($31 millions) and Edmonton and Vancouver ($18 millions each). Montrealers like best to compare themselves with Toronto. Between 1945 and 1949 Montreal and suburbs burst their seams with a record $668 millions worth of building (Toronto and suburbs: $516 millions). Montreal’s industrial spending on new plants and enlargements for old ones was close to double that for Toronto —$121 millions compared with $69 millions.

In Montreal recently 1 was shown a list of 41 U. S. firms which established branch plants in Quebec between 1946 and 1949, and 22 British firms which established there in the past year and a half. Their products span practically the whole range of 20th-century manufacturing.

A Rochester, N.Y., firm is producing fraudproof cheque machines in Montreal; a Branford, Conn., firm is turning out custom-fitted foundation garments at Waterloo; and a carpet-weaving firm from Kilmarnock, Scotland, recently moved bag, baggage and 20 Scottish-trained weaving instructors into Ste. Thérèse.

And when the U. S. Navy went shopping around last fall with a $12 million order for anti-aircraft guns it was discovered the only plant in the world that could start production without extensive retooling was at Sorel, Que. Sorel got the order and 2,000 new jobs were created.

We can rewrite the geography books right now and stop calling Quebec the pastoral province for the industrial revolution and resultant rapid shift in population from rural to urban areas have caused agriculture to drop from Quebec’s second most important industry in 1938 to its fourth today. Quebec’s social and economic life is changing.

A few miles out of Montreal you might still find (t spinning wheel clicking on a farm porch, but there might also be a combination radio and record layer in the living room. In 1941 Quebec was he second lowest province in number of radios ijper 100 homes; today it’s the highest. It Í3 now second only to British Columbia in the percentage !of homes with electrification. Since 1941 it has I installed more telephones in its homes than any other province.

The story of Quebec’s awakening is like the story of the boy who had no interest in girls until one day he kissed one. He’s been wolfing ever since. Quebec’s experience with industry has been the same.

Once the premier province, where in 1867 the confederation of Canada was conceived, Quebec lagged while more aggressive Ontario snapped up the industrial prizes of new Canada. Quebec boasted of its simple attachment to the soil and eyed Ontario disapprovingly as a province of panting money-grabbers. Ontario could have its cities of smoke-belching chimneys. Quebec would preserve its small towns and rural life, even its oxen and spinning wheels.

Now Trumps Are on the Table

But Quebec couldn’t keep its industrial eggs unhatched forever. Came World War II and the cry for munitions, ships and planes. Quebec had Canada’s biggest chunk of hydro-electric power, Canada’s biggest concentration of well-equipped ocean harbors, its second largest labor force. Industry invaded Quebec and Quebec couldn’t stop it. For two decades Quebec’s anti-industrial feeling had been tottering. The war sent it toppling. Quebec awoke to the fact that in the industrialization scramble it held most of Canada’s trump cards. VE-Day found Quebec determined to play its cards instead of hiding them under the table.

The story of Three Rivers, 95 miles below Montreal, is a pocket edition of the story of Quebec as a whole.

Ten years ago a U. S. synthetic rayon firm, covetously eyeing Three Rivers’ cheap electric

power and seaport advantages, sought permission to establish a branch plant there. Three Rivers’ staid and ultra-conservative city council said “No thanks.” The city had enough industry. More factories would mean more smoke, an invasion of outsiders to fill new jobs, a housing problem and j new costs for additional streets and services. The rayon firm finally established its new plant at Drummondville, 40 miles away.

Other industries were also shooed away from Three Rivers. New aluminum and chemical plants were refused Three Rivers sites and established at Shawinigan Falls, 20 miles up the rollicking, powerspawning St. Maurice from its triple-tongued mouth. Others had to go unwillingly to Montreal.

Five years ago a majority of Three Rivers’ council was still anti-industry. Then the council saw that new administrative problems created by industrialization were peanuts compared with the pulsing prosperity, improved living and healthier, happier people which industry brought with it. Three Rivers pulled down its no trespassing sign and started courting industry.

In five years about 10 new industries have settled in Three Rivers. They include a huge plant producing bulbs and electrical appliances, others turning out abrasives, steel plate for tool manufacturers, aluminum foil, a wide array of textile goods, paper bags and a number of other paper products. More than 2,000 new jobs have been created. Permits for $8 millions worth of new residential and industrial construction were issued in 1950 alone. The population of Three Rivers and its suburb Cap de la Madeleine (50,000 in 1941) is now 70,000.

Today Three Rivers isn’t sitting back and

waiting for industrialists; it’s stepping out and preaching its advantages wherever they will listen. The man who does the preaching is small*, fast-moving Marcel Quellet, the youngest (33) and, many say, most energetic industrial commissioner in Quebec. It’s doubtful if there’s another city in Canada as aggressive in its bid for new industry as Three Rivers, the town which five years ago had all the industries it wanted.

Salesmen With Cities to Sell

Ouellet, who left his farm home near the Maine border at 13 to support himself and wound up wit h a master of commerce degree from Université de Montreal 15 years later, says Quebec’s attitude toward industrialization has changed so fast that even men like himself in the centre of it are amazed.

“Look at industrial commissioner appointments, for example,” he says. “Every sizeable Ontario city has had a commissioner for years to meet industrialists and encourage industrial expansion in his city. But just one year ago there were only two cities in all Quebec which employed industrial commissioners. Montreal has had one for 15 years; Quebec City appointed one in 1945. In the past year seven Quebec towns have employed commissioners—Three Rivers, Sherbrooke, Drummondville, Sorel, Victoriaville, St. Hyacinthe and St. Jerome.”

Officials of the Ontario Department, of Planning and Development sometimes accuse Quebec of using undignified bargain-basement tactics in industrial promotion. One firm recently looked at Ontario for a branch site, then established in Granby, Que., after Granby had offered the first 15 horsepower of electricity free for the next 10 years. Other Quebec towns have snatched industries from Ontario by offering reduced tax rates or free factory sites.

Quebec City a few years ago was as indifferent to industry as Three Rivers. Old Quebec didn’t care to run the risk of losing its historic charm under a forest of new factory chimneys. But today Quebec City has jumped on the industrialization bandwagon and is shouting its advantages just as lustily as its old-time tourist spiel. It’s corraling its share of new industries, and Industrial Commissioner Armand Viau boasts that investments in new Quebec City plants have topped $17 millions during the past three years alone.

New industries include a tile company from France, a tannery and leather plant from Czechoslovakia, several textile mills and a producer of wooden dishes from England.

Quebec is not merely providing profitable sites for branch plants whose profits funnel into head offices in Canada, the U. S. or overseas; it is also cashing in on huge newly discovered natural assets and fathering some industrial mammoths of its own.

The Quebec-Labrador iron venture, which includes the building of a seaport and 360 - mile railroad, ranks among the top two or three new industrial developments in the world today. Half a dozen leading Canadian and U. S. steel firms are quietly pouring $200 millions into the iron-stained red soil of the barren Quebec-Labrador border country and the destiny of an area one quarter the size of continental U. S. is being swiftly transformed. Claims staked to date stretch over an area three times the size of Belgium. With Lake Superior’s Mesabi pits scraping the bottom, Quebec’s iron country promises to become the world’s biggest supplier of ore.

War Clouds Speed Development

Already 400 million tons of highgrade ore have been located by drilling and test pits; no one will guess how much more there might be. Recently drillers at the Burnt Creek camp stepped out of their repair shop a few yards to test a new drill. They began drilling into the rock of their own dooryard and two feet down they struck ore that had not been known to exist. They kept on drilling. At 367 feet they stoppedwith their drill still biting into ore. The average analysis for that hole was 66.3% pure iron.

With war clouds looming no time is being wasted in pushing the QuebecLabrador development to the production stage. Dr. J. A. Retty, one of the men who discovered the ore in 1938 and now chief geologist behind the venture, meets you cordially, then promptly apologizes and goes back to work. He fires answers to questions without looking up from the clutter of colored maps on his desk.

“It is going to cost $200 millions before we can get out a ton of ore . . . Work on the railroad—it’s going to be longer than from Montreal to Toronto, you knowstarted last month . . . We’ll start shipping 10 million tons a year in 1956, maybe 20 million a year later on (present Canadian production is 3]^ million tons a year)

. . . Most of it will be exported to U. S. steel mills . . . Some will go to Britain, some will be used in Canada ...”

But the exciting feature of Quebec’s rapidly unfolding iron story is the fact that the deposit lies just 140 miles from one of the largest undeveloped waterpower sites in the world. At Grand Falls, 200 miles upstream from Goose Bay airport, the Hamilton River drops 209 feet in a five-mile series of rapids. Then, with a roar audible for 20 miles, it makes a final plunge of 302 feet (Niagara, 175 feet). Its power potential is a sizzling 1,250,000 horsepower (Ontario’s four Niagara plants now turn out 930,000 horsepower).

A Metal They Whisper About

Already, before the first ton of ore has been mined, a group of Quebec mining experts and university professors looks to the day when Quebec’s iron ore, instead of feeding U. S. mills, will be processed into sheet steel in Quebec’s own electric smelters, and Quebec, instead of being merely the Ruhr of Canada, would become a Ruhr, a Sheffield and Pittsburgh combined.

Today the men behind Quebec’s iron enterprise scoff at the idea of electric smelting, perhaps because U. S. steel producers are their biggest backers, and U. S. steel men are accustomed to using a greater tonnage of coal and coke than iron ore to produce their steel. “A wild impractical dream!” Dr. Retty calls it. But Sweden is smelting small but commercial batches of steel electrically today—with power much more expensive than Quebec’s.

The visionaries—and Quebec has many—see even a greater Quebec future looming out of a metal so new that few persons today have seen it. The new metal is titanium, a word mentioned so reverently in Quebec that one man jestingly crossed himself when he said it—and was severely castigated by church officials when they heard about it.

Until recently the most useful job that scientists could find for titanium was as a titanium oxide pigment in white paint. Pure titanium metal itself was as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. Scientists could never get it out in the open to see what it was like. Four years ago a method was developed in the U. S. for extracting titanium metal from its ore. It turned out to be a wonder metal.

The newcomer to the metal family is a silvery white product as strong as steel, yet only half steel’s weight. It is virtually rustproof and highly resistant to heat and corrosives.

Military tank designers have found that, in spite of its lightness, titanium resists penetration better than steel of the same thickness. On ships it needs no paint yet shows no trace of saltwater corrosion. Aviation experts foresee a 20% reduction in plane weights through the use of titanium which would more than double an aircraft’s pay load of passengers or bombs. Its heat resistance makes it the perfect metal for high-heat roles such as jet motor parts.

Sorel Has the World’s First

Experts say that in five to 10 years titanium will be filling many of the roles now filled by steel, and doing a better job.

Quebec is sitting on the top of the titanium scramble with the world’s biggest deposit of titanium ore a 200-million-ton mountain of it near Havre St. Pierre, on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 420 miles below Quebec City. Unlike iron ore, which for many years will be exported

in a raw state, much of Quebec's titanium ore will be processed at home.

The first titanium smelter of its type in the world is ready to go into operation at Sorel. It won’t produce the final titanium metal, for this is still being turned out only in experimental quantities of about 40 tons a year in the U. S. But Sorel’s huge electric furnaces will do the first half of the job, removing the metal from the ore, and when U. S. scientists iron out the last of their kinks and titanium metal becomes a commercial product Quebec will have half the processing facilities the new industry will require.

'Phe New York Herald Tribune’s mining expert recently commented: “Because of her large deposits of raw materials and plentiful hydro-electric power, Quebec makers of titanium pigment and metal have a definite advantage over competitors elsewhere.”

But developments as big as the iron and titanium ventures move slowly. They will be responsible for a drastic industrial face-lifting in the future, but the invasion of smaller industries those hundreds of branch plants from other parts of Ganada, the U. S. and Europe is bringing more immediate returns to Quebec today.

What kind of lures are pulling them in?

Sometimes Power Is Free

Queen of them all is electric power. The riveis which tumble off the Lauren1 tians into the St. Lawrence River contain in their white water one third V. the potential hydro power of Canada.

Quebec is already producing more I electricity than the rest of Canada combined—yet its available power is still little more than one third harnessed. Of 19 Canadian hydro plants producing over 150.000 horsepower, 13 are in Quebec, five in Ontario and one in Manitoba. In an age in which most new industry is being harnessed to electricity, water power is becoming to Quebec what coal was to the industrially expanding England and Pennsylvania of a century ago.

Power in Quebec is so cheap that authorities can afford under some circumstances to offer big lumps of it to industries free. In the large central area served by the Shawinigan Water and Power Company it costs .33 of a cent per kilowatt hour and the average for the province is .36 of a cent per kwh. Quebec’s closest competitor anywhere in the world is Ontario where power costs an average of .58 of a cent per kwh. Other provinces and U. S. states: Manitoba, .63; Washington, .74 (lowest U. S. rate); Tennessee, .79; Oregon, Alabama and Montana, 1; British Columbia, 1.01; and so on up the scale to a rate of around four cents per kilowatt hour in Florida and the Dakotas.

Recently an abrasive firm from Worcester, Mass., was looking over sites in Quebec for a Canadian branch plant. Executives produced one month’s hydro bill for their Worcester plant and asked Quebec autho :t:es what the same amount of power would cost in Quebec. The Worcester bill was $2,115. The corresponding bill in Quebec would have been $1,114.

Another abrasive firm from Buffalo had purchased land in the Niagara area, planning eventually to expand to Canada. Two years ago it became necessary to expand at once or lose markets. Ontario couldn’t provide the heavy block of power needed. Expansion was also impossible in New York State. Though executives were anxious to keep their branch plant near Buffalo, they finally located it at Cap de la Madeleine, Que.

Those Clever Quebec Fingers

To cheap power add cheap labor. Average weekly wage in Quebec for June, 1950, was $42.54; in Ontario § $46.37. During the same month individual cities ranked as follows: Windsor, $54.24; Hamilton, $49.50;

I Toronto, $45.98; Vancouver, $45.40; Montreal, $42.96; Quebec City, $37.29.

Stability and high productivity of Quebec’s labor are also potent factors in the attraction of industry to Quebec. Valmore Gratton told me: “Quebec’s

larger families promote labor stability. Strikes, absenteeism and job-changing are less frequent because the man with a large family can’t afford to go into debt. Quebec has many church-supported unions of its own, too, which means the bigger national and international unions are less strongly established here.”

And Quebec’s famed handicrafts are paying off now in higher per capita output in many industrial processes which demand manual dexterity. For generations Quebec sons have designed and made their own home furnishings, daughters have produced hand-woven rugs and curtains. Seventy-five per cent of Canada’s textile industry is located in Quebec solely because the dexterity of Quebec workers assures greater production and greater profits.

During the war a firm from Boston located at Three Rivers to produce small shells. Much of the production process had to be performed by hand and a foreman was sent from Boston to train workers. He told them it would take a year to develop skills and have the plant up to full production.

Man for man, Quebec workers were producing more than experienced Bostonians in two months.

Another attraction piling many new industries into Quebec is the province’s cultural ties with continental Europe. European executives, seeking branch sites in North America, find a language, customs and a general atmosphere similar to those with which they are familiar.

In 1950 a Swiss official of Europe’s largest electrical firm traveled through Canada and the U. S., examining sites for the firm’s first American plant. After several months he reached Montreal last November. Within a week he had chosen a site at St. John, 25 miles south of Montreal. “When I reached Quebec,” he explained, “for the first time in months I felt at home.”

There have been indications in the past that some members of the Roman Catholic clergy have opposed the inroads of industrialization and the possible effect of it upon their flocks. But today some parish priests have acted as part-time industrial commissioners in welcoming new plants to their district.

The Priest Was a Go-getter

One U. S. industrialist had been warned in Ontario of the alleged interferences of Quebec clergy in industrial affairs. He became curious and made a special trip to Quebec to find out.

He went to a small town near Montreal, looked up the priest and asked him bluntly what his attitude would be if the U. S. firm took steps to establish a branch plant there. The priest gave him such a sales talk on the town’s industrial advantages that the industrialist later came back and built his plant. ★