Les Majorettes De Shawinigan
MG-4853; 45 vinyl record, release date unknown.
This record came into my possession because of its inclusion in boxes of records doomed otherwise to the dumpster. It doesn’t have the name of any record label, just the listed catalog number, and features the enthusiastic pounding notes of a marching band of majorettes playing woodwinds, brass and percussion.
Their concert consists of Johnny Mercer’s Autumn Leaves, Artie Shaw’s Begin the Beguine, Glenn Miller’s In the Mood and Franz von Suppe’s Poet and Peasant Overture; the tunes might be recognized if the titles aren’t. This recording session may also have been paid for by the school sponsoring the band, if not from donations of folks in the community, with the 45 rpm aimed at families and friends of the musicians.
What drew my interest was not so much the listening experience as the name of Shawinigan, which is a city in the Province of Québec, on a set of natural falls along the Ste. Maurice River. It is 248-miles northwest from our Waterville and 90 miles southwest of Québec City and has been a major industrial hub in the Québec province since the late 1890s, when it attracted the interest of two wealthy entrepreneurs, themselves gentlemen of historical interest and worthy of digression for a couple of paragraphs.
The first, John Edward Aldred (1864-1945), was president of Baltimore Gas and Electric and the owner of a vast estate in Nassau County, Long Island, New York, which is listed as a historical site, because of its exquisitely sculpted grounds by the famous Olmsted brothers (that family’s firm was involved in the design of Acadia National Park and those in the cities of both Portlands, in Maine and Oregon, and in Shawinigan’s own parks). That estate is now a monastery.
The second individual was Hubert Biermans (1864-1953), the Dutch-born director of the Belgo-Canadian Paper and Pulp Company, who also amassed a fortune with his involvement in this firm, based in Brussels, Belgium, and its projects in other parts of the world such as Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo. He owned several homes and spent much time during his last years on the island of Monaco.
Both saw potential in the hydroelectricity that could be generated by the falls and spear-headed the establishment of a power grid infrastructure, through a Montréal firm, for Shawinigan’s economic future. They were proved right. The paper, electrical power, and different chemical and textile industries boomed.
Allowing for downturns during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the gradual dwindling of industry starting in the 1960s through the ‘80s, the quality of life was high, jobs were plentiful and the wages among the best in Canada. Shawinigan was the first Canadian city to see the installation of electrical streetlights.
During the 1950s, there was a proliferation of independently-owned men-only bars and taverns that prevailed until the early ‘80s, when women broke that gender barrier.
Another source of income since the early 1900s has been the city’s hospitality industry due to tourism and it has received major boosts and construction of tourist attractions in the last 30 years from the Canadian government.
I noticed the absence of any books on the city’s own history and on Aldred and Biermans, and hope that some talented historians and/or biographers might get attracted to them as subjects.
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