Trois-Rivières a TRès resilient town in transition

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Motorsports are not for everyone. Racing cars, motorcycles, boats and anything else that has a carburetor and exhaust pipe, is offensive to those who value the more aesthetic vehicular competitions like sculling, airplane-gliding and go-cart derbies. 

Some might argue that NASCAR represents all that’s wrong about America, a favourite “sport” of the “basket of deplorables,” as a failed and yet-to-be locked-up presidential candidate once quipped.  

Hence, the Formula E electric car race held in Montreal on the weekend heralds what could well be, in the post-carbon age, the motorized sport of the future. But we’re not there yet; indeed, one of Quebec’s major cities is taking fossil-fueled auto racing to a new level.

Trois-Rivières has long been known to travellers between la grande metropole and la vieille ville as the pit-stop offering bladder relief and fast food at a convenient mid-way point in the journey. The pit-stop metaphor is particularly appropriate in that the city of 134,000 has hosted a Grand Prix race for the past 48 years. 

Fifty years ago, the founders of the event had a vision of a Monaco-style race through the streets of the city at the mouth of the St. Maurice River. Since then most of the big names in Canadian auto racing and many international stars have piloted their souped-up rides along the asphalt and dirt circuit, including the father and son legends Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve. 
 
 
The Amphithéâtre Cogego is an architectural gem perched at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Saint-Maurice Rivers.  Photo courtesy of Tourism Trois-Rivières
 
 

The Grand Prix is actually two weekends worth of races in various categories, beginning this weekend with Rallycross competitions and finishing the following weekend (August 11-13) with the big NASCAR event.  

A special attraction this year will be the chance to see Quebec comedy stalwart Michel Barrette realize his dream of competing in the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières. It wouldn’t be his first time on the track, though. Barrette tells the story of how, in 1979, then freshly discharged from the army and driving a Trans-Am, he showed up at the big race. 

After the event was over  he drove his hot wheels along the track, managing to not slam into city workers taking down the barricades.

The Grand Prix event, in a way, symbolizes the amazing resilience of Trois-Rivières, Canada’s first industrial city, built on a foundry and a lumber trade epitomized by the epic spring log drive down river, steered by the death-defying draveurs. 

There are still three paper mills providing the foundation of the city’s economy, but it has diversified in response to some severe shocks and shifts over the years. The massive Marmen plant, for example, makes parts for wind turbines, and is one of the city’s biggest employers. There are burgeoning clusters of companies in high-tech sectors like life sciences, aeronautics and information technology. The Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières has several important research centres.

In a controversial move that reflects the industrial shift in Trois-Rivières, the city council decided earlier this year to change the name of a riverside boulevard from Avenue des Draveurs to Rue Henri-Audet in honour of the founder of the Cogeco communications empire, which got its start in the city 60 years ago. 

The renaming was an acknowledgement of the millions Cogeco contributes to the city and as a major funder of the spectacular new outdoor amphitheatre which last year attracted some 95,000 people for shows ranging from the Cirque du Soleil to a Celine Dion charity benefit. 

Another testament to the city’s knack for survival has more to do with horse speed than horsepower. The Hippodrome 3R is the province’s sole remaining permanent horse-racing track, located in a stadium built in 1938 by hometown legend Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis. The same year another of his Depression relief projects, the municipal baseball stadium, was inaugurated. Since 2013 it’s been home to the semi-pro Can-am league Les Aigles baseball team.

The city has a clever branding and promotional campaign in which everything is TRès (insert superlative). For a place that could well have wallowed in its one-time status as Canada’s unemployment capital, it’s come a long way. The pit-stop is back on TRack.

For more information, visit Trois-Rivières’ très interesting website at www.tourismetroisrivieres.com/en