________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


White Rapids.

Pascal Blanchet.
Montreal, PQ: Drawn & Quarterly (Distributed by Raincoast Books), 2007.
156 pp., pbk., $29.95.
ISBN 978-1-897299-24-1.

Subject Headings:
Rapide-Blanc (Québec)-History-Fiction.
Shawinigan Water and Power Company-History-Fiction.
Company towns-Québec (Province)-Rapide-Blanc-History-Fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

*** /4


On that cold December night, the story of Rapide Blanc, named after the white rapids running through a northern stretch of the St. Maurice River, was about to begin …

In the late 1920s, on the top floors of the Shawinigan Water & Power Company’s Montreal headquarters, the village of Rapide Blanc is born. The village, which will be located on a northern expanse of the St. Maurice River, is intended to house the employees of the SW&P Co.’s new dam and power plant. Despite the location’s isolation and its freezing winter temperatures, the SW&P Co. creates a cozy hamlet with pretty houses and many amenities in order to attract workers and their families. A community life develops in Rapide Blanc, and the village’s residents are content with their employment and their living situation. However, with the nationalization of Quebec’s electric power industry, the pastoral situation begins to change, and the lovely village of Rapide Blanc is gradually abandoned.

     White Rapids is a sentimental tale of the birth and death of a community within the span of less than 50 years. Ironically, despite Rapide Blanc’s artificial beginning as a way to lure employees to live in a cold and lonely locale, Blanchet portrays a thriving village life of nuclear families enjoying their leisure time with dancing and outdoor pursuits, as well as stocking up on the latest consumer goods, such as trendy living room furniture and new Chryslers. Nostalgia for the bygone years of the 1950s and the 1960s permeates the book.

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     White Rapids refers to the designs of both Art Deco and Modernism in its beautiful illustrations, which incorporate various tones of browns, oranges, and creams. The retro-inspired appearance of the book and its pages mirrors the decades of the twentieth century in which the story takes place, and bolsters the narrative’s nostalgia for these years.

     Although I found White Rapids to be a lovely and interesting book, its subject matter (i.e., urban planning, economics, et cetera) is dense. As such, the audience may not be grade school students, and so I doubt the usefulness of White Rapids in schools. However, perhaps it might be useful as a resource for studying communities and how they change over time.


Pam Klassen-Dueck is a graduate student in the M.Ed. program at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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