There was no gleam or glitter to the natural resources in the Saint-Maurice valley near Trois-Rivieres, Que. Among the lush forests, there were oil deposits and enormous boggy regions of peat. Under that spongy organic mass, another resource was mixed with clay. The dull red colouring gave away the presence of bog iron, inspiring a vibrant industry in New France, lasting 150 years.
Embroiled in war, France needed as much of the element as it could get. While importing iron from Spain and Sweden, a supply from the new colony would relieve the shortage pressure. Surveying the exceptional mineral resources in Quebec by the mid-17th century, French colonial authorities were pleased to issue an order to begin mining the iron ore in 1670.
The next year, Intendant Jean Talon “indeed had 800 tonnes of ore extracted, but many years would go by before any industrial development actually took place,” Parks Canada’s Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site said. Performing through gruelling manual labour, workers excavated the swampy bog iron with shovels and picks, loading the ore into horse-drawn carts.
Another 60 years passed before the King of France granted a permit and a start-up loan to begin iron ore development. In 1733, businessman and Seigneur of Saint-Maurice, Francois Poulin de Francheville, established Compagnie des Forges de Saint-Maurice.
Before he could celebrate any achievements, Francheville died that same year. Under new owner Francois-Etienne Cugnet, the first forge was built in 1736. However, the initial methods used to process bog iron were costly and unprofitable.
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