Quebec declares former company town Arvida in Saguenay a heritage site
The town got its name from the letters in founder Arthur Vining Davis' name
The Quebec government has recognized the Arvida neighbourhood in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region as a heritage site.
The status protecting the former industrial town — now a historic neighbourhood that falls within the limits of the municipality of Saguenay — was announced Sunday by Quebec Culture Minister Nathalie Roy.
The area, located about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, was founded by Arthur Vining Davis, the U.S.-born head of the Aluminum Company of America, which developed the remote area in the 1920s to welcome employees of the first Alcoa aluminum plant, later known as Alcan.
The name Arvida comes from the first two letters of the first, middle and last names of its founder.
Its distinctive architecture, urban planning and landscaping as well as its historical character led the federal government to declare Arvida a national historic site in 2012.
Lucie K. Morisset, an urban planning professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal and author of a book about the town, said part of that richness is how the town was designed and built. It was an ambitious project constructed in three phases between 1925 and 1950.
"Over 25 years, they constructed over 2,000 homes using 125 different models,'' said Morisset. "They were constructed with technological means quite innovative for the time, which allowed, for example, for the first district in the city of Arvida to build 270 houses in 135 days.''
Arvida was much more than an urban planning and housing project — it was also a societal project built on equality among its residents, Morisset said.
Arvida also has historical significance because it houses an aluminum factory that played a major role in world history as the largest aluminum plant in the world between 1943 and 1975.
"That's where we produced two-thirds of the aluminum that was used in the war effort by the Allies during the Second World War,'' Morisset said.
Josée Bergeron, director of the Arvida History Centre, a virtual museum, said in an interview that she intended to open an actual centre in Arvida in the near future and said the recognition was a long time coming.
"It was a moment we were waiting for,'' Bergeron said.
In 2010, the community set up a committee to pursue the heritage status. Two years later, Parks Canada declared the area a national historic site, calling it a "well-preserved example of a Canadian company town,'' as well as being tied to the growth and development of Canada's aluminum sector.
The previous provincial Liberal government had already begun the process to designate Arvida as a heritage site in 2016.
The City of Saguenay had also hoped the neighbourhood would be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was not chosen from the list of proposals made to the federal government in 2017.
Arvida becomes the 13th heritage site recognized by Quebec, a list that includes Percé in the Gaspé region, Île d'Orléans and Mount Royal.