February 24, 2012

The town the colonel built

My wife's grandfather was a newspaperman in Montreal who accumulated a mountain of books during his career.

Several of them came into our possession a while back, including one with the letters WGN embossed importantly on the cover.

That book, published in 1922 to mark the 75th anniversary of the "World's Greatest Newspaper," offers a glowing history of Col. Robert McCormick's fabled Chicago Tribune.

That history covers the great tide of events in America from the lead-up to the Civil War to the aftermath of the Great War, in which the colonel saw battle in France. (It would be 26 years before the WGN ran the unfortunate "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline, with which some of a certain generation would come to remember the WGN.)

This year, there's another WGN-related 75th anniversary being celebrated, in the Quebec town that Col. McCormick built. Baie Comeau, the colonel's vision of a model company town, rose in 1937 from the wilderness on the spectacularly scenic North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.

McCormick's insatiable hunger for newsprint for his growing newspaper empire compelled him to expand his Canadian timber territory and, with the ready agreement of the Quebec government of the day, set up a massive operation on the North Shore to feed a paper mill.

The bustling town, incorporated in 1937, featured all the amenities and facilities, from swimming pool to library, to provide the kind of healthy family life the colonel promoted.

McCormick was a regular visitor to Baie Comeau and had built a sumptuous manor to accommodate him and his entourage. He even arranged to have radio broadcasts from Baie Comeau on his Chicago-based station, WGN, and brought in famous performers.

The colonel was also responsible for much of the industrial expansion on Quebec's North Shore. The massive dam he built in 1951 to supply power to his paper mill begat an aluminium plant, which, in turn, sparked further hydropower development in the region. The construction of the deep-water port necessary for the industrial plants attracted the massive Cargill grain silo installation.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg The story behind the Demuin cannon

    When I go for my morning walk on the Plains of Abraham, scene of a seminal battle in the Seven Years War, I sometimes stop and examine a relic of a subsequent global conflict: a cannon captured in France in the First World War, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    August 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg The friendly Commonwealth Games

    The 20th Commonwealth Games are now underway in Glasgow, Scotland, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Quebec's proliferation of festivals

    Woodstock en Beauce celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Quebec City's English paper a survivor

    In a city stocked with beautiful, interesting and historic buildings, the five-story gem located at perhaps the busiest corner in Old Quebec doesn't attract much attention, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    June 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadian hockey Kings

    As of this writing, the Los Angeles Kings have either already quaffed from their second Stanley Cup or are on the verge of closing out the New York Rangers, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    June 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Remembering the forgotten Empress

    The Titanic gets the most attention, what with the epic drama of the 1912 sinking of an incomparable luxury liner, stocked with celebrities, on its maiden voyage.

    May 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadians among TV conspirators

    Call me weird, paranoid, a child of Watergate and Contragate or just a connoisseur of tense political drama, but my current three favorite TV programs are about conspiracies in America, each in a different era of U.S. history, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Hurons gamble on Quebec

    When we were kids, our parents took us to visit Sainte Marie among the Hurons, the restoration of the settlement French missionaries built in 1639 in what is now central Ontario, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    May 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Big shift in Quebec vote

    Being a man of science, Philippe Couillard, premier-designate of Quebec, chose to use a geological term (though his field is actually medicine) to describe what happened in Monday's election, writes Canadian columnist Peter Black.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo