Though the term ‘ghost town’ may cause sudden feelings of creeping terror in even the bravest of explorers, visitors to Val-Jalbert are likely to find fewer ghoulish goings on in this village than its eerie nickname seems to suggest.
Sitting like a snapshot in time, this perfectly preserved town in the picture-perfect Canadian province of Quebec is one of the most fascinating examples of living history you’re likely to find – not just in its own country, but across the continents too.
Once the envy of all its neighbours, Val-Jalbert was a town way ahead of its time. Thanks to foresight and the infrastructure established by its founder (Damase Jalbert, after whom it was re-named in 1913), it became the first in the region to have both running water and electricity, a full quarter of a century before the rest of the territory caught up. For twenty five years, the residents at least earned some right to add an extra bit of swagger to their step.
Unfortunately the futuristic fortunes of the town did not last, and the industry and activity generated by the pulp mill, which had previously brought much prosperity to the people, stalled. One by one, the happy campers began to move out – the general store no longer replenished its stocks, the school bells no longer rang out in the mornings, and the mill slowly ground to a complete stop. By the winter of 1927, the town lay completely abandoned. Only the sounds of the powerful Ouiatchouan Falls broke the silence that fell over this once successful society.
For nearly thirty years Val-Jalbert remained untouched, frozen in its 1920s splendour without a soul around to see it. But instead of falling foul of the elements, much of the village remained standing, sheltered from harm in its nestled position amongst the thick and ever fluctuating forests on the shores of Lac Saint-Jean. A revival by the tourism office in the 1960s saw fresh eyes on the village, and careful restoration of some of the more weather-worn buildings began to take place. All the while, the most meticulous measures were put in place to ensure the seams between past and present were indiscernible.
Today, the village remains – a singularly special example of a heritage site that does not rely on replication, but originality. It does not mirror times gone by, but acts as an actual door to the past. All you need to do is step through.