People from Malartic, Quebec, still refer to the long-gone village of Roc-d'Or by the nickname it had before the government razed it: Putainville... or Whoreville in English! Local legend has it that Roc-d'Or was condemned on the orders of Joseph-Albert Renaud, a priest from neighbouring Malartic. Existing between 1936 and 1948, the village's reputation was greatly exaggerated, and more to the point, its gambling dens, speak-easies and bordellos weren't the only reason for destruction its destruction. Alexandre Faucher, an Université de Montréal student of history, has broken an official taboo intended to last 100 years to reveal that it was in fact financial and administrative issues that led to the village's demise. From the area himself, Faucher was only able to come to this conclusion after gaining special access to a 1942 report from Quebec's Ministry of Land and Forests that will still be classified for another 28 years.
The origins of Roc-d'Or
The 1935 opening of a mine attracted a large migration of workers to an area that would become the town of Malartic. A “closed village” was founded, where life was directed by the management of the mine. Only employees could live there – women and children were not admitted, and alcohol was forbidden.
So by 1936, many workers decided to set themselves up on Crown land just north of the mining village. “Like many of the ‘open villages' in the Abitibi region at that time, the social climate in Roc-d'Or was effervescent, but vice was much less present than its terrible nickname would lead you to believe,” Faucher explained. That same year, the province's coalition government, led by Maurice Duplessis, launched a reform of the “Mining Act” to end (amongst other things) the municipal double structures that had enabled the creation of twin towns such as Rouyn (‘open village') and Noranda (‘closed village'). The reform was intended to create a type of hybrid village, and by incorporating Malartic in 1939, the Government saw an opportunity to create a model municipality. The new town housed 2,000 citizens.
Roc-d'Or was growing too, but the 266 homes and businesses that had been built there were illegal as the land still belonged to the government. It was in this context that the Ministry of Lands and Forests ordered an inquiry, leading to the aforementioned report. The inquiry found that the residents of Roc-d'Or had been advised as early as 1936 that they had been illegally occupying Crown land. This had led the inhabitants to request that the village be incorporated. The request was refused, as were the numerous subsequent incorporation applications that they submitted. “This is the point where the true role of Renaud, the parish priest, becomes apparent: even if he was in favour of razing Putainville, he was neither behind the first incorporation refusal nor the government's 1942 decision to undertake an inquiry,” Faucher said.
The 1943 decision to go ahead with the razing was essentially taken for financial reasons: as most residents were poverty struck, the village lacked the sanitation and other basic infrastructure that would be required by incorporation, leaving the province to pick up the bill. The residents of neighbouring Malartic had no interest in helping, and neither did the mine owners, as they suspected Putainville could be a hotbed of unionism!
Whoreville has the last laugh
The deconstruction of Roc-d'Or took place from 1943 to 1948. Houses and other modern buildings were transported to Malartic, but the majority of the town consisted of shacks and was razed. The state helped residents resettle in Malartic. “The decision to favour Malartic, which is constructed directly above a gold deposit, has led to a multitude of problems, as the mining shafts are very shallow and run below the municipality's buildings and streets,” Faucher said.
As a result, 20 Malartic families had to be evacuated in 1981 when an abandoned mine threatened to cave in. More recently, in 2008, the town's southern neighbourhood was razed to permit the mining of a gold deposit. 205 homes, two schools, a retirement home and a preschool were destroyed. “Instead of building Malartic above the gold deposit, if 1939 the government had rather chosen Roc-d'Or, a lot of pain could have been avoided, as much for the miners as for the residents,” Faucher concluded.
The research was concluded as part of Faucher's master thesis, entitled “De l'or et des putes : vie et mort d'un village de squatters en Abitibi”. His work was directed by Professor Denyse Baillargeon of the university's Department of History.
This article is a translation of a document originally published in French by Martin LaSalle and translated by William Raillant-Clark, Office of Communications and Public Relations, Université de Montréal