Two Islands in the Saint Lawrence River: One Bridged, One Unbridged
After passing between Québec City and the town of Lévis, where it is just a kilometre across, the Saint Lawrence river opens up suddenly into a large cove, facing Orléans Island (Île d’Orléans). It quickly expands from a 10km to a 20km-wide estuary by the time it reaches the Île aux Coudres ( Hazel Island).Orléans Island was linked to the Québec mainland by a ferry until a bridge was built in 1935, linking it to the North Shore. While Hazel Island has only been linked to the North Shore by a ferry service. Inaugurated in 1930, this connection has impacted significantly on the island’s residents and its overall economic life.
This presents us with an exceptional opportunity for controlled comparative analysis: two neighbouring islands, located in the same geographical region and river estuary, linked to the same mainland at around the same time by two different methods: one by a fixed link, one by a ferry. Both the bridge and the ferry have had an impact on the two respective islands, ushering in a series of changes. Yet, how different has this impact been? This chapter seeks to provide some tangible answers to this key question, looking at life on the two islands before and after the arrival of the bridge to one and the ferry to the other.
In 1931, Marius Barbeau wrote that Orléans Island, once connected to the mainland by a bridge, would not remain an island any more. What is it today, 70 years after its fixed link? Geographically speaking, it remains a piece of land surrounded by water; and, thanks to its suspension bridge, it remains possible to circumnavigate it by boat. However, from a demographic and economic perspective, the Taschereau Bridge has accelerated the rate of change and opened the Orléans space to urbanization. The island has changed. It is no longer a “microcosm of the Old Québec that had miraculously been spared from the ravages of time and progress”. Its population decline in the decades pre-1935 was replaced by a population boom. Nevertheless, its district historic role has somehow spared the island from even more rampant construction and somehow preserved its mythical identity. Its islandness has no doubt contributed to this partial preservation.
Smaller and more isolated, Hazel Island tells a different story. Linked to the continent by a ferry 5 years before the opening of the Taschereau Bridge, the population of the island at first increased; although, more recently, it appears that a ferry link is no longer enough to stem a steady out-migration and overall population decline (see Figure 3). Nevertheless, Île aux Coudres has managed to remain much more distinct than its larger island neighbour. While the bridge of Orléans Island allowed agriculture to become that island’s key industrial activity, the ferry to Hazel Island ushered in a realignment of the other island’s economy towards the service of tourism.
Bridges to islands keep underlining the islandness of territorial space, even in the very same act of eroding that same islandness. A bridge marks a passage to a different environment, hence the difference is not simply removed by the bridge but amplified by it. Meanwhile, the sea channel that continues to separate Hazel Island from the Québec mainland unto this very day remains a concrete obstacle to its islanders who must all face up to the physical, economic and psychological limitations that it imposes. In this sense, both locations studied in this chapter are, and have remained, islands. Orléans Island has however became a continental island; while Hazel Island remains, so far, a maritime island.