Sept-Îles is located just above the 50th parallel in the heart of the vast Duplessis region on Québec’s North Shore. Overlooking the ocean, it stretches over 2,182 km2, bordered to the north by the Laurentian Plateau, to the west by Gallix, and to the east by Moisie. The city extends along the edges of a 45 km2 bay whose entrance is protected by a natural rampart made up of seven islands to which Sept-Îles owes its name: Grande Basque, Petite Basque, Corossol, Petite Boule, Grosse Boule, Manowin, and De Quen islets.
Sept-Îles is home to over 26,000 residents, nearly 30,000 including the Innu community. Its main employers are Alouette Aluminum Plant, the Iron Ore Company of Canada, the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre of Sept-Îles (CISSS) and the City of Sept-Îles. Its history has been shaped by the omnipresent and bountiful nature of its territory, the strong-willed and goodhearted people that came to inhabit it as well as the First Nation’s who had done so for millennials.
Sept-Îles’ First Nation is a once-nomadic people who shared and still share a spiritual bond with nature. Through this bond, the natives acquired advanced knowledge of its fauna and flora, knowledge that has managed to remain very much alive to this day. Formerly living from hunting, fishing and berry picking, the Innu’s traditional way of life was a succession of seasonal travels guided by the need for resources in order to survive. Autumn and winter were spent inland hunting games such as the caribou. Each spring, when the snow and ice were gradually retreating, the Innu would then proceed back to the coast using rivers and lakes as their highways. The summer months were a time of gathering during which spiritual rites as well as important public ceremonies were taking place. It was also the time where most of the trade with the Europeans was happening. At all times, preparations were made towards their return inland the next winter, repeating the cycle of the Innu traditional way of life. Today, the Innu community comprises of over 3,000 members under the Uashat mak Mani-Utenam Band.
Famous French explorer Jacques Cartier made the first official record of Sept-Îles’ archipelago on August 19th, 1535. It is also he who named the islands, thus naming the future city. But, according to his accounts, Basque fishermen were already frequent visitors of the islands where they came yearly for whale and cod fishing. Over a hundred years later, acknowledging the region’s vast resources, the French set out to establish a first trading post within the bay. Trade with the natives went on for many generations and even beyond the British Conquest in 1760. Shortly after, the British rebuilt a new post on the same location, which would operate for almost another 150 years. A first important settlement developed at the mouth of the Moisie River in the mid 1900s. The discovery of magnetic sands in the riverbed gave way to the establishment of a first iron smelter on the banks of the Moisie River. When the venture ceased its operations later in the century, the inhabitants resettled on the other side of the river where they turned to fishing.
Fishing became an important regional economic activity in the middle of the 19th century, bringing along a first wave of permanent residents who settled on the banks of the bay’s eastern shore, now Arnaud Avenue. In 1905, the increasing demand for whale oil in Europe attracted Norwegian investors who, made aware of the abundant presence of whales in the region, established a first whale oil plant in the bay.
Simultaneously, another town was gradually emerging on the western part of the municipality. Built by the Clarke brothers, Clarke City developed around the pulp and paper industry and was established to feed the brother’s publishing house in Toronto. The Canadian entrepreneurs were also behind the first hydroelectric dam and railway ever built in the region. For many years, the town provided work for a lot of the region’s inhabitants and far beyond. But in 1967, in the wake of an economic downturn, the town’s pulp and paper mill had to cease its operations and Clark City was incorporated as part of a then-booming Sept-Îles.
Despite these unfortunate endeavours, other economic ventures rapidly followed. Amongst these, the discovery of significant iron ore quantities north of Sept-Îles in the first half of the 20th century led the foundation stone for what was to become the new regional metropolis. At the beginning of the 1950’s, the outline of a town was begging to appear and so did all the conveniences such a town can expect. The emerging city steadily developed until the 1980’s when it was deeply affected by the iron ore crisis. Nevertheless, innovation and resilience ensured the city’s future growth, leading to a more stable and economically diverse city.
Today, Sept-Îles is a city equipped with all the conveniences of modern life, which makes it one of the most important urban centres of the North Shore region. Several regional, provincial and federal institutions have a foothold in the city and many museums recount its rich and diverse epic, while preserving its historical significance.
Sept-Îles is also the meeting point of two cultures, European and Innu, which is growingly and more proudly than ever expressed by both communities. But Sept-Îles is and will always be above all a gateway to the ever-present nature that surrounds it, which seduces an ever-growing number of nature, hunting and fishing enthusiasts in quest of sustainable and adventurous tourism from all over the world.