Description of Historic Place
The Former Shawinigan Aluminum Smelting Complex National Historic Site of Canada is an early aluminum smelter and hydroelectric plants that supplied it with power. It is located at Shawinigan Falls on the Saint-Maurice River, at the southern end of the City of Shawinigan. The complex consists of 12 brick buildings on a high point of land overlooking the river, a hydroelectric power plant on the riverbank below, and the remnants of the foundations of a second power plant, also adjacent to the river. The buildings were erected between 1899 and 1927, and are in many cases adjoined or linked by passageways. Some buildings have been rehabilitated to serve as galleries and events venues, and are now open to the public. Official recognition refers to all 13 buildings and remnants of the 14th, together with the legal property that surrounded Buildings 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 20 and 22 at the time of designation.
The Former Shawinigan Aluminum Smelting Complex was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2002 because:
- it is the oldest known, extant aluminum smelting complex in North America;
- it represents, especially with Buildings 3 and 7, the birth of production and transformation of aluminum in Canada;
- it represents the introduction of a major industry to Canada based on hydroelectricity and especially electrometallurgy, an advanced technology for the day;
- the establishment of the complex near a source of electrical power, and its design and configuration as an integrated manufacturing complex, characterized the development and implementation of the aluminum industry in Canada.
The heritage value of this site resides in its historical associations as illustrated by the design of the complex, which integrated the manufacturing process with its source of energy and established a Canadian precedent for manufacturing complexes based on hydroelectric energy, and by its extant buildings, erected between 1899 and 1927, which date to a period when the complex was the only one of its type in the country. The complex was the site of several Canadian precedents in aluminum smelting. The first aluminum ingot cast in Canada was produced in Building 7 in 1901. The first aluminum cables in Canada were produced in Building 3 in 1902. The first aluminum conductor cables with steel centres (ACSR-type) in Canada were produced in Building 3 in 1910. The smelter operated until 1945.
The Shawinigan complex was the first aluminum smelter built in Canada. It is connected with the beginning of both the aluminum industry and the manufacture of aluminum products in Canada, as well as the early use of hydroelectric energy to support heavy industry. Aluminum production requires huge amounts of electric power to convert vats of powdery alumina to molten metal. The late 19th-century discovery of this metallurgical technology by the American inventor, Charles Martin Hall, coincided with the newfound ability to produce hydroelectric power from moving water.
At the invitation of the Shawinigan Water and Power Company, Hall and his company, the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (PRC), built the first Canadian aluminum production plant on the Saint-Maurice River, along with a power plant, and therefore successfully married the two technologies. The complex was operated by a subsidiary of PRC, the Northern Aluminum Company Limited, which later became the Aluminum Company of Canada Limited (commonly known as Alcan).
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, November 2001; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2002.
Key elements that relate to the heritage value of this historic site include:
- the siting and orientation of the complex in relation to the Saint-Maurice River, Shawinigan Falls, and the natural topography of the riverbank and upper terrace;
- the siting and orientation of the aluminum smelter on the upper plateau and the hydroelectric facility below in relation to each other;
- the siting and orientation of buildings within the complex, including their relationship to each other, the siting of Buildings 2 and 22 at the front of the complex, and the physical connections between buildings 2 and 22, and buildings 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, and 20;
- the brick construction and classical vocabulary of all buildings;
- the rectangular forms, gable roofs, and generous fenestration of the principal buildings;
- the exterior design details shared by buildings, including bays defined by brick pilasters and corbelled cornices, groupings of segmentally arched windows with tall, narrow, multi-lite glazing, stone sills, large, round-arched door openings with multi-light transoms, and pedimented gable ends with large, multi-light oculus windows;
- the surviving interior fixtures and finishes connected with the original use of buildings within the complex, including the remains of a cable manufacturing device and annealing ovens in Building 3, and a rolling bridge and remains of electrolytic vats in both Building 7 and 15;
- the high elevation and large scale of Building 15 in relation to the other buildings in the complex;
- the surviving original interior finishes in Building 15, including the oiled-wood floor planks, and the brick cladding of the steel columns;
- the domestic scale and two-storey, hipped-roof form of Building 2, its surviving exterior materials and finishes, including the brick walls, an aluminum-tile roof, stone foundation, and cut-stone sills and voussoirs;
- the surviving remnants of the 1899 railway siding, including the original material, siting and orientation;
- the archaeological remains of structures and buildings, notably Buildings 4A (1907), 4C (1928), 4D (1930), 21 (1919), and 27 (1935), as well as the buried pipelines and construction shacks (1899);
- the surviving remains of the foundations of the second power plant (Building 16);
- viewscapes to and from the complex and the river, falls, and adjacent roads, to and from the aluminum smelting facility on the upper terrace, and the hydroelectric facility below;
- Building 1 in its siting on the riverbank at the foot of the plateau, its relationship to the headrace conduit, and to the aluminum smelter on the upper terrace, its rectangular, one-storey, gable-roofed form with a monitor roof, its design and detailing, including groupings of symmetrically placed, round-arched openings with cut-stone sills, monitor roof, square, hipped-roof tower, and the surviving interior and exterior features connected with the production of hydroelectric energy;
- Building 22 in its two-storey, hipped-roof form, neoclassical style evident in its symmetrical façade with regularly placed openings, recessed bays separated by pilasters, the main entrance with a segmental pediment, its dentilled cornice, its exterior detailing and finishes, including brick walls laid in Flemish bond, brick pilasters, stone detailing, aluminum-tile roof, and its stone pediment inscribed with “Aluminum Company of Canada Limited”, its siting and orientation at the front of the site, and its connection to Building 2.