History and profile of Arvida

A masterpiece of human creative genius, a socio-industrial utopia and an exceptional testimony to the “aluminum civilization”

Arvida, the historical capital of aluminum smelting, is a company town founded by Alcoa. Prized image of the company and a favourite of the multinational’s president, Arthur Vining Davis, from which it obtained its name (Ar-Vi-Da). For almost a century, the aluminum-smelting town received the sustained attention of Alcoa (which became the Aluminum Company of Canada, then Alcan at the dawn of the Second World War and is now part of Rio Tinto Alcan) for its design, planning and transmission. Internationally acclaimed since the 1930s for its architectural, urban and landscape features, Arvida receives both a first and last mention: the first to have gathered knowledge of urban planning at this scale; and the last, since its development marks a pinnacle never again attained.

Plan for the city of Arvida, Hjalmar Ejnar Skougor and Harry Beardslee Brainerd, architect.
Crédit : City of Saguenay
Plan de la ville d'Arvida

Masterpiece of human creative genius through its urban planning, architecture and industrial infrastructures which had a decisive impact on the history of the world in the 20th century, Arvida is the result of decades of worldwide research on industrial housing, new cities and planned industrial towns. Throughout the history of industrialization that left its mark on the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, Arvida is the culmination of socio-industrial utopia, bearing an outstanding testimony for the “aluminum civilization”, innovative, democratic and egalitarian, borrowing from the Saguenay region its terms of possibility and cultural specificity altogether. Outstanding example of the use of natural resources, more specifically of hydroelectricity, that made modern Quebec part of the “borders of America”, Arvida also demonstrates early urban and architectural multicultural cohabitation resulting from international labour mobility. Its distinctive urban and architectural features are maintained in excellent condition thanks to protection and management measures recognized by several organizations and levels of government.

The history of Arvida has thus become the history of  men and workers, of the innovative National Labor Union of the Employees of the Aluminum of Arvida, founded in 1937, of labour disputes and celebrations, of the Arvida anthem composed for the 25th anniversary of the city, and of all those who moved to other aluminum cities all over the world. In the area surrounding the Arvida AP60 smelter, which commemorates a rich and tumultuous history, todays people of Arvida bear witness…

Arthur Vining Davis, most likely accompanied by Willam States Lee, and possibly Andrew Mellon, as well as Edwin Stanton Fickes, walking through the Arvida site near the Pednault farm and Radin Road, one of the first grantees of land that would form the foundation of Arvida.
Crédit : John Heinz History Center (Pittsburgh)

Company name changes for the Arvida plant

Arvida was created by the Aluminum Company of America, better known as Alcoa in the late 1910s. The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, that previously launched the Aluminum Company of America, was represented in Canada as the Northern Aluminum Company, the name under which it operated the first aluminum smelter in Canada, which Pittsburgh had established in Shawinigan in 1899. 

In preparation for the Arvida development, the Aluminum Company of America created the Aluminum Company of Canada from the Northern Aluminum Company in 1925. In 1928 Alcoa created the Canadian company Aluminium Limited to transfer most of its operations outside the United States, the latter then became the owner of the Aluminium Company of Canada in addition to some thirty smaller facilities in a dozen countries, among which are the Saguenay installations, by far the most important. The former Alcoa creation took on the name Alcan in 1945, after the Second World War, which propelled it into the ranks of very large industries on the global scale, confirming Canada's position as an aluminium producing country. 

In 2007, Arvida's parent company was purchased by Rio Tinto and renamed Rio Tinto Alcan. The company still operates the “Arvida plant”, the oldest aluminum production site in Canada, following that of Shawinigan. Today, driven particularly by foretold technological developments, this site is key for Rio Tinto Alcan, the world's leading aluminium producer. 

For conciseness purposes and to avoid confusion, the term “aluminum company” will be used throughout the text.

Vue des usines

Arvida, view of the plant taken from the roof of the Sainte-Thérèse Church, 1933.
Crédit : Rio Tinto Alcan, Saguenay

 

  Official City of Saguenay website