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White Rapids / Rapide Blanc: A History Comic With Something For Everyone
Article by Scott Tingley, March 29, 2008

I used to teach in Northern Saskatchewan in a tiny little fly-in community called, Stony Rapids. It was a hard and wonderful couple of years, and my wife and I learned a lot and got to know about some of things that we had never even thought of before then. One thing I learned about is what happens to a town when the company that built it decides to shut down operations at that site.

Uranium City used to be a thriving Northern town (though never actually a city), but by the time I moved to the region, it had been reduced to a few homes, and few prospects. Apparently, the uranium mine had just shut down all of a sudden years before. The remaining inhabitants were still proud of their town, but it was falling apart around them. They kept things going as well as they could (they had a great curling rink); the hospital was still there, but not for long, and houses were sold for nothing.

White Rapids, by Pascal Blanchet tells the part fact, part fiction tale of a Quebec company town built around the Rapid Blanc dam in the late 20s. One day, four decades later, the decision to automate the dam was made and the idyllic, isolated town in northern Quebec was shut down. Blachet's "retro-inspired" "Art Deco" graphic novel tells this fairly simple story power and emotion. He does such a nice job of showing how ideal life could be there, that you can feel the disappointment and loss the families felt having to leave their isolated paradise. You know what is coming, but the set-up makes the reader hope for a different outcome.

Founded in 1928 in an isolated region of Quebec forest, the town was conceived and constructed by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company to function as a fully-equipped, self-contained living community for workers at the nearby dam and their families. Intended as an incentive to lure workers to the remote and inaccessible region, White Rapids provided its residents with all the luxuries of middle-class modern life in a pastoral setting-until the town was abruptly shut down in 1971, when the company changed hands. (from Drawn and Quarterly.com)

I know that this book is being presented as a graphic novel, and a great example of what a graphic novel can be, but I keep thinking of it as a children's book for adults / young adults . That needs some explaining. This is not some book that looks like a kid's book but is filled with adult language and situations. No, this is an adult / young adult book through and through, but it feels like Blanchet is trying to do for us what great children's book creators do for kids. They create a world in which they draw in the reader - they make that world count while you are reading and they make you want to come back and visit again and again.

White Rapids is, in a way, an all ages book. This is a book you can get for anyone interested in the history of towns, or in various art styles or in good stories. Your grandfather might enjoy it because of all three, but your kids might just like to look at the beautiful pictures. I plan on adding it to my grade three class' graphic novel library (filled only with the very best) and I know that it will be a hit. They may not find the story very interesting (grade three after all), but I know they will enjoy the art.

French teachers: This was originally published in French under the name Rapide Blanc. I consider the English version to be kid-safe, so I would think that the French version would be as well.



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