The Mighty River

Non-fiction book
Author: Claude Villeneuve
Illustrations: Frédéric Back
Published by Les Éditions Québec-Amérique and Radio-Canada, Montreal, 1995, 118 pages
Japanese translation by T. Teraoka, Tuttle-Mori Agency Inc., Tokyo, 2003, 132 pages


"Mighty River" is the literal translation of Magtogoek, the Amerindian name for the St. Lawrence River, which flows out of the Great Lakes and into the Atlantic after its long journey through Ontario and Quebec. This lovely book is a non-fictional development of the ideas in Frédéric Back's international award-winning animated film by the same name. It provides a wealth of information on the St. Lawrence River ecosystem and the history of land settlement along its banks. Richly illustrated by Frédéric Back, it constitutes a valuable tool for anyone who wants to understand the river's complex ecological legacy and learn how to preserve it. Natural science is combined with evocative visuals, and the text is by internationally renowned biologist and science writer Claude Villeneuve, an environmental expert much in demand by organizations such as UNESCO.


For both the book and the film, Frédéric Back was determined that all the information be scientifically accurate, which is why he turned to Claude Villeneuve. The illustrations use some of the sweeping panoramas from the film, but Back also created new illustrations and numerous graphics to communicate as clearly as possible the scientific data that Villeneuve supplied.

Frédéric Back wanted his film to awaken the same kind of response on behalf of the river as The Man Who Planted Trees had done for forest conservation and reforestation. The problem lay in how to tell the amazing story of the St. Lawrence, and the devastating effects of overuse and industry, in only 24 minutes.

The book adds significant new information and a wealth of revelations provided by Claude Villeneuve on the impact of human activity on the well-being of all the creatures that depend on the river for life. It is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of the St. Lawrence and to encourage people to find out more about "the Mighty River," which deserves to be understood, loved and rescued.

The illustrations

The book captures the essential qualities of the film, but the illustrations are completely new. Frédéric Back created large colour drawings to show glaciation, glacial retreat, various land and sea mammals and aquatic species, Aboriginal settlement, the St. Lawrence River drainage basin, and the serious effects of chemical pollutants on all living creatures. The backgrounds are done in dry pastel, and the details in coloured pencil on frosted cel.