That’s Valley of the Springs, more or less.
“I know that the name change is a very emotional subject,” said Mayor Hugues Grimard, who announced the new name Monday. “But to see all the citizens who came to vote . . . tells me that we managed to rally the population, and that makes me very proud.”
The town was built up around the massive Jeffrey Mine, once the largest opencast chrysotile asbestos mine in the world. The fire-retardant mineral, used in a range of products from brake pads to tanks, was considered white gold.
But the World Health Organization declared asbestos a carcinogen in 1987, the mine’s American owners had declared bankruptcy amid a collapsing market and U.S. worker lawsuits a few years earlier, and the operation shut down for good in 2012. By then, local officials were already casting about for a new name.
“The word ‘Asbestos’ unfortunately does not have a good connotation, particularly in English-speaking circles,” the town explained in a Facebook post last year. More to the point, it was impeding efforts to foster economic ties abroad.
Not that it didn’t draw a certain kind of attention.
In 2010, the town was featured in an episode of the Australian television program “The Gruen Transfer,” in which two advertising executives went head-to-head to create an ad campaign to promote the community.
One of the contestants created a television commercial that spotlighted several cities around the world with names that some might find unpalatable, such as Bendova, Prague and Boring, Oregon.
“Don’t let our name put you off,” the ad said. “Asbestos: Bad Name, Great Destination.”
The next year, “The Daily Show” visited.
“Does ‘asbestos’ mean something different in French than it does in English?” correspondent Aasif Mandvi asked. “Because in English, it means ‘slow, hacking death.’ ”
But changing the name has been a touchy issue. Reviled or not, asbestos was key to the community’s identity.
“As demand for the mineral grew, so did local pride in land and labor: Jeffrey Mine workers believed they were making the world a safer place,” Jessica van Horssen wrote in her 2016 book, “A Town Called Asbestos.”
“The West’s gradual rejection of asbestos because of its negative effects on human health created great confusion for the community,” she wrote. “The impact the terminal decline of the asbestos industry had on the local identity was considerable, and still is.”
The Jeffrey Mine employed thousands of townspeople and enriched Johns-Manville, the American company that bought it in 1918. But as evidence emerged that asbestos causes cancer and other maladies, the town’s boom times turned to busts.
In 1949, thousands of workers walked off the job for a strike that was often violent and lasted several months. Workers wanted a 15-cent raise to $1.00 per hour, more time off and better dust control to prevent asbestosis, a hardening of the lungs.
The strikers drew support from key members of Quebec’s powerful Catholic Church and future prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Some historians say the action helped lay the groundwork for the Quiet Revolution, a period of profound political and social change in the province that saw the rise of secularism and separatism.
Johns-Manville declared bankruptcy in 1982. Asbestos is now banned by nearly 60 countries.
Local officials first proposed a name change in 2006, but the idea received little support and was abandoned. The latest effort was no less contentious. A list of proposed names unveiled this year was resoundingly rebuffed. One of the options was a local species of turtle.
Val-des-Sources was chosen among a field that also included Phénix, after the mythical bird reborn from its ashes, L’Azur-des-Cantons, a nod to the azure color of a local lake, and Jeffrey-sur-le-Lac, for the farmer who founded the mine in the 1870s.
The new name, the town says, “is the fusion of our landscape and our roots.”
It emerged after five days and three rounds of ranked balloting with 51.5 percent of the vote. Residents are to be known as Valsourciens and Valsourciennes.
It now awaits approval by provincial authorities.