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Legendary Quebec Climber Jean Sylvain Dies at 82

Quebec climber Hugo Drouin remembers Jean Sylvain with notes of Sylvain’s impressive climbing life. In the early 1950s, Jean Sylvain began climbing in Quebec after his mom got him a book on climbing in the mountains. Like many climbers in the early days, he used hemp ropes and wooden blocks for pro. He then explored more remote areas in Quebec, some of which were the Palisades, Jacques-Cartier, Gros Bonnet, Grands-Jardines and Malbaie River.

Jean Sylvain and Claude Berube in Quebec. Photo Chic Scott
Jean Sylvain and Claude Berube in Quebec. Photo Chic Scott (visit here for more from Scott)

In the Palisades, John established and became president of the Laurentian Climbing Club, which was the first climbing club in eastern Quebec. He was always keen for an adventure, full of charisma and ahead of his time in the climbing world. He would go on to inspire young climbers and organized the construction of the first hut for climbers in Quebec. He also helped develop trails.

In the 1960s, Jean saw Cap Trinity for the first time and decided to establish a big wall-style route up it. With Andre Robert and Pierre Vezina, Jean established the Directissme up the 300-metre wall. It was the first of its kind in Quebec and took 12 days to establish, including two nights on the wall. It was a major ascent that put Quebec on the map for hard multi-pitch climbs.

In the 1970s, Jean and friends began climbing at the Malbaie River walls and he was the first to explore the Cran des Erables. Jean’s generation of climbers used pitons and “old school” climbing techniques, yet they would make big pushes on steep climbs for up to 24 hours. In 1972, Jean and Pierre Vezina would make the first ascent of Montmorency Falls and open the province up to ice climbing.

A few years later, Jean and Eugene Levesque published Parois d’Escalade au Quebec, the first comprehensive climbing guidebook to Quebec. Over 40 years later and the book still serves as a resource to climbers, thanks to its amazing photos and information. Jean moved away from climbing in the 1980s, but maintained his adventurous life with other outdoor activities like paragliding and skiing.