Monday, October 19, 2009

The Young and the Restless

TBL Mayoral Candidates Face Young Families

By Frank Nixon
The Sherbrooke Record
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brome Lake mayoral candidates Michel Ayotte, Stanley Neil, Pierre Marchand and Gilles Decelles debated family and youth issues, for over two hours Tuesday night, before an audience of 25, at Centre Lac Brome.

Unlike the speakers’ night event, organized by the Brome Lake Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 7, the mayoral candidates spent most of their time focused on family issues, in a flexible and relaxed format.

The main topics debated were the need for affordable housing for young families, the necessity for high-speed Internet throughout TBL and the need for better playground facilities. The debate, often lively at times, was organized by ‘Brome County Families’ – a TBL advocacy group formed in August.

“One thing is clear – people are fed up of talking to town hall and not getting answers or any action,’” said Ayotte. “I have being proposing, from the beginning, a more pro-active administration. The time for studies and reports is over. It is high time that we move our tails out of the kitchen and form committee and action groups. If I am elected – and I mean this – the door is coming off my office!”

“The Internet has to be pushed at the MRC,” Ayotte continued. “All of the population will have to sign a petition to get the ball rolling. The money is there in Ottawa and in Quebec. We must go after the MRC, and if we do this, I assure you, they will move!

“As for housing, we will see what cheaper lots are available and what housing could be built at a cost that will entice young couples to move here. The present incentive plan is not what we need. If I am elected, we will get it overhauled and we will make it adaptable to our needs.”

Ayotte concluded: “We will not be able to do everything in the first weeks or months but if people give me their trust, I will lead a dynamic town hall – and if the entire population puts their shoulder to the wheel, we can achieve great things.”

Neil made a plea for young families to get involved in their community to achieve concrete results. “It would seem that a lot of parents expect the schools and the towns to be able to provide facilities and activities to keep their children occupied,” said Neil. “The schools and the towns can only help provide these services when they have parents that are willing to help by their getting involved.”

“In the mid 80s, when I was a councillor, I worked very closely with the councillor in charge of recreation to make sure that Knowlton got a community centre and that TBL took over the Fulford building, from the Davis estate, for community activities,” added Neil.

“Community services were created to make sure that if and when parents get actively involved, results can be achieved,” continued Neil. “We were able to get a lot accomplished, because we were involved. It proves that if you get involved and you can make it happen.”

As for high speed Internet, Neil said that it was vital that the town work with the MRC so that it is made available to all TBL residents. “It would help to encourage young business minded entrepreneurs to move and settle in the area,” he said.

Marchand touted his leadership credentials, as his main selling point, to young families.My 20 years successful business experience, my experience working as a community organizer, my knowledge as a lawyer, my communication skills, my experience in managing human resources, my strong sense of community, and my full-time commitment to serve the needs of the people are what I’m offering to you as well as the rest of the population,” said Marchand. “A truck full of responsibilities has been devoted to the municipalities, making municipal politics a completely different world than it was 20 years ago.”

“For the last five years, I accepted to be engaged in the life of a small boy, born from a single mother, as a constant masculine figure and as a good father,” continued Marchand. “This, of course, has changed my life completely. My concerns as a parent are actual and not theoretical; I’m side-by-side with you and share completely your concerns.”

Marchand then turned negative and openly criticized former mayor and councillor, Gilles Decelles. “As you all know, I’m not a person searching for a retirement project,” said Marchand. “I am dynamic and I have the energy and the wish to participate full-time and actively to allow our community to adapt to the realities of today. This requires a leader that will devote his full time in this function – and not be a part-time mayor reachable by cell phone, as Mr. Decelles is offering.

Decelles chose to ignore Marchand’s criticism and proceeded to lay out his plan to attract young families to TBL.

Decelles promised that town hall would work toward making high speed Internet available to all TBL residents. “High-speed Internet is as essential as clean water,” he said.

“The town also needs to be a better place for families to live in Knowlton,” Decelles added. “People are very mobile to get a job but the rest of the environment has to be attractive.”

To make Knowlton more attractive to young families, Decelles proposed a path around Mill Pond “with swings and a playground.” He would also replace the beach house at Douglass Beach and make it the centre for a “linear path network” connecting all the districts within TBL.

As for parks, Decelles said that they need to be accessible to parents, by being “within walking distance.” He also saw the need to “validate the mission of the community centre” to maximize the use of resources, so that the needs of youth and families are met.

As for the “affordable” housing program, launched by town hall in June, Decelles said: “This program is not well thought out. The budget should only be for young families.”

Alex Roslin, a spokesperson for ‘Brome County Families’, said one the group’s initial concerns was the lack of public playgrounds in Knowlton, especially for preschoolers. “This became a bigger concern after Knowlton’s only public playground, at Lions Park, was dismantled last year,” he said.

Roslin added: “More generally, parents are also concerned about the seven per cent decline in the number of households with kids in Lac Brome, according to the last census. While the town has implemented a family policy to try to reverse that, many parents feel that the needs of families often still aren't heard.”

The debate was moderated by West Bolton resident Albert Nerenberg.

Friday, August 28, 2009

West Boltonites Seek Rec Deal With Brome Lake

By Alex Roslin

Sherbrooke Record

August 5, 2009

Elina and her little brother Scott are feeling a little blue this summer. And it’s not because of all the rain.

They’d like to attend the Salamander Summer Day Camp at the Brome Lake community centre.

But they happen to live in West Bolton, and that means higher fees for out-of-towners—$840 for two kids at the full-time summer camp, compared to $240 for locals.

“It was just too much,” says their mom, Alice.

The Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services department charges non-residents the higher fees for the camp and year-round classes because 45 percent of its budget comes from the town of Brome Lake and its taxpayers.

Until last year, many instructors who gave classes at the community centre ignored the policy and charged out-of-towners the lower rate. But that changed last year when the community centre took over billing.

“The extra cost is prohibitive for many of the services in Knowlton,” says another West Bolton mom.

The change prompted some West Bolton families last summer to ask their town to try to work out a deal with Brome Lake that would allow them to pay the same as locals.

West Bolton already has such a deal with the city of Waterloo. It pays Waterloo $2,200 a year to allow residents to use Waterloo’s recreation services at the same rate as residents.

But many West Bolton residents say a deal with Knowlton makes more sense because that’s where they shop, bring kids to daycare and school and see family and friends.

“I don’t really know anyone who goes to Waterloo,” Alice says.

Alex Thibodeau, a dad of two young boys who lives in Knowlton and is building a house in West Bolton, agrees. “West Bolton residents spend almost all their money in Knowlton. We shop at the IGA and the SAQ and get our gas here. This is our town.”

Carrol Kralik, director general of the municipality of West Bolton, sympathizes. She said she contacted Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services last fall to try to work out a deal.

The response was a surprise, she said. Brome Lake asked for a $3,000 fee—36 percent more than Waterloo wanted—and still wanted to charge West Bolton residents the higher rates for services.

In other words, West Boltonites would be paying more, not less, Kralik said. “It didn’t make sense. They came back with an offer that was absolutely ridiculous.”

Brome Lake mayor Richard Wisdom said: “There is no way the town of Brome Lake is going to subsidize West Bolton. If you don’t want to build and do, you’re going to have to pay,” he said.

West Bolton didn’t want to pay the amounts discussed. They know the rates. They have to come up to bat.”

Johanne Morin, executive director of Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services, said she supports making a deal with West Bolton. “I think it would be a great idea. It would make it a lot easier for everybody.”

But she said recreation programs are costly. For example, she said the higher non-resident fees for the summer camp do not cover the program’s full cost.

Kralik said West Bolton is still open to a deal, but not at any cost. “Waterloo is out of the way, but it’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than the extra fee of going to Brome Lake. Their non-resident charges are outrageous.”

The spat has left some parents frustrated. “There has to be a synergy between West Bolton and here,” Thibodeau said.

Another West Bolton parent agreed, saying more participants in classes in Knowlton would allow more classes to be offered for both locals and out-of-towners and more customers for Knowlton businesses. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

TAGS: Eastern Townships, Knowlton, West Bolton

Thanks, But No Thanks, Mayor Tells Pool Donors

By Alex Roslin

Brome County News

July 28, 2009

A wealthy group of benefactors offered to make a gigantic donation to the town of Brome Lake—possibly worth as much as $2.4 million—in order to build a pool near the Knowlton community centre, says mayor Richard Wisdom.

But the town turned down the offer. “I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I said, ‘no,’” Wisdom said. “Pools cost a fortune to maintain. It would be too big a hit for maintenance.”

Wisdom refused to name the donors or to reveal how much the maintenance bill might have come to. He said the donors had gone so far as to draw up plans for both indoor and outdoor pools.

The donation offer was made several months ago, but wasn’t widely publicized at the time, Wisdom said. The decision to reject it was made by “certain councilors, the mayor and community services,” he said.

Johanne Morin, executive director of the Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services department, put the annual operating cost of an outdoor pool at roughly $50,000 to $70,000—or about $9 to $12.50 per town resident. An indoor pool would cost $300,000 to $400,000 for annual upkeep, she said.

User fees and revenue from swimming classes would help defray costs, she said.

Morin said an outdoor pool would cost about $1 to $1.2 million to build or double that for an indoor facility—$2 to $2.4 million.

TAGS: Eastern Townships, Knowlton

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kids Wait for Fun in Knowlton

By Alex Roslin

Brome County News

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One weekday night in early July, the Lions Park was the place to be in Knowlton. Four soccer and baseball games and a rugby practice were under way.

The park was a beehive of activity, except for one little corner—a lone set of swings off to one side. Here, a lineup of toddlers stood waiting for a spot on the lone piece of playground equipment available for the little ones.

The swings are all that’s left after Knowlton’s only public playground for preschoolers was mostly dismantled last year. A single jungle gym was set up at the far end of the park, half a kilometre away, where it now stands by itself behind the community centre—a long walk from the sports fields.

The situation has parents talking about a lack of playground facilities in Knowlton. “I really hate to complain because Knowlton does a lot of good things for families, but giving families things to do is important,” said Shannon McGovern, mother of Jack, 6, and Allie Quinn, 2.

“In past years, it was nice because older kids at the Lions Park could play sports while the younger kids were at the playground. It’s nice to be able to take the whole family.”

Other parents agree. “Now, when there is rugby or soccer in the Lions Park, if people bring little kids, there’s nothing for them to do,” said Sarah Lenz, mother of Phoenix, 4, and Hunter, 3.

Some parents say the lack of playground equipment runs counter to the town’s efforts to attract and retain young families. Brome Lake launched a family policy last December in an attempt to reverse a seven-percent decline in the number of households with kids between 2001 and 2006.

The decline has prompted concern about plummeting school enrollment and “psychosocial problems among youth,” the policy said.

Parents praised the policy, but many said a key problem remains—the town lacks kid-friendly areas where families can meet and hang out, like public playgrounds. They said one spot with a lot of potential, Coldbrook Park, is often underused, in part because it lacks facilities.

“One of the best things the town could do would be to promote a little more child-friendliness in the village,” said Shannon Brown, mom of Jane Marlo, 3. “The very best place where you could see a lot of people meeting is Coldbrook Park.”

Lenz agreed: “They should do more to get families to come downtown and shop. There’s room in the corner of the park for a little playground.”

The problems extend to some events planned in the village, which often don’t include a kids’ component like face-painting or games, Lenz said. “It wouldn’t take much to add a little kids’ fun.”

Last March, the Brome Lake Recreation and Community Services department got the town council’s okay to spend a $45,000 surplus on playground equipment in the Lions Park. But the department says that’s not enough for three new pieces of equipment it is considering adding by year’s end—swings, a climbing apparatus and preschooler games.

However, Jambette Playground Equipment, one of Canada’s leading playground equipment makers, says $40,000 would be enough for swings ($2,400), a climbing apparatus ($12,300) and games like a tether ball, seesaw and a half-dozen animal-themed spring rockers, including delivery, installation, landscaping with kid-friendly woodchips and taxes.

There’d even be money left over for a new jungle gym at the other end of the park, nearer to the sports fields, especially if the town chips in its own employees to reduce landscaping costs.

Parents interested in working on park issues and family events can email

Park Facilities Vital: Officials

Business leaders and other prominent community members say Knowlton needs more kid-friendly facilities if it hopes to attract young families.

Parents are pressing the town to set up more playground facilities where families can meet up.

“Of course such facilities are needed,” said Jacques Lecours, a retired urban planner who is president of Brome Lake’s Rues Principales committee, which is working on revitalizing Knowlton and neighbouring villages. “If the town is serious about attracting young families, it has to develop such facilities.”

Joëlle Chartrand, general manager of the Brome Lake Chamber of Commerce, praised the town’s community services department for its “good work,” but said its new playground behind the community centre is in an area that is “a little less accessible and visible.”

“There is a lack of recreational spaces for young families,” said Pierre Marchand, a business owner in Knowlton who plans to run for mayor in the coming Nov. 1 election. “To encourage young families to come, we need spaces like this.”

Marchand said he grew up in Thetford Mines, where the town “didn’t do much for young families. It’s a town that is dying.”

Marchand called Coldbrook Park the “heart of the village,” but he said it is “underused.” He said a citizens’ committee could be formed to consider ways to do more with the park to make it more of a meeting place for families.

“It should be developed so it will naturally encourage people to go there. This will help the merchants.”

Shannon McGovern, a parent and teacher in Knowlton, said families “do have tremendous support in this town. I’m sure if we did some interesting fundraising [for park equipment], people would make donations. I don’t think it would be a huge undertaking.” - A.R.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Frustration Over Knowlton Park Delays

By Alex Roslin

Brome County News

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bill Watson’s daughters spent so much time at the old playground in the Knowlton Lion’s Park, it was almost a second backyard. The Watsons went there regularly for family outings and to walk their dog Winston. They celebrated birthdays there.

When Bill or his older daughter came to play soccer in the park, his wife could tag along with their younger girl and hang out by the swings and jungle gym.

The Watsons were heartbroken last year when the playground was dismantled as part of a plan to create a new play area behind the Centre Lac Brome community centre half a kilometre away.

“We were really sad when they dismantled it. I told the kids, ‘Don’t worry, they’re going to put it back,’” Watson said.

They’re still waiting.

A year later, the new playground behind the community centre still features only a lone jungle gym in a large open field dotted with several short saplings and a few scattered picnic tables.

Knowlton’s only public playground for preschoolers has no swings, teeter-totter, climbing apparatus, sitting benches or drinking fountain.

And that has parents like Watson frustrated. “It’s ironic that the town has this family policy, but there’s nowhere for kids to go now,” he said.

Some parents are talking about forming a group to seek better park facilities, raise funds for equipment and ask questions during this fall’s municipal election.

“When my daughter and I go to the new playground, there are hardly ever other children there,” said one of the parents, Shannon Brown.

“Having more games would bring more kids. I would love to see swings, trees that give some shade, a wading pool. Every park has swings.”

Back in March, the Lac Brome Recreation and Community Services department got approval from the town council to spend a $45,000 surplus on playground equipment at the new site. But those plans have been delayed by preparations for summer camp and the opening of Douglass Beach, said Johanne Morin, the department’s executive director.

The facilities are also on hold while the department works out a long-term plan for the entire park. The department has a “very rough” plan for the park for the next five years or so, but specific details need to be worked out, Morin said. “We realize it’s a priority for families.”

Morin would like to use the $45,000 for swings, a climbing apparatus or extra equipment for preschoolers, but she said the amount isn’t enough for all three elements.

And it’s still not clear when any of it would go up. “I’m hoping by the end of the year,” Morin said. She said the old playground was dismantled because most of the equipment was out-of-date.

But with another summer well under way, the slow progress is provoking frustration. “By the time they finish the park, our kids will be too old to use it,” Watson says. “If they weren’t going to do something at the new site, why didn’t they just leave the old equipment there?”

Knowlton dad Chris Pagé hopes to be able to contribute in a small way. This weekend, he and another father, Matt Willey, are organizing a ball hockey tournament at the skating rink, with proceeds going to the community centre for the park.

“There is a lot of potential for the park,” Pagé said. “But my daughter is getting to be the age where she is enjoying the park, and it would be nice to see more facilities there for her.”

Parents interested in working on park issues and family events can email

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tasting the Townships

Gastronomic Tourism in Quebec's Eastern Townships



April/May 2009

[Read the original story here]

The man credited with inventing ice cider is taking a leisurely stroll through his grape vines and apple orchard in Quebec's Eastern Townships with a song in his heart and a large Tibetan mastiff named Nanga bounding about nearby.

That's because Christian Barthomeuf is finally creating his dream vineyard here, just outside the charming historic village of Frelighsburg, nestled in the side of Mount Pinnacle, with a stunning view of Vermont's Mount Washington and Cold Hollow Mountain to the south.

It's a quirky project - more like a mission - in which Barthomeuf is going completely green: no pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals; no tractors or heavy equipment to trample the narrow rows of his grapevines. 

Horses pull his Amish-made plow at the Clos Saragnat vineyard, and he carefully dresses each grapevine in a felt coat for the winter. He is even contemplating getting a scythe.

It's all in the pursuit of the noblest, finest, most subtle expression of le terroir - which can be loosely translated as "the taste of the place," or perhaps just "bottled earth." Le terroir, you see, is Barthomeuf's calling. "The vine is a philosophy," he says. "It's not corn."

Barthomeuf's winemaking skills, which in January 2008 earned him the international cider industry's highest award - the annual prize of Spain's Fundación de la Sidra - as well as a commendation from Canada's own House of Commons in April 2008, helped spark a viticultural renaissance in Quebec and have drawn attention to the gastronomic jewels of one of the province's prettiest regions: the Eastern Townships.

This 10,000-square-kilometre area of quaint Loyalist-era villages, horse farms and strawberry patches - just an hour's drive southeast of Montreal - is the kind of place where terroir is in the bones of the locals. The Townships have long cultivated a rich tradition of homestead and artisanal farms that have supplied the prized secret ingredients of many of Montreal's most famous chefs and gourmet kitchens.

Visitors to the Townships are going to the source of a lot of that tasty food and drink. Until recently, many of the most interesting gastronomic attractions here have gotten little outside attention. But that is changing.

In 2003, the Townships inaugurated a 132-kilometre Wine Route that allows visitors to sniff, sip and swirl their way through the region's beautiful landscapes while visiting 11 vineyards. They offer guided visits, tastings and, in some cases, fine dining.

Intersecting with the wine tour is a series of other organized routes, including five "agro-tourism" tours that highlight the Townships' artisanal farmers and Quebec's 4,000-kilometre Green Route, which the National Geographic Society named one of the top 10 bike routes in the world.

A very cool launching pad to explore the Townships and get into the right relaxed zone is the spectacular Missisquoi River Valley. This otherwordly, little-known area sandwiched between the Sutton mountain range and Vermont's Green Mountains is known as Quebec's Little Switzerland.

Townshippers whisper about this magical, quirky valley, which has drawn landscape painters since the 1800s, in reverent tones. "You want to whistle The Sound of Music, its so beautiful here," says local real-estate agent Peter Reindler, who visited from Montreal 30 years ago and never left.

Typical of the offbeat establishments here is the celebrated organic Chapelle Ste. Agnès Vineyard, which Barthomeuf helped set up in 1997. (He still serves as the chapelle's winemaker.) In its first entry in a wine competition in 2006 - London's prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition - the Ste. Agnès vineyard took silver for its 2002 Gewürztraminer Icewine and bronze for its 2002 Vidal Icewine.

The site also features a striking Roman-esque stone chapel that owner Henrietta Antony had built by European stonemasons in recollection of her native Czech Republic.

Lodging in this neck of the woods is available at the Au Diable Vert Mountain Station, located on the south slope of Mount Sutton, one the area's many ski hills. Said to be one of Quebec's best places to watch the autumn colours, this 200-acre establishment won the 2000 Quebec Tourism Grand Prix for outdoor adventure attractions. It features a breathtaking view of the Appalachians, a fine restaurant, its own organic, milk-fed Highland beef farm, workshops on mushrooms and edible plants, guided snowshoe expeditions and lodging that ranges from prospector tents to luxury suites and winterized treehouses for four, tucked up amid the maples.

From the Missisquoi Valley, it's a five-minute drive to one of the Townships' most celebrated bakeries, Abercorn Boulangerie & Croissanterie. Here, just a breath from the U.S. border, load up on fresh croissants, cookies and breads before heading west 15 kilometres to the Townships' ice cider heartland, around Frelighsburg and Dunham.

This is where Barthomeuf helped pioneer the region's viticulture industry, opening his first vineyard in 1970 and, in 1989, inventing the current process for making apple ice cider, a product that has exploded into an international phenomenon. Today, the product accounts for 70 per cent of sales in the Quebec liquor board's local products section, and sales growth nationwide is outpacing that of wine and beer.

Barthomeuf has had a hand in the success of some of the most renowned local vineyards - including Frelighsburg's Domaine Pinnacle, Dunham's Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise and La Face Cachée de la Pomme in Hemmingford.

For Barthomeuf, the secret of the cider invention was listening to the terroir. After growing frustrated with Quebec's poor wine-growing conditions, he had a flash: instead of fighting the terroir, why not enlist the omnipresent apples and even the cold weather to his side?

Ice cider uses late-harvest apples picked only after they have frozen on their trees in winter, in a process similar to that for icewine. The result is "a taste of Quebec in a bottle - warm apple pie and cold winter, all in one," says François Pouliot, founder of La Face Cachée de la Pomme.

Now working for himself with his partner, Louise Dupuis, at his 3,500-vine Clos Saragnat winery, Barthomeuf is trying to get as much of that Quebec taste into the bottle as possible. 

Hence, his decision to stop using tractors to plow the soil between his grapevines - a growing trend in Europe. The idea is to avoid compacting the soil, which kills beneficial microorganisms and affects the flavour of the final product. It's a little more work, but Barthomeuf says its more fun and relaxing.

"I prefer brushing a horse to changing the oil of a tractor," he says.

In Barthomeuf's Clos Saragnat boutique, he lovingly pours out samples for a tasting - an ice cider, a cider aperitif, an icewine and a straw wine (made from grapes left to dry on straw to concentrate their juice). His hard work with the horses has paid off: the elixirs are divine and complex, each one a pageant of the varied possibilities of the gorgeous land all around.


Where to drink, eat and stay


CLOS SARAGNAT: Christian Barthomeuf and his partner, Louise Dupuis's ice cider and icewine outfit near Frelighsburg.

L'ORPAILLEUR: Award-winning Dunham vineyard offers a full range of wines and fine dining on a lovely terrace, featuring renowned local

DOMAINE DES CÔTES D'ARDOISE: Dunham's oldest vineyard also offers fine dining.

TOWNSHIPS WINE ROUTE: Sip your way through the Townships with this 132-kilometre tour of 11 vineyards.


LA GIRONDINE: Where does viticultural legend Christian Barthomeuf like to dine out? At Frelighsburg's La Girondine restaurant, where exacting owners Sylvie Campbell and François Desautels serve duck, lamb and rabbit from their own farm.

CHIAPPUTO ELK FARM: Pick up insanely delicious elk sausages, steaks and pies to prepare yourself for ultimate gastronomic pleasure, or stop in for a bite at the weekend summer barbecues.

CABANE À SUCRE DU PIC BOISE: Wine isn't the only thing that benefits from terroir. Traditional Brigham syrup producer André Pollender will blow you away with his refined maple syrups and related products (butter, vinaigrette, pie)

CAFÉ MASSAWIPPI: This charming little fine-dining establishment in the cute village of North Hatley is a must.



AU DIABLE VERT: Lodgings here in the breathtaking Missisquoi Valley range from luxurious mountain-view suite to winterized tree house and rustic prospector

MANOIR HOVEY: This five-star country inn and restaurant is the only property in Eastern Canada to make the Condé Nast Traveller gold list last