Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017

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Fall for the Townships

The small town of Knowlton adds a historic touch to the beauty of Quebec's Estrie region

Back in the late '70s when I was a teenager, the Auberge Lakeview Inn in Knowlton, QC, was home to rhythm and blues, a wild place with a pub at the back and a dance room at the front. Music spilled out onto the veranda, where tobacco was the least offensive drug that people smoked.

Now the Auberge Lakeview Inn (50, rue Victoria; tel: 800-661-6183; aubergelakeviewinn.com) is an altogether more chi-chi place. There’s still a pub at the back, where musicians play on weekends and, in the mornings, where inn guests have breakfast. But now there is a pleasant dining room where the dancing used to be, and upstairs there are rooms with firm beds. Drinks can still be had on the veranda, but the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing, no longer raucous and untoward. If you want to get to know Quebec, start here.

In truth, the inn’s eponymous view of Brome Lake was blocked over a century ago by splendid Victorian houses. One, built of stone, was the mayor’s. Another, of painted white clapboard with black trim, is a gallery now. Further down the street are a country general store and a residence that, in its first incarnation, was a Molson’s Bank. Along with the numerous mansions hidden at the far end of lanes behind low rock walls, gates and forest, it is another reminder of this village’s high-born pedigree.

The pretty village of Knowlton (knowltonquebec.ca), now within the town of Lac Brome, sits in the heart of Quebec’s Eastern Townships (known in French as l’Estrie). It cannot help but have a certain Ontario air because of its Anglophone pedigree, and it is one that is evident in the architecture. Knowlton was hard hit by the separatist storm of the '80s and '90s, but has weathered it.

Today, there is a good bookstore here, Brome Lake Books (264 Chemin de Knowlton; tel: 450-242-2242; bromelakebooks.ca). This store and inn is the quiet cultural hub of the writer community here. Also, a number of literary events are staged year-round. One of them, WordFest (knowltonwordfest.blogspot.com) is a bilingual summer festival, that has been reenergized to include workshops, literary cafes and concerts in mid-July.

Heading to the village of Eastman, where in August, Kent Nagano, the ambitious and energetic conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, makes a point of visiting the area for a series of concerts during the nearby Orford Festival (arts-orford.org).

By the Brook

The Townships rival any part of the province of Quebec for beauty. A cycle or a drive through the Bolton Pass or through Mansonville, along the west side of Lac Memphremagog (a roughly 40-kilometre body of water that extends into Vermont), is breathtaking because of the region’s undulating and surprisingly undeveloped valleys and gentle green hills. In winter, this is wonderful family ski country; in summer, villages will surprise you — as Bolton Falls did this writer — with a spa retreat (spabolton.com) built on the banks of a bubbling, fresh brook.

The homes tend to be modest here. Along Route 243, the house that was a rest stop for the mail delivered by pony still stands, a Swiss flag now hanging from the arch of its refurbished front porch. The Canadian writer John Glassco, a contemporary of Morley Callaghan’s and Ernest Hemingway’s in Paris and author of Memoirs of Montparnasse, was one of those who, during the Second World War, delivered it.

This part of the Townships, with its twisting back roads and bootleggers’ paths, has always been a place of pockets, of places outside of time — houses hidden behind roads twisting between the low mountains and villages in which surprising accents persist. You feel poignancy for a culture slowly being erased as it passes into a realm of oral stories that will disappear as the people who speak them do. There are fewer young Anglos to remember the English ones these days. They have moved to Ontario and the United States — but ties are strong and they keep coming back.

Fine feathered fare

Along Lakeside, the pretty street that runs between Chemin de Knowlton, the village’s main street, and Rue Victoria, where the Lakeview Inn is, a little lane leads to the excellent Café Floral (30 Chemin Lakeside, Knowlton; tel: 450-243-0792). The most popular restaurant in Knowlton is Le Relais Restaurant Bistro (286 Chemin Knowlton, Knowlton; tel: 450-242-2232; aubergeknowlton.ca/relais) in the Auberge Knowlton — the other hotel in the village. Like the Lakeview, you can dine on local Brome Lake duck, which is very good and provides the excuse for September’s Canard en Fête (tel:877-242-2870; canardenfete.com), the Duck Festival — have a glass of good local rosé with it, too.

The Canard en Fête takes place during the second and third weekends of September, when the leaves of the surrounding forest are beginning to take on their blazing autumn red and orange hues. It is comprised of food and wine tastings, various street entertainment and, would you believe, a duck race.

During the festival or not, a visit to the Brome Lake Duck Farm (40 Centre Road, Knowlton; tel: 888-956-1977; bromelakeducks.com) on Centre Road is well worth the journey. Stock up on the delicious charcuterie here — duck salami (whole, rather than sliced, is better), smoked slices of duck breast or actual magret, ready-to-serve, or confit to be cooked at home. The duck sausages, a sort of Townships frankfurter, are made with sun-dried tomatoes and fruits. And don’t forget to pick up a tub or two of duck fat — tastier, and apparently healthier, to cook “Potatoes Anna” in than butter.

Even if you yourself don’t eat this criminally good dish, at the very least you’ll want to be in the know and have a comment to make when someone else serves it as we continue to ride out the renaissance of Julia Child’s sinful recipes.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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