Backstage

On safari in the Townships

Anthony Wilson-Smith April 6 1998
Backstage

On safari in the Townships

Anthony Wilson-Smith April 6 1998

On safari in the Townships

Backstage

Anthony Wilson-Smith

The great thing about Quebec’s Eastern Townships— until last week—was that it contained one secret that members of the media and politicians of all stripes really did seem to conspire to keep from the Canadian people. Never mind the notion that Montreal is the home of the country’s political decision-makers. There is a superficial case for that: Pierre Trudeau, trian Mulroney, and Finance Minister Paul Martin live there, as do iome of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s most trusted advisers. But he cognoscenti acknowledge that their preferred gathering spot is, n fact, the Townships. And now, with attention focusing on Jean Tarest, the truth will out.

In Montreal, they call the Townships the ilace “where (French-speaking) Outremont neets (English-speaking) Westmount”—and 'oronto and Ottawa, for that matter. Considr some people you might happen upon durig a drive through and alongside the rolling lilis and lakes that dot the Townships. Begin dth Knowlton, a town that media baron Conad Black—who lived there in the 1960s—decribed in his memoir as “a strange mélange f Anglo-patrician Montreal nestled among intage townspeople and virtual hillbillies in a orner of a French province and on the borers of the United States.” Those Montreal efugees include Martin and his wife, Sheila,

To own a refurbished 19th-century farmouse outside town replete with pond and ame livestock. Drive into town and regular asidents include Progressive Conservative enator Michel Cogger and his wife, Erica, as ell as Peter White, the Black friend and busiess associate whose family has lived there >r generations. Former premier Jacques Parizeau has a cottage:

: least once, he and Mordecai Richler, who summers with wife Flomce in the small village of Austin, ended up at lunch together with xxitfour others. Watch for John Cleghorn, CEO of the Royal Bank, alking his two beloved golden retrievers. Not a bad setting for him id Martin to calmly discuss bank mergers.

Skip past the designer discount shops that dominate Knowlton id drive towards Magog, a bland municipality best bypassed. Connue farther south, towards the tiny, perfect village of Georgeville, hich occasionally doubles as a movie set representing a New Engnd town. Tory Senate Leader John Lynch-Staunton and his wife, diana, an accomplished landscape artist, live here, as does John :ott, a longtime editor at Time magazine. In summers, residents ke turns on Sunday mornings driving across the United States irder, 10 minutes away, to pick up copies of the thicker metropolm edition of The New York Times. In Georgeville, they sometimes :e actor Donald Sutherland when he visits his property. When itherland’s son, Kiefer, dated Julia Roberts, her visit caused a stir

even among otherwise jaded locals. Other visitors have included actor Christopher Plummer, a childhood friend of Lynch-Staunton’s, and songwriter Luc Plamondon. Richler often comes by. Boston Bruins’ coach Pat Burns arrives at his cottage on his motorcycle.

Continue farther southeast, with a zig and zag, and you reach Compton, the birthplace of the late Louis Saint-Laurent—the last Liberal prime minister before Chrétien to win back-to-back majority election victories. Continue meandering away from Montreal, and you eventually find North Hatley, which vies with Georgeville for the twin titles of Prettiest Village and Home of the Most Notables per capita. It can be hard to decide which is more awe-inspiring: the cuisine at the four-star restaurants at Hovey Manor and the Auberge Hatley, or the views of Lake Massawippi. Or contemplate the view from a cottage porch over a local Bull’s Head ginger ale, or one of the award-winning products from the McAuslan microbrewery, which originated there.

Charest, after his election in 1984 to the House of Commons, rented a cottage in North Hatley from Sam Pollock, chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays, and uses it as his Townships base. A nearby friend in summer is Tory strategist Jodi White. Author and journalist Graham Fraser owns a place, as does political writer Ron Graham. Fraser’s cottage previously belonged to his father, Blair, who was a much-acclaimed journalist with Maclean’s, and poet Frank Scott. Norman Webster, the onetime editor of The Globe and Mail and The Gazette in Montreal, divides his time between city and town. Lysiane Gagnon, the stylish La Presse columnist, is another visitor.

Then, there is The Record of Sherbrooke, Quebec’s other remaining English-language daily. It survives on a circulation of less than 7,000 with a quality that surpasses its size. Many established names in Canadian journalism have worked maximum hours for minimum wage there before moving on. Most would move back in an instant—if they could afford the pay cut. For years, the editor was Charlie Bury, a bearded bear of a man who is something of a legend for his blunt prose and opinions, high-octane lifestyle, and fierce commitment to journalistic excellence. He is now semiretired, writing columns and occasional editorials. But he still shows up for big stories—such as Charest’s announcement of his candidacy for the Quebec Liberal leadership. Charlie was there with the assembled multitude last week, shouting, apparently in vain, a question as Charest started to leave the stage. Then, Charest realized who it was. “I’ll take one more,” he said with a grin, “because it’s Charlie asking it.”

That is how things work in the Townships, a place where the business, media and political elite meet and greet—and forget that they are not supposed to like one another.

Where but in Quebec’s Eastern Townships would Jacques Parizeau be found lunching with Mordecai Richler?