From the pioneers era to a World-class Resort
Between 1872 and 1890, from Ste Agathe to Mont Laurier, Father Labelle opened twenty-nine counties and twenty parishes, including those of St Jovite and Saint Faustin in 1879. Altogether more than five thousand French speaking people settled in the surrounding river valleys. Life was harsh. Away from their families for eight months of the year, most men were lumbering in the bitter cold of winter and spring logging in dangerous conditions for only a few cents a day!
Despite their often-difficult beginnings, the brave settlers, who were for the most part poor, benefited from the Father's goodness, from his generosity and vision. Father Labelle was not content to see his parishioners survive on meagre crops. He wanted to help them farm their land so as to obtain a good return from their hard labour, through the avant-garde technique of ensilage and the application of fertilizers. He even anticipated the exportation of products to Europe.
Le P'tit train du Nord
In spite of widespread apathy and opposition, Father Labelle's intense lobbying to provincial and federal politicians eventually won out. In the meantime, the poor settlers in Saint Jovite had to wait some twelve years before hearing the first whistle of the P'tit train du Nord train in December of 1892.
In 1907, the Wheeler family, who had emigrated from the United States in 1894, founded Gray Rocks Inn, which soon became a leader in the tourism industry in the Laurentians and throughout Canada. As one of the first year-round resorts, it offered an array of seasonal outdoor sporting activities, introducing the vacation package concept.
In 1924, Gray Rocks Air Service, which later became Wheeler Airline, was granted the first commercial aviation licence in Canada. Located next to the inn, it offered fishing and hunting trips to the interior regions of the North.
Gray Rocks would be the magnet for skiing buffs for years to come. Every weekend during the 1920's and 30's, the ski train, le P'tit Train du Nord, would bring a cavalcade of spirited young men and women seeking the thrills of adventure. Accompanied by the legendary Norwegian Jackrabbit Johannsen, the more adventurous members of the Red Birds Ski Club of Montreal would take off cross-country skiing early in the morning, climb Mont Tremblant on skis and bushwhack down through the forest, returning to the warm fire in the lodge at the end of the day.
In 1936, Joe Ryan, a young eccentric American millionaire from Philadelphia, after climbing to the summit accompanied by Harry Wheeler, the brother of the owner of the Gray Rocks Inn, and by Lowell Thomas, an American journalist, was so taken by the beauty of the majestic Manitonga Soutana "mountain of the spirits" that he vowed to transform the wilderness at the foot of the mountain into a world-class alpine village.
Three years later, thanks to the hard work of the men who had come from the farms, the sawmills and the lumber camps in the Lac Mercier region, to Joe Ryan and Father Deslauriers the dream was realized. In February 1939, Mont Tremblant Lodge was inaugurated and the ski resort proved to be an immediate success, particularly with the upper crust of American and European society.
With the onset of the 1950's booming postwar economy, the automobile and a higher standard of living that allowed for more leisure activity, the Laurentians became the playground for middle-class Montrealers and suburbanites.
The Dream Goes On
The intuition and vision of Father Labelle and Joe Ryan paid off. Today, Mont Tremblant is without a doubt a first-class year-round international vacation destination.
In the town of Brébeuf, the main link between Ottawa and Mont Tremblant region, you can cross the Prud'Homme bridge. This covered bridge, located on the Devil’s river, was built in 1918 and restored in 1996.
In Huberdeau, a village located on the banks of the Red River, one of the main attractions is its famous calvary, whose construction was begun in 1892. This first one was made up of wooden crosses. These crosses later gave way to a magnificent bronze-metal calvary in 1910 as the Montfortains Fathers brought seven feet bronze statues from France. The Grotto of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes is also to be seen.
In Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré, there are two attractions that will catch your attention: Mont Blanc, where in 1935 a wooden ski jump was built to host ski competitions over weekends, and the Millette sugar shack, where for over a 100 years, four generations of the Millette family have continued the tradition of a down-home product…maple syrup.
*This historical essay has been made by Tourism Mont Tremblant
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