The pandemic and labor shortages have made life difficult for Quebec’s Villages-Relais, some of which are no longer able to fulfill their mission of offering a variety of services to visitors and road users.
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For example, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, five communes have village relay status, conferred by the Ministère des Transports du Québec. You have a duty to provide Amenities at specific times. The obligatory supply of public toilets, parking lots and gas is fulfilled in most cases. The catering offer between 7.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m. in the low season makes things even more challenging.
The commune of Saint-Fulgence, crossed by Route 172 that connects the Saguenay to the Côte-Nord, closed its last restaurant two years ago. However, it is certified as a relay village.
“We had customers in droves, but with COVID we lost all our employees,” said the restaurant’s former owner Steve Gagnon, who kept his gas station. The labor shortage started earlier and as long as I live I have no plans to open again.
The local mayor, Serge Lemyre, pinned his hopes on a new community café that had just opened. But he is under no illusions that there is currently no viable restaurant project on the table. Elsewhere in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area, hours and days are reduced and restaurant variety is little, if not non-existent.
“This is where it hurts the most, so there will certainly be changes in the coming months in terms of requirements,” said Fédération des Villages-Relais du Québec, director Sylvie Bellerose. We know that even in big cities there are restaurants that are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so it becomes difficult to offer a full service due to the lack of manpower.
The organization therefore saw the need to publish a message on its website to warn road users that “the relay villages and their partner dealers are redoubling their efforts to offer quality services and safe stopping places”. “Convenience stores and petrol stations are open, but schedules may vary,” it said.
The federation, which has more than forty member municipalities, nevertheless notes that the offer has tended to improve since the end of the hygiene measures, but its director believes that motorists and truckers will have no choice but to look to alternatives other than restaurants in the region to turn to future. “More and more convenience stores are offering ready meals or sandwiches so road users can continue to have access to a specific meal service,” confirmed Ms. Bellerose.
The Department of Transport is working to revise the criteria for gaining village relay status due to current conditions, but cannot say when the changes will be made. However, the ministry confirms that the considerations relate in particular to food supply and catering.