Guadeloupe, Zurich, Melbourne, Venice: Le Devoir is traveling to Quebec and Ontario this summer! First report in a series on these villages here, whose name is best known for their international cousins.
Venice in Quebec. The name refers to the dolce vita of the Adriatic Sea or the splendor of St. Mark’s Square. The Quebec village, also without a sublime old building and situated rather on the shores of Lake Champlain, turns out to be a mecca of idleness and even hides a real real gondola.
The nickname “Venice of the North” goes to several cities around the world. Stockholm, Bruges and Saint Petersburg share this nickname for the same reason: they were built between canals. Conversely, the village of Venise-en-Québec takes the name but has no waterways as such. A look at the village archive brings the appellation back to 1892. A small post office named “Venice” is recorded near the large bay at the extreme north of Lake Champlain. There was once a stopover between New York and Montreal.
The name “Venice” nevertheless reflects the importance of water for the municipality. Each spring, melting snow floods the swamps bordering its northern shore, and the passage is pierced by streams, dangling the image of Venice for those who have never seen Italy.
Today a low cement wall surrounds the so-called Bay of Venice. The arms of the stream have been filled in with a meter of rock and earth, and the channels have disappeared. We must now venture further inland to see more. But the name stuck.
Like the real Venice, the vitality of Venise-en-Québec village is based on tourism. When Quebec formalized the Italian place name for its brand new community in 1950, it already had an aura of vacation spot.
A certain “Château Blanc” has been in business since 1933 and the balls held there will be the heyday of the first Venetian people. People come from afar to dance to the rhythm of Classels, Claude Blanchard, Ti-Blanc Richard or to laugh at Léo Rivest’s burlesque.
Some rumors link the institution to the underworld. The corner was a hesting spot for smugglers during the Prohibition era in the United States.
A major fire in the “Château de Venise” in 1973 heralded the end of this era. Long, quiet decades followed, until 2005, when Jacques Landry became the new mayor. “The reputation was gone. There was a sloppiness there,” confides the newly retired man to Duty.
With the help of fellow citizens who were just as motivated, Jacques Landry restored the image of his village. He relies on the community’s impressive name to draw attention. For a time he considered replacing this name with “Venise-sur-le-Lac” to “give a boost”, but eventually scrapped the idea.
He kicks out of town certain shady groups that still spawn in the area. He bought the important buildings with others. And to play on the Italian pastiche, he offers his village a gondola. A real gondola.
“The bowl arrived completely pierced. We worked on it for a whole winter with a citizen,” he says. Electric motor, sound, lights and hood were then added to the machine to provide modern fun. “We only play music from Italy,” emphasizes Mr. Landry, who is still very active in his community.
The boat has been in storage for a few years, but thanks to increased tourism, with a little luck it may be possible to see it on the waves of Lake Champlain this summer, assures Mr. Landry. “We’re back in action this year! »
Since there is no gondola, visitors can admire Lake Champlain from a pontoon. John Sauro, a wildlife management biologist, takes us on a ride.
Wedge in his nearly new boat, he boasts of the 90 species of fish found in the lake, including 60 unique to the Quebec side.
The great Richelieu valley is home to almost 300 different bird species, explains the environmentalist. “We’re on the southern limit of the northern species and the northern limit of the southern species,” he explains. This is why the Missisquoi region bears this name, the term meaning “where the waterfowl are found” in Abenaki.
With the canoe in the canals
Like the real Venice, Venise-en-Québec occasionally has its feet in the water, sometimes up to its knees.
The snowy winter and rainy spring of 2011 in particular led to historic flooding. The ancient canals of Venise-en-Québec had reappeared in the middle of the village.
From that sad and tiring spring, some have happier memories. Pranksters had brought out their canoes to get around on the water in the middle of the city.
This premature acqua alta nevertheless forced the mobilization of the army and the entire political class. The damage was repaired, but the bill ran into several million dollars.
The threat of flooding is never far away for local residents. During Duty’s passage in the parish, a huge pond lay in the middle of the city, the result of a murky spring.
Venise-en-Québec is now on the brink of a new renaissance after the pandemic reignited rural appeal.
More than 300 residential transactions were completed last year in the 2,000-inhabitant community, a record. The overwhelming hunger for construction has even forced City Hall to ban the construction of new buildings in certain parts of the city because the sewers and aqueduct are overloaded.
The new mayor, Raymond Paquette, wants to take on the challenge of growth. While it was once necessary to invest in advertising to attract tourists, that era is over, he says, and the popularity of this corner of the country is well established. He now entertains the idea of attracting teleworking families.
Also note the presence of several snowbirds in the area, attracted by the warmth of this community on the southern tip of Quebec. Some even call Venise-en-Québec the “Florida of Quebec”, emphasizes Jacques Landry. “But there is also a Venice in Florida. It must not be confused! »