Monday, May 30, 2011

Maestro Miklos Tacacs

 Maestro Miklós Takács, one of Glen Sutton's most illustrious residents

By Manfred H. Rieder

This was written in 2011 and Miklos has since died.:

On a rainy Tuesday, Nov. 13, 1877, the church of The Good Shepherd was officially opened in Glen Sutton and served this small community until about a decade ago, when the church was put up for sale. Developers came out of the woodwork and a number of private investors were interested also. In comes the internationally renowned maestro, conductor, teacher, pianist and concert master Miklos Takacs of UQUAM fame and the church sold it to him because he had a dream. He was to restore the beautiful church, use it for musical soirees and give it new life.
Driving up to the church last Thursday, I heard the most beautiful sound  of piano music emanating from within and there he was, Miklos, the 78 year old genius on his more than a century old Boesendorfer grand piano "practicing". "I try to work about two hours every day", he explained. "That is when I am not swimming". Swimming is the exercise of choice for him, he has a pool at his house in the Glen and his place in Montreal also has one. "I swim every day, it keeps me in shape" explains the maestro. Not that he looks out of shape, he is the only 78 year old I know who looks a young 60, his vigor has recently been seen at concerts in Montreal where he still can reign supreme, his baton a threatening or caressing tool, his every measured gesture of movement one of subtlety and grace.
""My wife has friends in the Sutton area and when we came to visit here I just fell in love with the region. This is why we now spend long weekends here because I still have to maintain a place in Montreal, I work with the University of Quebec, I am still the general artistic director of the Philharmonic Society of Montreal and am still conducting on occasion".
Miklos has had an illustrious career and has been given such noble awards as the Governor General's Award of Canada and numerous awards and citations from his native Hungary and other countries he has performed in.
I had the chance to review his interpretation of Liszt's Missa Solemnis, a concert he did with the Orchestre Symphonique de Pe'cs and I was awestruck by the infinite warmth, the depth of feeling, the tonality, he wove into this somewhat under-appreciated massive work by one of Miklos's favorite composers. His interpretation, compared to one other one I own, done by Herbert von Karajan, could be described as a beautiful love poem. Karajan reads it as a newscaster, Miklos interprets it as the lover addressed in the work.
Outside the Boesendorfer piano which a friend of his describes as the "most valuable object in Glen Sutton", there are two other keyboards in the church, one in the old sacristy, a beautiful old upright which Miklos uses for more quiet informal practice. The church itself has the most ingeniously crafted vaulted ceiling, possibly 30 feet high, which encompasses the pews, altar and magnificent stained glass windows in a graceful arch. All the pews are in place and the church looks ready for service with fine chandeliers, sideboards and all the other trimmings of a venerable religious institution in place. But on the walls are the priceless posters of past concerts of Mr. Takacs and his mentors and friends such as the great Zoltan Kodaly, one of Mr. Takacs early teachers, mentors and friends.There is also a beautiful panoramic picture of him in the dome of Salzburg, Austria,
conducting, which almost choked me up, as I was an altar boy in that very church for six years and can identify every corner of the altar region depicted.
It is difficult to describe the life of Miklos Takacs. He has conducted all over the world, his biography can be found on every search engine on the internet and everything mentioned here would just be rehash and unnecessary.
What counts is the genius of this distinguished gentleman  of Glen Sutton, whom a resident neighbor of Mr. Takacs described as "the local Count Dracula, when he walks the village at night, with his white hair shining and his great cape flowing behind him".
Miklos's wife is experiencing some health problems which keeps him glued to her side "just in case we have to go to a hospital", otherwise he would still be out there conducting as he did as recently as in April in Montreal. When I left , he was back at the piano and the gentle notes dropping like raindrops onto a spring pond followed me until the clunk of my car door sadly shut them out.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sutton's Il Duetto Restaurant

25 years of excellence - Sutton's Il Duetto Restaurant

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
"May we have the table next to the Madonna" is an often heard plea at Sutton's Il Duetto italian restaurant. The place is at 25 years of operation, the second oldest family owned restaurant in this bucolic town. Situated on a dirt road next to a horse training facility, it is about four kilometers outside of the village center but is surrounded by rolling hills, beautiful gardens and lots of quite which people truly appreciate.
Owner Sando Meffe' muses upon  the recollection of his life: "I travelled, my father was a chef but I studied architecture, did art graphics and really did not have a good focus of where I was going to do". So, the Montreal native fellin love with Sutton, rented an old farmhouse which he later purchased and started his little italian restaurant which now has seven people working full time. "We raised our own vegetables, goats, chickens and herbs" he explains, "but with the incredible quality of local product now available we gave this up and focussed on the cuisine". His wife Mary Hastings handles the staff, a brother in law is the chef and the staff are either family or friends. "You have to love what you are doing, love the people you are doing it with and make every day as great as it can be, for yourself, youir family and your customers".

At 56, Sandro sometimes wonders what the future may hold. "Sometimes I get scared, I did not even realize until we just talked that it has been 25 years. The years run into each other, but we have so many loyal regular customers that it is still a joy to open up every afternoon at 4:30 in the knowledge that we know almost 75 percent of our guests by first name. I now serve the children and sometimes the grandchildren of my first patrons. They have favorite seats, they might not even use the menu but rather tell me 'you know what we like, feed us"
And feeding them they do. There is a devine Osso Bucco with figs and citrus fruit, a far cry from the boring tomato sauce, there is black pasta which gets its color by beeing cooked in squid ink. There are duck livers sauteed and deglazed in balsamic vinaigrette which can be an appetizer or are served with salad as a main dish.
The other menu items are more traditional italian fare but always with a "twist" and inspired by a long tradition of good home cooking. The Salmon Gravlax is devine, the boneless quail and duck breast in a balsamic bittersweet sauce should win awards and the Piedmont lamb shank in tomato, garlic and rosemary sauce is memorable, as are the pork scallopini with cream and gorgonzola sauce or the spaghettinis with the baby clams.
The "carte" is fixed but has daily specials added on so there is a rich variety of dishes to choose from.
The decor of the place is possibly a bit overwhelming with art, statuary, flowers, mirrors and knicknacks galore but for every European who ever had a grandmother, it feels like home and this is what Sanrdo and his family want the place to be like.

Frelighsburg tourism

Frelighsburg, the hidden gem of the townships

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
The friendly face of this lovely village is  Marianne Blondeau-D' of two people who staff the tourist information center located in a brick former schoolhouse sited next to the town hall. "It's pretty much all about apples  here", she explained. "We have some of the most beautiful orchards and people come from all over to see the blossoms in spring, sample the fresh pressed cider in summer and then return for the fresh apple harvest in late summer. And in fall, some of the most spectacular colors can bee seen all around the village as the ancient maples turn red".

But apples is not all the town has to offer. There are lovely churches, six interesting historic cemetaries, ancient schoolhouses and architecture that goes back almost 200 years. Not to forget: the local market "Tradition" which makes scrumptious smoked salmon outdoors every day.
For years, the town has hosted a big art festival in September but elected not to do it this year. "We have only one main road that goes from Vermont or the Sutton area and leads to Dunham", explained one resident. "Closing it for the two days of the festival where everything happens in the center of the village, has proved to be too big a hassle, as people would have to drive up to 40 miles out of their way to continue their journey, the local restaurants, art galleries and shops get no business as there is no parking allowed and locals wishing to purchase gas or groceries cannot enter the town either" Too bad but understandable.
However, there are three good campgrounds, many kilometers of biking and hiking paths and trails, the local fishing is reported to be good for brook trout and on a rainy day there are art galleries, exquisite restaurants and seasonal activities which can be accessed by contacting the tourist office. Sutton is a 20 minute drive and Dunham is only 15 minutes away, so is the beautiful Selby lake, or if so desired, a tourist can be in the United States in approximately five minutes to check out some of the Vermont scenery.

Tour du Lac Brome

33rd running of the Tour du lac brome scheduled for June 18-19

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
Gilles Decelles, mayor of Knowlton, welcomed organizers and sponsors of the upcoming 33rd running of the Tour du Lac Brome at a conference held at the Lakeview Inn in Knowlton on Tuesday. "This is an important event as it will further our goal to position the town as an outdoor destination, a goal to which I am, and my administration is, wholeheartedly committed to".
This is the first year in the history of the event that it will be held over two days of activities. The race has grown to more than 3,000 participants and with four major events scheduled, it was no longer possible to cram it all into one day. It takes more than 300 local volunteers, the assistance of the Surete de Quebec, the First Responders, the nice people who set up Gatorade and water stations along the route and the folks that have to set up the portable toilets to put this together. Then there is entertainment. This year, local artist Amos Joannides, who has just released his first album, will perform in Lions Park on Sunday June 19 at lunch time.
"This has come a long way", states Abercorn contractor Will Murray,"I was in the first race at age 12 and I did the whole 20 kilometers". He certainly looks fit enough to do it again and be competitive. He expressed what many other former participants say. They have enjoyed the races and many have competed multiple times.
This year will see the traditional two kilometer race for children which happens on Saturday, June 18 at 5:30pm. At 6:00pm starts the five kilometer race throuh the streets of Knowlton and both, the six and twelve  kilometer trail races are scheduled to depart at 6:00 and 6:30 respectively. The trail winds through surrounding fields and forests and has been layed out to give the runners the challenge of moderate hills and flat stretches but a visually inspiring environment as well.

(photo of last year's event by Claude Beliveau)
On Sunday happens "the big one" as at 9:00 am the 20 kilometer race will start at Lions park. This race winds along the shores of Brome lake and competitors from all over Canada have come to race in this one. At 9:00am the ten kilometer race departs from the Knowlton golf course as well and in the afternoon there is a one kilometer race for children called the " Le p'tit marathon Radio Canada" and at the same time happens the famous Merrell Barefoot 1.6 km. race.
For the first time Montreal area participants can avail themselves of a $ 20 (return fare included) bus ticket which will bring them right into the center of Knowlton. Local hotels are pretty well booked up for the event and the restaurants are looking forward to having a good weekend as well but the best thing is that a lot of participants and spectators will have a blast in lovely Knowlton.

Garden centers enjoying a good spring

Garden centers enjoying a good spring

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
"What are you shopping for ?" I asked the charming Danielle Boulay, daughter of the owners of the storied hotel Horizon on Sutton mountain when I encountered her at Paquette's Garden Center in Sutton on Tuesday afternoon. "Everything", she grinned. "My 83 year old dad still does all the gardening around the hotel and he is very proud of his rock gardens and I am just helping him to add to the visual enhancement of our place".
The garden center is extremely busy this thime of year as are all the others, large and small, in Sutton, Glen Sutton, Dunham and Frelighsburg. Paquettes grows approximately one million plants over the winter and many plants on sale now have had to be cultivated over a number of years to display trees, trellised vines and mature perennials which will last for years. The experienced staff can be seen assisting buyers with suggestions about soil and growing conditions, shade and sun, fertilizers and water requirements.
Every year the center adds new and sometimes experimental herbs, flowers and rare grasses which have been tested in their experimental gardens to assure that they have the required hardiness to withstand the townships specific growing conditions.
"Buyers are more selective today" explains one sales woman, "They do not want the same flowers the neighbors grow every year and the competition in the local home gardens is fierce".

There is hardly a home, restaurant, business or apartment balcony in the Sutton area that does not have some of the plants that are grown so caringly six kilometers from town and of course, customers know most of the people who work there and a visit to "the gardens" is a social rite, where buyers possibly meet at least one of their friends or neighbors.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chapelle Ste Agnes

"The "Rapture" did not happen but I went to the garden of eden

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
The much taunted end of the world did not come last week but I personally was given a tour of a vineyard in Glen Sutton which emulates a garden of Eden on earth: The vineyard Chapelle St. Agnes with its magnificent church. I quote from the vineyard's website:
"The Chapelle Ste Agnès was built in 1993 by Henrietta Antony, a Montreal antique dealer. It was Mrs. Antony’s intent to build a timeless structure of great beauty that would elevate the spirit and bring peace to passers-by. The Chapel is built of solid stone in a Romanesque style. It is home to many of Mrs. Antony’s ecclesiastic artifacts, collected over a 45 year period. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Mrs. Antony consecrated the Chapel to Saint Agnès, a thirteenth century Bohemian saint".
One of the vineyards great charms is that this chapel is available for wedding ceremonies. A magnificent recently added reception hall full of eclectic touches is able to seat up to 150 people and even has a full bar.

My generous and urbane host, John Antony, Henrietta's oldest son, is in charge of production and is assisted by his  wife Karena, Both have done post graduate studies at McGill and Karena is an engineer as well. John is full of enthusiasm, opening up pretty much everything I wanted to see. I even got to climb the top of the tower in the reception center, which has one of the most ingenious staircases I have ever encountered, even in the times when I still repaired church clocks as a hobby. Being extremely narrow, each step of the staircase is cut out so that the ascending foot can reach the next rung without obstruction. True engineering magic but so are all the buildings. There are vintage windows set into a wall, a Louis 15 armoire big enough for the White House and throughout the buildings there is a sense of great beauty with colors and designs blending old and new in graceful harmony.
Rapture my foot - I was raptured. Ruptured is also a good word to decribe the feeling when one stands at the stone walled terrace and looks at the vineyard: 18 stone terraces form a magnificent amphitheater whose "stage" is actually a well stocked trout pond.
But back to the vineyard. Currently there are 7,000 vines under cultivation and after the vines are harvested, they come under the care of  Christian Barthomeuf (owner of the vineyard le Clos saragnat in Frelighsburg), one of the pioneers of viticulture in Quebec. He is currently the head winemaker at the winery, which has now entered two of the most prestigious and industry-recognized wine competitions (I. W. S. C. and Decanter) worldwide and has come away with awards each time.

 Photo courtesy
Underneath every great vineyard there is "The Vault" where all the magic happens. To quote the Anthony's again: "
The cellars of the Chapelle Ste Agnès vineyard are a large medieval style underground complex, where temperature and humidity are almost constant year round. The cellars consist of four underground levels, and feature a number of stone barrel and cross vaults that were built by a master stone cutter from France and by vault masters from southern Moravia. In order to build these vaults, dozens of varying and specialized forms needed to be constructed. The end result is a medieval style cellar complex dedicated to the production and storage of our wines.
The vault is four levels deep and contains the barrel vaulted storage and ageing chambers, one passage is guarded by a bronze doorman. There is a room with massive 18th century French table and chairs for twelve, there are tasting rooms and the off-limit to visitors pressing and fermentation rooms. The underground labyrinith is a museum complex in itself with rare antiques, antique stemware and steins. I have never seen anything like this magnificent labor of love before! No wonde the place has been decribed in many articles as "one of the ten most beautiful vineyards in North America".
Back to the chapel: The walls of the Chapelle Ste Agnès were erected by Michel Dodier, a Compagnion and Master Mason from France. Mr. Dodier is an 11th generation mason. The framework of the structure is the work of Thierry Pautard, Compagnion and Master Carpenter. The magnificent slate roof was built by Marc Guillemjouan, Master Slate Worker. He used specialized antique tools to shape the fish scale rows of slate. The paving stones which lead to the Chapel were unearthed by an excavator in Old Montreal, and date to the founding of the City in the 17th century.
The main doors of the Chapel once led to a cellar at les Hospices de Beaune, in Beaune, Burgundy. They were made of solid oak during the reign of Louis IV, though the frame dates to the late gothic period. The three stained glass windows are German, and date from the 17th century. To protect them during hunting season, bullet proof glass was installed.

Inside the Chapel, the enchantment continues. Each object, statue, or religious accessory has its own history from Europe, Quebec, and even the Philippines, as in the case of the “Little Jesus of Prague.” The marble columns that outline the columbarium came from a bombed out Benedictine abbey in Italy. The marble mosaic on the floor was created by Emilio Mongiat, of Montreal.

I shall not attempt to talk about the wines produced here, they have been written up by experts and won so many awards that they do not need my unqualified input but I must mention that tours and wine tastings are available, so are receptions, corporate events, picnic parties and almost any other event one can think of. The vineyard's website is at:

Firemen's Day

Firemen's Day in Sutton a huge success

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg

 By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
This year Sutton's museum is featuring a special exhibit about the great fire of April 15, 1898 which destroyed 35 buildings in the village center core. In conjunction with this show, the volunteer fire department put on a "Firmenen's day" event on Saturday, May 21. The show featured two antique fire engines, one, a 1930 model, gave free rides to adults and children. The stationary antique pumper was  the great attraction for kids of all ages who wanted to be fireman (or woman) for a day and to have their pictures taken behind the wheel.
Volunteers provided information about fire safety, a lovely young woman played the harmonica and two chefs served up hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks. Children were also entertained with make-up for children activities and a workshop to create fire presention posters.
All the current modern fire fighting equipment was on display, lovingly polished as always. The museum also opened its doors free of charge to all comers and many Suttonites who had never been in the museum were surprised by the scope and quality of the exhibits.
Lastly, Sutton's newest group of volunteers, the First Responders, showed off their well equipped first response van and volunteers spoke to guests about the way this new organizatiuon, which had been spearheaded by councilman Louis Dandenal, was being operated. The Responsers initial month of service was a huge success as just last Sunday ther were able to stabilize two heart attack victims.
Altogether a great fun event which was attended by approximately 400 people.

Sculpture gardens in Sutton

Sutton's downtown sculpture garden

By Nancy Helmuth
In the past few years, downtown Sutton has been transformed in many ways. The electric service was routed underground, lovely antique looking streetlights were added and the main street and sidewalk were completely repaved. Paralell to that, a number of local metal artists have begun to use the downtown core as a sculpture garden and permanent exhibit of their craft.

Metal flowers compete with the real thing at the edge of the park across from the Post office and across the street next to a beauty parlor is a lovely metal circle with crystals interwoven into the metalwork.

The adjacent two buildings also have their own sculptures, one of them a very visible red piece of great impact.

There are many more, too many in fact to fit within the scope of this small article but Sutton certainly would love to see people come and enjoy our sculpture garden

Treetop adventures

Treetop adventure "Arbre Sutton" opens for the season

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
I did not meet Tarzan on Saturday but I had the opportunity to observe dozens of people having a great time emulating him. Arbre Sutton, the huge treetop adventure complex officially opened for the season and allowed people to try the adventure course at only $ 11.- By the time I visited, they had approximately 150 reservations for the day according to Janna Hubajec, one of the permanent staff members of this co-operative venture. Janna was kind anough to walk me through the forest so that I could see the children's course, the instructors who give operational and safety lectures to participants and then to actually see people slide down the lines for the first time. What fun!

"You have to be this big to go", explained a lovely young lady standing next to the measuring guide. "This big" is 1m 80cm with arms fully extended. This is to ascertain that body lenth and the reach of the harness can safely control a child.
The more than 100 acre site features 72 elements in a variety of courses which are graduated in intensity from 4 meters above the ground to 9-12 meters. There are ziplines, suspended bridges, flying swings and one of the most astonishing sceneries one may experience. It is absolutely safe to glide suspended at great hight through the ancient forest of this side of the mountain that few ever get to see.
Arbre Sutton is a non-profit solidarity co-op and has been steadily growing to its present strenght of 187 members. There are also five year- round staffers and in Summer, eight guides who have to undergo a lengthy training course to be able to make their charges comfortable and secure through their adventures. I saw one guide give the preliminary instructions and safety lecture and the demonstration of the use of the harnesses and the correct way to buckle up, climb to the starting platform and safely land on the other end of the glide. I would not hestitate to entrust my grandchildren into his care!

I visited Arbre Sutton just about one month ago when they had just shut down their winter activities which include 30 kms of groomed cross country trails, 15 kms of snowshoe track, two cabins to warm up by a fire and snowshoe and ski rentals. A month later there is no trace of the other side of this intrigueing venue. Now its officially summer in the trees and I was assured that Tarzan could obtain a free pass if he would entertain the guests in exchange.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chris Shearwoods motorcycles

A life long passion: Ariel motorcycles

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
The name Ariel can stand for a character in Shakespeare's The Tempest, narrator of Pope's The Rape of the Lock and the evil angel of Milton's Paradise Lost. For the younger generation it is the protagonist in Disney's The Little Mermaid. But for the rest of the planet the name evokes the memory of one of the finest motorcycles ever produced.
This is certainly how Sutton's Ariel collector Chris Shearwood sees it. Right now he has three of them, but they reflect the three great periods of development, 1946, 1950 and 1951. "My favorite is the green 1950 ng which is the first one I purchased in 1988 from a antique furnitore restorer right here on Main street in Sutton states Chris.
Shearwood can often been seen in town on this bike as all three of his machines are registered, insured and ready to run anytime Chris has the urge to do so. His association with motorcycles dates back to 1968 when, at age 16, his parents caved in to his pleas and gave him a 100cc Kawasaki which he states "served my adolescent needs very well for a time". Then, working in Hamilton,Ontario, he bought a Honda 450 in 1971 to be able to negotiate the "401" in his weekend commutes back to his native Montreal.
"Then I joined the rank of car drivers, but I never did loose my love for bikes and was always searching for an affordable machine". This led to the 1988 purchase of the Ariel 350cc machine and the quest for more. Chris started doing his own mechanical work and after years of restoring machines is now one of the few Ariel experts left standing.

"When my spare bedroom in my Sutton house was no longer big enough for the projects I was working on, I built a 1,000 sq.ft garage" His stunningly beautiful 1946 Ariel Square Four, this one a one liter monster, purchased in 1994 in Cincinnati, was a basket case and Chris rebuilt it from a bare frame to an award winning machine which has attracted thousands at shows in Canada and the United States.

The Square Four motor was designed in 1928 by Edward Turner and Ariel Motorcycle Co. in Birmingham purchased his revolutionary design. The company had built their first motorcycle in 1902 and originally the company name Ariel goes back to 1870 when they produced bicycles they named Ariel because Ariel means "spirit of the air". and since they prided themselves in making lightweight (for the time) bicycles, the name was greatly appropriate. The Square Four was an immediate sucess and has lived through many refinements until it was discontinued in 1959. Under the BSA company's ownership, Ariels were produced until 1970 but they were rebadged BSA's and none could live up to the great Square Four, a 1936 model of which has a place of honor in Britain's National Motorcycle Museum.
Through all this, Chris ended up with another machine, a beautiful 1951 500cc example which I have lusted after since I have met Chris about ten years ago and became a frequent guest at his home and garage, complete with beer cooler priviledges...

I always enjoy visiting the garage where Chris reigns over his well equipped shop and the nice woodstove, which makes this one of my favorite places to be on a crappy rainy day. But the best part is, when I see him riding one of his museum pieces through downtown, I can tell anyone I am with:"Look this is Chris Shearwood, he is a good friend of mine".


Monday, May 16, 2011

Filmore the Cat

The life and times of Filmore, a senior cat

By Nancy Helmuth
"At 17 years of age, some of the younger cats in my house may consider me a 'senior' but I rather be addressed as the 'dominant cat'. My servants, Manfried and Nancy have proved mostly satisfactory and they keep my commode clean and my dishes are washed every day at least twice. Sometimes I have issues with the menu though. I suspect that there were lean times when I did not provide enough mice for the poor couple, so they had to feed me stuff from the Dollarama. But it has been good lately. I approve of the "Kibbles for older cats", even if the title might be a little bit offensive for someone as agile as I am".
"Ten years ago I was the absolutely best mouser here and only on very few occasions did I break a priceless dish when perusing the upper cupboards for my prey. Those were good times as I still worked most of the spring and summer out of doors to supervise the planting of the garden and the eradication of moles and other pests which would dare to trespass. This I leave to the little ones now, they are coming along fine but need some disciplining at times. Just this morning, Feisty and Marco, the little one year old dears, were tearing about the house in pursuit of a stuffed green fish with a bell in it. I do not condone such behaviour because every self respecting cat has to observe the 18 hour sleep rule. But I remember that I possibly was prone to a bit of frolick when I was a kitten"
"The grooming in the home is pretty good. I get my daily brushing even though I would prefer it done twice. My manicurist has been on the job as well, especially after I showed my disapproval of her services by carving nice lines in Manfried's grandfather clock. He was not happy about that but it is so hard to keep our servants satisfied these days. Well, I shall have my afternoon tea now as is befitting an older cat and perhaps, if the rain finally stops, I shall allow them to see me eat a tuft of grass or two in the garden....

Charles Talbot

Charles Talbot keeps it rolling in Sutton

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
Last week, while researching a story about the closed Filtex yarn factory in Sutton, I had the opportunity to speak with Charles Talbot (72) who had been manager of this local institution from 1957 to 1993 and had been referred to me as the foremost historian of this company. I expected some old codger griping about former bosses, employees, conditions and pay but what I found was an embullient, bright and immensily likeable gentleman playing with his toy, an impeccably restored MGB roadster.
Not only that, but he probably remembers most of the up to 160 employees that worked for him over the years, many of him still defer to him as "Mr. Talbot" because while a good plant manager, he also had the people skills to maintain long time employees, was there to assist in their professional and private lifes and was generally the "good guy" at the plant while the owners were not exactly described thus in some recent interviews I did with former workers.

After disagreeing with Bill Sears, the president of Filtex, Charles left his job in 1993 and took over as the manager of Middleburg Yarns in Pennsylvania, where he excelled and while other yarn manufacturers yielded to the pressures of cheap and inferior Asian imports, (like Filtex eventually did), Charles Talbot made sure that the Pennsylvania plant maintained its market share. Offered another fife year contract, he decided to come home to his beloved Sutton where he has a beautiful home close to downtown.
However, he continued to do some consulting work for companies as far as India and appears today just as able to take over another plant as he was 20 years ago. About Filtex he shakes his head in sadness: "I am so sorry for the people. This closing did not have to happen. Other plants modernized and made it work".
One of my best friends is Louis Dandenault, our feisty town councillor, who told me "I worked for Mr. Talbot when I was 16 years old and he was a nice guy". This will be how Mr. Talbot shall be remembered in this town if he does not outlive us all, driving his beautiful antique through the apple orchards and reminiscing about a life well spent in meaningful work and in friendship to employees and neighbors in Sutton.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eira Thoma's Yard Emporium

Hidden treasure: Eira Thomas's Yarn emporium in the glen

By Nancy Helmuth
Sometimes, the lovliest things around us are hidden small architectural details that go unnoticed or beautful flowers in a valley less travelled. One such treasure is Eira Thomas (71), Welsh born artist, knitter and seller of exquisit yarns to connoiseurs who have known how to find her place in Glen Sutton since 1980.
Located on Burnett road, and in a house which was constructed in the late 1880s, Eira's creations can be seen in a lovely studio built for her by her late husband, internationally known furniture designer and builder Kai Paulson whose woodshop can still be seen in the basement of the home. "Kai made all the furniture in the house and in the addition which houses four tastefully decorated warm small apartements which friends and acquaintances rent for small vacations, weekends or bicycle outings".
Of late, Eira has curtailed her knitting to special editions and custom work,  but has focused her energy into "Yarn Art", finely crafted pictures and harmonious creations of yarns and textiles, glowing through their three dimensional effects.

Eira arrived in Montreal in 1974 and immediately had huge amounts of work in her original profession as floral designer."It was a magic time, a gay time" she smiles, Montreal at that time was a gracious and fun place, huge parties were given, the great hotels kept us busy with the flower arrangements and we worked for all the great houses. It was such an open beautiful time. At night we would meet at the "Bistro" on Mountain street, a hangout for immigrants of many countries and a place for us to exchange views and make friends".
Her mother died, and Eira had to liquidate her mother's knitting business, which started the second vocation in her life and she eventually started focusing on this, but first she spent two years at the Montreal Star newspaper as an advertising executive for retail and national advertising. After the "Star" folded in 1978, she worked for the glossy Montreal Calendar Magazine. Having married Kai Paulson who at that time was designing furniture for companies such as Scandia Furniture and who was honored for his work at the international furniture exhibition in Milan, they moved to his house in Glen Sutton where he established the existing shop pretty much for his own use and the building of exquisite pieces which now are in the house.
The yarn shop and knitting studio started then and has been in business ever since. "I used my own money, the severance pay from the "Star" to start my business - a lot of the other girls just spent it". For more than 20 years Eira also participated in the annual "Tour des Arts" and sadly, last year her husband died four days before the opening of the "Tour". Friends helped out and kept the doors open, and eventually, this indomitable creative knitter went back to her craft and is certainly open for business, with thousands of yarns, some exotic, many "free trade" from South America, all gleaming in their neat racks which Kai so lovingly built.

Chris Payne

The incomparable Chris F. Payne

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
If there would be an award for having had more fun in a lifetime, than should be legally allowed, Glen Sutton's Chris Payne  would be a serious contestant. Born in Newbury in Britain's Berkshires, 77 years ago, he was consripted into the British  army's Ordinance Suvey Office where after two years he was made Sergeant. "I did all the printing at the Joint Services Staff Office", he chuckles. "After we passed all the secret documents to the staff officers to read, it became my job to bring the documents to a pulp mill under armed escort for destruction, It felt like I was destroying nuclear bomb secrets at times:.
Chris stayed in the reserves for three years after this service and got a job with the "Ordinance Supply  Offiice" in Buckinghamshire and after this stint went out on his own as free lance photographer, mainstay and chief interest for the rest of his life. But he also built his own radio transmitter for model aircraft, another interest he still enjoys.
Among the fun jobs he had was one as a beach photographer for the major seaside resorts in Devonshire. He worked out of an old gun shelter which was his darkroom. He also acted as in-house photographer for a large furniture company and had a parallel job as night manager of a local cinema. The list of his jobs and assignments is endless.
 In 1957 he married and one week later he and his wife moved to Montreal. "I wanted a change and I tossed a coin - Australia or Canada ? Canada won and I am still here"
The marriage lasted only a little bit over a year but Chris was by then well established as printer, dot-etcher and lithographer, ensconed in the Union with a card which he kept for many years. "I went back to photography but when there were not enough jobs, I could always work in one of the many printing plants in Montreal" he explains. Eventually his work, mainly as an architectural photographer took off big time and he operated out of large facilities on Dorchester street.
"I had almost all the good architects and architectural magazines as clients, I had a big place, an assistant and a Porsche". In 1967 he bought a beautiful former Anglican residence in Glen  Sutton and began to spend his spare time there."Then I decided to go to the Bahamas for a couple of years, where I started photographing conventions, tourist events and hotel photography. It was a great time but very little money". After that it was a spell in New Orleans and then back to Montreal. There were always jobs for the talented man and he began to indulge in another enterprise in which he was busy until just a few months ago: He became a bookseller.
I met Chris almost two decades ago and broused in his small store in Glen Sutton where we discovered that we had a friend in commen, the late Montreal writer Don Bell. Don was also in the book business as was I at my Sherbrooke street store in Montreal. Bell's store was known by his nickname "The Bookman", thus the younger man, Chris Payne would be called "Bookboy" by Bell which made me the "Bookkid" as the youngest of us three. Chris took over the basement section of a Sutton bookstore to sell his used and rare books, after Don Bell passed away I owned his store for two years but there was no money to be made in used books and I gave it up. Chris carried on and his interest in buying rare or simply interesting books has not changed to this day.

Now he is busy in the house he shares with long time partner Michelle Lalonde, a noted mosaic artist. Chris does construction, builds underpinnings for the mosaics  and has the most beautifully landscaped garden. In the time I have known him he has never been seriously ill, he is just too busy enjoying life to let silly things like careful ageing interfere with his future plans...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Michelle Lalonde, Glen Sutton's Mosaic Artist

Glen Sutton's great Mosaic artist Michelle LaLonde

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
Former world traveller, French teacher and Glen Sutton resident, Michelle Lalonde makes mosaics. I have known this lovely 64 year old woman who lives with my great friend Chris Payne, a noted photographer, in her beautiful and bucolic home in Glen Sutton for almost two decades."Why mosaics", I asked her when I visited Saturday.
"It started about four years ago" explains Michelle.
"I was in the waiting room of a doctor's office and picked up a magazine which had a story about mosaics. It fascinated me enough to start making my own".  As an educated woman, she got the books, did the research and begun at first with flower pots. From flower pots she went to garden art, mirrors, decorative glass scenes that can hang in a window and act as beautiful light savers. There is no end to the georgeous creations she makes which now sell well and are cherished by many repeat customers.
I love the one she did where a person brought in an old Polish passport and a picture of the immigrant ship which brought the people to Canada. It still can be opened to every page of the passport but is lovingly ensconed with period decorations including Polish coins.

When you enter Michelle's yard you may see her "garden art" which may be balls of mosaic, Mandalas which are superbly crafted  glass creations set in rod iron work, some of them a good eight feet tall, or you may trip over some of her great balls of mosaic endowed spheres.

Michele Lalone also gives courses in mosaic making and at $ 135.- up to four persons can enjoy a day in a well equippedl studio in one of the nicest settings in the townships. Coffee and tea and all the required materials from glass to glue, are provided for free and the participants are encouraged to bring their own lunch which they may enjoy in the well planted outdoors maintained by my friend Chris Payne.
The latest addition to the passion of Michelle Lalonde are mirrors. "I love doing mosaics around mirrors" she explained when showing off the dozens of delightful creations which seem to be everywhere. "This is my favorite, she stated", showing off an all white mirror which features sea shells, discarded jewelry and pearlescent glass:

Michelle has had successful shows in Sutton and her work has been purchased by many local inns, B&B's and hotels and her enthusiasm, mainly throug the courses she conducts is magnetic. She sparkles with joy, she is possibly the youngest 64 year old I have ever met and her work is outstandingly beautiful. To see her current portfolio go to:

Suttons Tractor King

Jean Thibault the tractor king of the townships

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
The above gentleman might look like your grumpy old grandfather who just caught you smoking in the back of the barn, but he is possibly the kindest and most enjoyable person I have met since Nancy and I moved to Sutton some 11 years ago. He is Jean Thibault (73), the king of tractors and owner of dozens of them. A graduate master mechanic of some five decades, Jean built himself a house and large garage just outside of Sutton in 1964 and started to collect and restore tractors. Now this place is just a very nice old man's personal museum. "I restored every one myself, from head gaskets to valves, rings and bearings. Every one of them is in perfect operational order". Well, I looked at at a 1940's Massey Ferguson and Jean just leaned over and turned the key. The big monster coughed once and then roared into life. And the same happened with the twelve others on display in the driveway. Every single tractor lives! "Every tractor could go back in the field today and do a good day's work" chuckles Jean. "They were made to last, from my 1936 iron wheeled monster to the young ones built in the '40's"

 Jean has the incredible enthusiasm of a fanatic. The tractors are not for sale,they represent a lifetime of enjoyment of things mechanical. There is magic in the place, when I walk from machine to machine and the generous racounteur tells about where they had lived and worked. "This one comes from Dunkin and worked for 40 years, this old blue thing I got from Mansonville". Every tractor on display has operated more than a normal machine's expected lifetime to till and plow, mow, irrigate and hay. Those machines are living, breathing, lovingly restored pieces of industry that have made farming in Quebec possible and profitable. The hundreds of hours that Mr. Thibault spent on saving them shall stand as a great  testimony to the farmers who probably had to mortgage their houses to afford the machines to work their land.

In the back yard there are tractors yet to be repaired. Jean is full of enthusiasm about them. There is an old Ford, an Allis Chambers, there are wrecks no sane person would look at, but  for this indomitable mechanic they are just :"the next job to be done"
"Every tractor I own has it's own original service manual, from the 1936 to the 1950's" explains Jean, and he proudly displayed the hundreds of books he posesses. There are the most intricate drawings of transmissions of tractors built when Hoover was president of the United States, there are manuals and parts lists of units that were used in World War II and if you want to see them in action, they all are ready to go to the front agaion because Jean has kept them in that impeccable condition.

So, what does my new friend Jean do for relaxation? "Well, I have a collection of about 50 trains in the back of the shop". I followed him there and there is an area of probaly 20 meters by 16 meters of train layouts with German Merklin locomotives by the dozens, rare Lionels, hundreds of cars, yards of track and track infrastructrure.
And the beauty of all this can be found in this picture: This is a tractor that nobody in his sound mind would ever bother to look at but Jean can just see it next to his priceless antiques in his front yard as soon as he gets to it:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Bicycle Shop for Sutton

New bicycle shop opens in Sutton

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
"Every bicycle is worth fixing", states Joel Jobin (36), the owner of "La Vie Dehors", a bicycle shop which opened this week in Sutton. The shop is situated on main street right next to the Sutton river, but will move to another location directly across the street this fall. Four avid bicyclists had purchased a dilapidated building which was recently torn down and construction is about to begin at what will be an architectturally pleasing bicycle mecka. Other than Joel's bicycle shop, there will be a bar and lounge and eight rooms upstairs which can be rented by cyclists on a nightly basis. There will also be free outside showers, a great idea and a novel concept.
Even in the current shop, a road weary biker may avail him or herself of a shower. The cyclists who are creating the new facility had known about Joel's ambitions to start a shop in Sutton and they all got together to make this happen. Joels partner is his life partner and mother of their son, Catherine Gaulin, who has business management experience.
Joel Jobin holds a professional degree in industrial mechanics but has worked most of his life with bicycles, more then five years  in Vancouver where he also was a bicycle and motorcycle courier. "Like all courier jobs it ended with that big crash that sent me to the hospiral and afterwards to three months of rehab. This was the end of my courier career", muses the jovial Joel.
"After that it was work as a mechanic, first out of my own small shop, then as a manager of a bicycle shop in Victoria. I met my partner in B.C. and we have been together ever since. Eventually, the Montreal born Joel decided they would move "back East" and he has worked in a number of upscale bicycle shops in Montreal, Brossard and Ste. Hyacynthe, where he was shop manager until the family moved to Sutton to begin "The Great Adventure" of owning their own place.
La Vie Dehors features three highly esteemed lines of bicycles "Pinarello", "Kona" and "Kuota" , and the shop carries a line of helmets, cycle clothing and of course all the tubes, tires, parts and accessories today's sophisticated cycling crowd demands.

 Joel is passionate about bicycles and eventually wishes to establish a Sutton cycling club, get involved in teaching children mechanics and speaks of his desire to get involved in the community. "We just opened and I have to focus on the business but we are already formulating ways in which we can get young people involved in cycling".
Sutton is an obvious choice for such a shop as approximately 40 percent of the summer and fall tourist trade is hikers and bikers and the city is doing its utmost to maintain clean and safe bike paths and a bicycle friendly environment with ample parking behind the post office and other spots for tourist to leave their vehicles and enjoy the ride. And every year there is the big international bicycle race in July and numerous other small events to attract the two wheeled crowd.
Pricing at "La Vie Dehors" is also consumer friendly with tune-up's starting at $ 50.- and a complete re-build from the bare frame up is about $ 135.- This is about half the price I have been quoted today by three prominent shops in Montreal and should entice tourist to have their mounts maintained in Sutton.
Joel's favourite bicycle? "My 1945 large wheeled C.C.M single speed". If this is not passion for bicycles I don't know what is....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our Wedding Anniversary

A magical evening at Knowlton's storied Lakeview Inn

Just us....

Drazen Tomic "Tomi" and owner Van Voutsinas

Chef Tomo Kovacek

By Manfried H. Starhemberg
A month ago we made a reservation at Knowlton's storied Lakeview Inn for our wedding anniversary dinner. Not knowing that the day after Easter Monday, the inn would be closed, we were surprised by a courteous telephone call asking  "if it would bother us to be the only guests in the dining room ?"
Of course not", I answered, feeling bad that this was obviously a slow night for this fabled restaurant. Well, when we got there, we discovered that owner Van Voutsinas had rounded up Tomo and Tomi to give us the best possible anniversary dinner they could provide. For the first time in a long time (believe me when I say that this is rare !), I was speechless.
"Tomo" is Tomo Kovacec the brillant chef, "Tomi" is Drazen Tomic, maitre d' extraordinaire. Both gentlemen as well as Mr. Voutsinas who has owned the inn since 2002 exemplefied for us the highest degree of  the lost art of hospitality. Over the 40 years of married life, we have had many opportunities to dine in much celebrated restaurants, meet many "starred" celebrity chefs and pedigreed owners. This evening made all of our prior dining experiences fade into memory.
After chatting with Van who is a displaced Floridian with a passion for Knowlton and his 1874 Loyalist mansion, Tomo disappeared into the kitchen and Tomi escorted us into the lovely dining room where a table had been prepared for us, flickering candle included.
The Honorable Arthur Meighen, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Right Honorable Robert Borden, former Prime Ministers of Canada, have all dined there, possibly at about the same spot where we were seated, but I doubt they had the same lovely background music or ate as well as we did.
"Forget the menu" grinned the two conspirators Tomo and Tomi. "We are ready for you and you just have to eat what you get".
What we got to start with was a velety smooth seafood bisque and we both decided that if there was nothing else to eat, we would both drive home happy. But not so. A sublime hot Foi Gras, beautifully arranged with croutons and a sauce which was delicate but not intrusive graced the table and was gobbled up rapidly. Next arrived a plate of lamb shank slow cooked over some 18 hours and so tender that Tomi suggested that I should not need a knife. He was right. The morsels separated by the merest touch of my fork, yet had not been overcooked. A fine sauce accompanied this dish. Nancy received a superb fillet of salmon and we kept swapping dishes so that be both could enjoy the delicacies.
And then dessert. I stop right here, because as I am writing this, I wish I had some more of Tomo's wife's luscious cheese cake, the velvety slice of pie and other lovely things we were allowed to sample. Tomo and Tomi were both born and raised in the former Yugoslavia and Tomo had four years of schooling in traditional mediterranean cuisine but has had no trouble waving his magic wand over a whole array of varietions on the theme "Brome Lake Duck", which is a standard fare on the menu.
For you regular people out there who do not get the whole house for yourselves for an evening, you may be consoled: The inn offers a Pub Platter for two for only $ 50.- which includes a good bottle of wine. The Pub is a lovely friendly place full of ambience.On Fridays it is roast beef special night ,which starts at 6pm, and every day you may avail yourselves of a delicately seasoned 11 oz pork chop served with grilled roasted potatoes,  vegetables and apple strudel for a mere $ 11.95.
I shall quote from the Inn's website as I could not put it better myself:
Upon setting foot in Lakeview Inn, you can immediately feel all the grandeur and enchantment of a glorious past. You can also read the history of the Inn and see nostalgic pictures on the walls. 
Throughout the establishment you will notice the concern for authenticity in each detail and in the superb collection of antiques.
Lakeview Inn distinguishes itself by the quality of its hospitality and customer service, as evidenced by the honours won during the 2000 Quebec Grand Prix du Tourisme contest for the Eastern Townships in lodging category and the 2003 Quebec Grand prix du Tourisme held in the Eastern Townships in Gastronomy category.
In my part of Europe where I was raised, it was a tradition, probably long now forgotten, that, when one was extremely pleased with a chef or a kitchen, the head of the houshold would gather up the empty plates and return them to the kitchen to thank the chef or staff in person. This I did and with this small gesture ended a memorable wedding anniversary dinner in a place I am certain to get "frequent flier" miles at. I just hope that the to be wed Royal couple in London will eat as good as we did...
Thanks, Van, Tomo and Tomi!