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Auberge Hatley on Fire...


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This is very sad news to me, as I have nothing but great memories of this wonderful place. I also believe that I may have encountered the best sommelier ever there, not to mention how fabulous the service, food and accommodations were.

Very sad news indeed. :sad:


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Not only do I live in North Hatley, but my husband's family owns the neighbouring inn, the Manoir Hovey. Needless to say, we're all in shock. Next Monday, Hovey is hosting a meet and greet where local business owners (restaurants, B&Bs, etc) will have the chance to chat with the Auberge's staff and hopefully hire most of them (everyone was left jobless, of course).

Here's an article that ran in the local paper, The Record, not available online:

SHERBROOKE - An Eastern Townships landmark was completely destroyed on Monday when the posh five-star Hatley Inn in North Hatley was engulfed in flames.

One of Quebec's finest and most exclusive inns, the three-storey Colonial-style gray-and-white clapboard manor that sat atop a hill with a magnificent view of Lake Massawippi was once a discreet getaway for a number of celebrities, including including French President Jacques Chirac and his first lady who sojourned there in 2003.

Built in 1903 as a private residence, the 25-room hotel was decorated with fine antiques, and was renowned for its multiple award-winning country dining room and famed wine cellar with more than 1,100 vintages. The formal dining room was one of three restaurants in Canada to have the prestigious title of Relais Gourmand.

Innkeeper Michel Vauclair said there were no guests at the inn when the fire broke out in a third floor room. The inn has been closed from Sunday to Thursday for renovations and there were fewer than 20 people in the building when the fire broke out around 1 p.m.

"The evacuation ran smoothly," Vauclair told reporters at the scene. "About three minutes after the fire was declared, everybody was out. The firemen arrived minutes after our initial call."

Vauclair said the fire spread quickly through the centre part of the building -- the oldest part. He noted that while the building had a sprinkler system, the fire spread above the sprinklers through the attic.

"When the firemen arrived, flames were coming out of the roof," he said, adding that the fire was caused by a plumber who lost control of a welding torch.

North Hatley fire chief Randall Kent said old buildings like the inn have lots of air pockets between walls and ceilings, allowing fire to feed on oxygen and spread quickly.

"And when the roof opened up, the oxygen fed it. It took off and we couldn't stop it."

Kent said the call came in to the 911 emergency call centre at 1:09 p.m. The fire department got the call at 1:15 and firefighters were at the scene by 1:20.

By then the fire had been burning for a while and the flames were spreading rapidly, Kent said.

"Apparently they tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher and that wasted valuable time," Kent said. "Every minute that goes by is a valuable minute."

A few hours later, as flames engulfed the whole building and a growing plume black smoke spewed out over the village and Lake Massawippi, the loss was clear. Vauclair learned at 2:30 p.m. that firefighters had given up trying to save the historic inn.

"They're pulling out," the devastated innkeeper said. "They're going to go on the defensive. Basically it's a loss."

"It breaks my heart."

Fire chief Kent said the fire had become too dangerous for his men.

"There was too much smoke and too much water," he said, noting one firefighter had to be taken to the hospital after his eyes were hurt by the flames.

The fire department called in reinforcement soon after arriving. A team from Magog arrived with 15 firefighters and a ladder. Waterville sent a dozen men and a pumper truck that sucked water out of the Massawippi to help douse the flames.

The Ayer's Cliff fire department arrived with reinforcements around 4:30 shortly after the wing that housed the restaurant burst into flames.

Hatley Inn is part of the prestigious Relais et Chateaux international chain of luxury hotels. It was bought out two years ago by Le Groupe Germain which runs successful boutique hotels in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto.

"This is one of the jewels in the chain," said Christiane Germain, co-owner of the group. "This hurts. It really hurts."

The old wooden building was the oldest and possibly the most beautiful in the chain.

"It's absolutely irreplaceable," she said, noting that aside from the heritage building, the place has a soul that is now gone. "The good side is that no one was hurt. For us that's very important."

Germain said it's too early to say if they will rebuild.

"We've been in business quite a while and this kind of thing happened before and we did rebuild," she added. "But it would never be the same."

"It's too early to say what the next step will be," Vauclair said, noting that they will regroup employees and try and keep morale up. "Once the smoke settles, we will evaluate the extent of the damage and what our options are."

While the owners, managers and staff took stock of the fire and the impact on their lives, people in the community were also feeling the loss.

"This is a real loss for the auberge and for the town too," said fire chief Kent, as his team tried to douse the stubborn flames.

Dozens of onlookers looked on in horror as the flames spread and parts of the building toppled.

Mayor Stephan Dore, who was heading back from lunch when he heard about the fire, thought it was just a small blaze.

"But when I got to the town hall they told me all of the media and fire trucks were there, I realized it was major."

While owners and managers could not immediately evaluate the value of the loss, Mayor Dore said the property and buildings were evaluated at around $2 million.

That does not include antiques and furnishings, not to mention one of the best wine cellars in the province with a collection worth more than $1 million. Damages could total some $5 million.

Alexandra Forbes

Brazilian food and travel writer, @aleforbes on Twitter

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Oh, and I forgot to say, for those who are fans of the Auberge's great restaurant staff, that some of them had left the inn a couple of months ago to open their own place, called Le Bouchon, in downtown Sherbrooke. The inn's ex-maître d', sommelière and chef (one of them, anyways) are all working there. The place overlooks a river and serves bistro-type food - not as high end as the Auberge. I suspect that more A.H. staffers may join the team in the near future, now that they are out of jobs...

Alexandra Forbes

Brazilian food and travel writer, @aleforbes on Twitter

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I didn't see anything, because I was skiing at Tremblant... :)

My sister-in-law Hilary and brother-in-law Jeremy and Hovey's sommelier Steven

walked over with sandwiches and hot chocolate for the staff, who were all standing around watching the place burn, crying. The crazy thing is everyone could hear the wine bottles popping, as the wine boiled and expanded. The next day, the Auberge's sommelier came to thank them in person, and once again began to cry. Everyone is very emotional.

Alexandra Forbes

Brazilian food and travel writer, @aleforbes on Twitter

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and here's a press release I got from the local tourism association...

Mouvement Solidarité Auberge Hatley

Sherbrooke, le 30 mars 2006 – La direction de l’Auberge Hatley, Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est et le CLD de la MRC de Memphrémagog en collaboration avec les hôteliers et les aubergistes de la région mettent sur pied une opération de solidarité pour re-localiser rapidement les employés de l’Auberge Hatley.

Tous ces partenaires estiment qu’il est essentiel de s’assurer que les employés de l’Auberge Hatley, qui constituent une ressource d’excellent calibre pour notre industrie touristique, pourront demeurer dans la région.

Ainsi, les employés de l’Auberge Hatley sont invités à un «Salon de l’emploi » qui se déroulera le lundi 3 avril prochain à 13 h 30 au Manoir Hovey de North Hatley. À cette occasion, ils pourront rencontrer en privé des employeurs potentiels de la région.

Les employeurs du secteur hôtellerie/restauration intéressés à faire du recrutement sont invités à s’inscrire et à transmettre leurs besoins d’effectifs à madame Joyce Émond de Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est au (819) 820-2020 ou par courriel au je@atrce.com. L’INSCRIPTION DES EMPLOYEURS EST OBLIGATOIRE.

Sources :

Michel Vauclair

Aubergiste Auberge Hatley

(819) 842-2451

Edited by AlexForbes (log)

Alexandra Forbes

Brazilian food and travel writer, @aleforbes on Twitter

Official Website

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