(Lac-Mégantic) With their projects for a performance hall, festival, café and tourist apartments, Jérôme, Félix and Hubert Lavallée aspire to make Lac-Mégantic “the largest of small towns”, according to the formula of their father Stefan. La Presse went to meet the three brothers, for whom life is now.
“That’s a lot thanks to the Chapel. This sentence, you will often hear it from the mouths of those who orbit around the Chapel on row 1, starting with the brothers Félix, Jérôme and Hubert Lavallée, the “it” designating sometimes one of their many projects, sometimes a sort of spirit of mutual aid solidified by the birth of the performance hall.
At the beginning of 2017, their father, Stéphane, became the owner of the Anglican Saint-Barnabas chapel, built in 1891. He only had the simple concern of preserving it, since several of the heritage buildings of Lac-Mégantic had been swept away by the train tragedy. of 2013.
Originally from Lac-Mégantic, the entrepreneur had a long career in the written media (at La Tribune, La Presse, the newspaper Les Affaires and, until very recently, at the National Cooperative of Independent Information). In July 2013, he returned to his hometown for what was supposed to last only 48 hours, to lend a helping hand to his beleaguered community. He never left her again.
“And the most extraordinary, the most beautiful”, he said last Wednesday evening on the stage of the Chapelle du rang 1, “is that my three sons, who were not born here, now each have their house in Mégantic. . »
Born in Sherbrooke, the Lavallée brothers grew up in Boucherville. “I’ve always said that I come from Mégantic, even if it’s not exactly true,” says Hubert, 29, general and artistic director of the Chapelle du rang 1.
Transformed into a room with around sixty seats, the pretty Saint-Barnabas chapel, now Chapelle du rang 1, has received since its first summer program, in 2017, artists you will rarely see in such an intimate setting, including Ariane Moffatt, Safia Nolin, Paul Piché, Tire le coyote, Pomme and Diane Tell. It is the center of the constellation of projects by the Lavallée brothers, who are among the main architects of what is called the new Mégantic.
Caught between Estrie and Beauce, the Lac-Mégantic region has not always imposed on the minds of the rest of Quebec a clear and precise image, worthy of its beauty. “When I was little and I told my friends that we were going to Mégantic, it was as if I was going to another country,” recalls Hubert Lavallée-Bellefleur. Which is of course no longer the case since the tragedy of July 2013, an event that is essential to remember, but to which the city is often summed up in the collective imagination.
“It must not become a destination because it is the city of tragedy, it must become a destination because we have recovered from the tragedy,” thinks Félix Lavallée, 32, who, with his spouse Andréanne Robitaille-Piette, directs FÉLIX
Félix and Andréanne, 32, are also behind Maison Dudley, charming tourist apartments in two heritage homes located a few steps from downtown Lac-Mégantic, the waterfront and their home. they have been living since 2020.
Associated for the best with the outdoors and the Mont-Mégantic National Park, the region would benefit, according to Félix, from offering more reasons to visitors to make a detour through the heart of the city.
Joined in France, where they were for a wedding, Félix and Andréanne entrust work on a project for a small restaurant or wine bar, similar in size to Ditchfield, the café of Jérôme Lavallée and his wife Katia Derbel. The micro-roaster opened its doors in December 2021, in a building where, since the 1960s, the people of Mégantic have eaten fries and burgers.
“The other time, there was a gentleman who came to buy coffee and said to me: ‘Fake you came back to trade like your grandfather and your great-grandfather'”, says Jérôme, 33, making a cappuccino. “I got dizzy. »
The great-grandfather in question is Raoul, who was a shoemaker. The grandfather is the late Guy, well known in Lac-Mégantic. At 40, this father of a large family was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which he miraculously survived. Once back on his feet, he opened in 1973, in a garage adjoining his house, the Chez Guy butcher shop, today the Lavallée Market, run by one of his children, Richard.
Leaving Vieux-Longueuil to settle in Lac-Mégantic in May 2020, Jérôme, who earned his living as a photographer, and Katia, who worked as an illustrator, were unsure what project they would devote themselves to, besides their son. Robin, born two months later. After toying with the idea of a microdistillery, the couple turned to roasting.
“When you get involved with a Lavallée, you get involved with the whole family”, laughs Katia, who dreamed of a sweeter life and who found it in this city where every morning, it is possible for them to walk their son to daycare, then to go to work, with the promise, at the end of the day, of a dip in Spider Lake.
“And what I admire about them, continues Katia, is that they have ideas, yes, but above all that they are able to put them in place. »
It may be an insolent drizzle falling on Lac-Mégantic, but the tent erected next to the Chapelle du rang 1 is teeming with people all smiles, who have come to eat a hot dog and drink a beer during the traditional barbecue at the start of the evening. Vincent Vallières inaugurated the fifth season of the small hall last Wednesday, which Claudia Bouvette, Ariane Roy, Gab Bouchard and Luce Dufault will visit in the coming months. Hubert Lavallée-Bellefleur is also behind the Colline festival, which will welcome in August, under the Perseids, in a huge field, Daniel Bélanger, Lisa LeBlanc and Jean-Michel Blais.
Vincent Vallières mingles with the crowd, including former mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, who has already granted a few interviews in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy and who we hear explain to a friend having announced to a TV station that would no longer be available.
Stéphane Lavallée will greet her warmly during his usual speech preceding the shows, to emotional applause. “Colette, I’m giving you a big hug, you know how much I love you. »
Registered under the sign of comfort in order to underline the 10 years of “what you know” – a phrase that says a lot, used by Stéphane Lavallée -, the current season of the Chapel “celebrates beauty”.
Lac-Mégantic does not want to turn the page on the tragedy of July 6, 2013, it would be impossible anyway. Many of its residents nevertheless wish, more than ever, to combine the life of their city with the present and the future, rather than with the past. In each of the Lavallée brothers’ projects, there is this idea that life is now. A lesson that their grandfather had assimilated well.
“Faque we are there, ten years later”, drops Vincent Vallières going up on stage. We are here, yes, and there would be nothing sadder than not enjoying it. Because there is no better way to honor our dead than to live for real.