Pierre Beaudoin, Foster
Brome Lake is over 10,000 years old and at the heart of the ancestral territory of the Abenaki nation, which stretched from present-day Maine to the St Lawrence River. Remains of an Abenaki camp have been found on the point where Quilliams Brook flows into the lake and one can assume that their birchbark canoes once plied its waters.
Over the years boats on the lake have travelled either by muscle, wind or engine power. In 1854, Paul Holland Knowlton, the founder of Knowlton, acquired Eagle Island, which lay directly opposite his land. Col. Knowlton probably used a rowboat to visit the island. Any watercraft at the time would have been strictly for point-to-point travel since the lake was surrounded by forest and farmland and the early settlers had no time for pleasure boating.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Brome Lake rapidly became a resort area. The Brome
Lake Boat Club was founded in 1901 and occupied part of Col. Knowlton’s former farm
on the southeast shore.“Beside the Boat Club was a beach belonging to the Knowlton Conference Association. From 1902-1932 this organization, located off Conference Rd., had an active summer program of workshops, seminars and concerts as well as nautical activities. The lakefront in this area was very lively on a nice summer day.
After World War I, a new wave of summer residents settled near the lake. Col. Gilbert Stairs, Col. William Leggat and Capt. Philip Fisher, all war veterans, each acquired a sailboat, as far as we know the first on the lake. The Boat Club became known for its sailing races which took place regularly each weekend for years, and a variety of classes of sailboats were popular at different times, from an early catamaran to ospreys, scorpions (most of which were built by parents of junior sailors), etc. Once or twice a summer the Boat Club would host a sailing competition with boats from nearby lakes. To this day there are races between junior (and adult) clubs from different areas, always scenic to watch. Over many years, then and now, the club has introduced hundreds of youngsters to this activity.
In addition to being a school of life for many young sailors, the Boat Club also played a key role in the community. As well as weekly sailing races, it held canoe races (some around Eagle Island) and an annual regatta involving many types of boating activities.
Children were introduced to boating on tiny paddle-(or kiddie) punts, a safe way for them to learn the basics.
While sailing grew in popularity on the east side of the lake, fishing and other boating activities were also enjoyed by vacationers. Joseph Benoit built his boat house at the south end of the lake in 1890, which became Marina Quai 7 in 1981. Mr Benoit rented out up to 35 flat-bottomed verchère boats, so called because they were built in Verchères beginning in the 1850s.
On the southwest side the lake, boats could be rented for 25¢ an hour at a site fondly remembered by many. Bondville Beach was already used for swimming and camping as early as the 1950s. With 485 feet of lake frontage, it attracted many water sports enthusiasts before being swallowed up by a small residential development on Loiselle Street in 1987. Pleasure boaters could refuel their boats at the end of the long dock made of rail ties and concrete until it was demolished that same year, leaving Knowlton Marina to provide that service.
In 1908, boat rides around the lake, starting from the Boat Club, were being offered for 35¢. Since Evinrude didn’t build the first outboard motor until 1907, there probably weren’t many motorboats on the lake before the end of the Great War. Some old-timers remember picnicking on Rock Island between 1930 and 1950 on motor boats.
As the number of small summer cottages along Bondville Road grew between 1950 and 1970, so did the number of fishing boats with motors around the lake. At the north end of the lake, the Des Érables campground opened around 1955, and today it accounts for over 100 motorized watercraft of all kinds: outboards and inboards, wakeboard boats, pontoons and jet skis. Urbanization in the 1980s, in particular the construction of the Inverness and 400 Lakeside condominiums, brought new marinas and docks along with increased boat traffic.
Renaissance Brome Lake regularly counts the number of motorboats on the lake. That number climbed from 467 in 2008 to 539 in 2015, an increase of 15%, but the biggest rise was in wakeboard boats, which went from 76 to 141, a jump of 85%! These powerful boats, and particularly the large waves they create, are unpopular with many other lake users.
For some years now there has been a certain return to sail, oar and paddle-driven activities. The Knowlton Rowing Club was founded in 2015 and there are more and more small sailboats on the east side of the lake, while canoeists and kayakers can savour the peaceful surroundings of the Quilliams-Durrull Natural Reserve. The key to responsible enjoyment of the lake by its different users, now and in future, is compromise.
Translation: Brian McCordick