Memories of the changes to the Town of Brome Lake

The Town of Brome Lake started life in 1971. There are many people who have lived here since then. One of them is Richard Burcombe, the current mayor; another is Paule Richardson, for many years a town councillor. 

Much has changed. 

According to Statistics Canada, the population of the town was 4,062 in 1971. Statscan only has the number for 2016 – the latest census numbers come out next year — and the population was 5,495. It has certainly grown in the last five years. 

“Knowlton was a little village back when Bob and I moved here in 1964,” says Paule Richardson, born Paule Cartier in Drummondville, spending much of her early years in Quebec City. She  remembers the small things, such as where the small grocery store was.  “There was an IGA where the gym is now, run by Mr. Pagé at the beginning and then Mr. Desourdy. There was a butcher who did anything you asked him to do recalls Paule, who worked as the manager at the Knowlton Golf Club in summers and ran a ski shop at Owl’s Head in winter. She remembers the formation of the town when Homer Blackwood was mayor.  “Homer was the one who thought that the villages should amalgamate to help with things like the fire department and garbage collection. Every village around accepted it except Brome Village,” recalls Paule.  Paule’s six elections as town councillor started in 1987 and she retired in 2005. 

One of the big changes she remembers is the council was always looking for money from the province. But then there was a change in the rules.  “I can’t remember the year it happened, but it was when I was a councillor. The government allowed the Welcome tax to go directly to the town. You can imagine with all the house sales now they are getting money, and it’s coming out of their ears,” says Paule. “I used to do the flowers around the city hall because we didn’t have a budget for that. Now the town does the flowers around town.” 

Back in 1971, there were more English speakers than French speakers; that has flipped. Statistics Canada says that in 1971 the linguistic breakdown by ‘Mother Tongue’ was: English 2705; French 1250; Other 105. In 2016 the numbers changed dramatically, with as their mother tongue and 2655 French. There were 200 who spoke other languages at home. 

Richard Burcombe was also here when the town formed.  “The Town of Brome Lake was formed in January, and I became a police officer in July. I didn’t know where Fulford was or Iron Hill and places like that, but I learned quick,” said Richard, born in Lennoxville and spending his early years in Mansonville. “Our family moved here in 1965 when I was sixteen years old, and I took grades ten and eleven here.” 

“The biggest difference for me was seeing the evolution of Town of Brome Lake during the 1970s and the 1980s. It was like a ghost town at five o’clock on a Saturday night, and nothing was open on Sunday,” says Richard. Then there were new buildings and shops such as LL Brome and the Ralph Lauren outlet.

“There were no tourists then but the 1990s was a boom time where tourists were here like you wouldn’t believe visiting all the boutiques. Then around 2005/2006, everything started to go the other way. I guess you could blame it on the internet or whatever, but it slowly kept on going down, down, down. Housing also stayed at a very low level. Then, around 2015/2016, we were one of the top five towns in Quebec. Our difference in one year in house pricing, we were one of the top five.” 

There were many controversies while Paule Richardson was on council. One involved the proposed Community Centre.  “It was controversial that the medical centre would be there. They wanted a community centre, but they didn’t think they should have a medical centre. I certainly was for the medical centre to be there too because Dr. Barakett had his office on Knowlton Road in an apartment building, and it was not what it is now, believe me,” says Paule. 

From the Community Centre to the Walking path, much has changed. But in many ways, Knowlton is still the place it once was. Like the rest of us, it has adapted to changing times.