The first article of the series will focus on why and how this merger came about. We are privileged to explore this with Peter White, a TBL resident who at the time, was a councillor in Foster. His recollections of that historic move shed a unique light on the whole process.
Back in the 1960s three serious problems existed in this area, all related to the lake and its surroundings.
1) Untreated sewage was destroying the quality of lake water.
Thinking about a merger began around 1961 when some environmentally-conscious citizens of the Knowlton area became concerned about the amount of untreated sewage that was entering the lake from lakeside cottages. They formed the Brome Lake Conservation Association to address the problem. “But” as notes Peter White, “we were up against the fact that the shoreline of Brome Lake was under the jurisdiction of three separate municipalities – the Village of Knowlton, the Village of Foster and the Township of Brome.’’ This made action difficult.
2) Ownership of the Foster Dam which controlled the lake level.
In 1964, the Town of Bromont was created, and it soon began annexing surrounding territory. In 1966, it annexed the entire Town of West Shefford which created much discontent among some residents of West Shefford. The Désourdy brothers, Roland and Germain, had their sights set on developing Bromont as a major tourist centre. Water was needed to attract industries and for the eventual snow-making activities of the ski resort. “So one of their first steps was to have Bromont buy the dam (at the outlet of Brome Lake) from Hydro-Québec, right under the nose of the sleepy Village of Foster where the dam was located,’’ recalls Peter White. Bromont now had the power to control the water level of Brome Lake to suit its needs, regardless of the requirements of property owners on the lake.
3) Bromont’s determination to take over land from Brome Township.
“The Désourdys also had visions of creating a lakeside resort on Brome Lake in the Bondville area, not far from Bromont but this land was in Brome Township (…) so they began to chomp off bits of Brome Township that adjoined Bromont.” A stratagem had been set up to convince farmers in Brome Township who owned land near the municipal boundary, to accept an option to buy their farm provided the farmer agreed the land would become part of Bromont rather than Brome Township.
As White recalls this was done a number of times until eventually the Council of Brome Township realized that “their territory’s tax base was gradually being absorbed by Bromont’’. Also “the new citizens of Bromont soon learned that their property taxes would be much higher in Bromont than they had been in Brome Township. A full-scale war erupted along the frontier of Bromont and Brome Township (…). Some farmers renounced their options to Bromont (…) and we eventually fought Bromont to a standstill.’’ This explains TBL’s very odd serrated northwestern boundary today. (Brome Township had originally been 10 miles square).
To solve the three problems of the level of the lake, its pollution and the loss of territory, one solution seemed obvious: “combine the three small and relatively powerless municipalities into one bigger one with the much greater legal authority of a town’’ having jurisdiction over the entire Brome Lake shoreline.
The legal framework
In 1965, Quebec enacted the new Voluntary Amalgamation Act for Quebec Municipalities which allowed two or more municipalities to merge into a larger one. No referendum began annexing surrounding territory. In 1966 it 5o was necessary. Soon, Foster and Brome Township agreed with the merger remembers White. West Bolton and Brome Village were invited to join but declined. Later on, at a meeting arranged at the Knowlton Court House, a vote was taken. Knowlton council voted five to one in favour of amalgamation. Councillor Roméo Brouillette was the only dissenting voice.
Tempo’s research shows that there was little or no organized public opposition to this merger. If there was, the record does not show it.
Choosing the name of the new municipality was done by competition. The name “Town of Brome Lake’’ was not unanimous. The letters patent (Quebec official Gazette of January 2, 1971) creating the new town states: “From and after the date on which the letters patent become effective, the municipality of the township of Brome, the municipality of Foster Village, and the municipality of the village of Knowlton shall cease to exist and the town of Brome Lake shall be governed by the Cities and Towns Act…”
It is interesting to note that the French version of this document says that the town’s French name is not Ville de Lac-Brome but ‘ville du lac Brome’.
Finally, in 1986, TBL bought back the dam at the outlet of the lake, but with strict conditions to provide Bromont with a fixed annual volume of water.