Turning a page on Hudson’s history
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO Hudson’s historic Château du Lac bar will soon be changing ownership under the banner of ‘Ye Olde Orchard Pub’ leaving some existing staffers worried less about employment issues than losing the atmosphere of a special place they describe as the centre of the community. (Left to right): Véronique Landry, Codey Daly, Bobby Guilbault, Lindsay Lubell-Smith, Shane Halfyard, Shannon Conway, Chelsea Farrow, and James Randall.
Just six years shy of celebrating its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary, Hudson’s landmark Château du Lac bar and hotel on Main Road is changing ownership leaving its current staff wondering how their jobs and work atmosphere will be affected.
“We had been looking for a place in Hudson and the deal with the old Cunninghams Pub fell through,” said Ye Olde Orchard owner Darryl Grant. “Rob (Gale) from the Château reached out to us.” Grant said the previous purchase of Pointe-Claire's Kelly's Bar, now named Kelly's Orchard, showed that the charm and ambience were preserved under the new banner and it would be a similar scenario at the 'Chat.'
Current General Manager and Building Manager James Randall told his employees via Zoom that the new owners, the ‘Ye Olde Orchard Pub’ banner that also has seven other outlets, including Saint-Sauveur, Pointe-Claire, and Châteauguay, would be conducting interviews of the current staff while also accepting CVs for potential new hires.
Regardless of having an existing roster of almost 15 full and part-time employees, a Facebook posting dated May 29 by the ‘Château Orchard’ page – also the projected name of the new establishment – advertised that they’re looking to hire.
Grant told The Journal that when Kelly's was bought, all the staff members stayed on and the plan is the same for the Château.
“We'll meet and interview them all,” he said. “It's never a bad idea to get resumes from other people in case some of the staffers don't want to come back. There's no plan to get rid of anybody.”
Some staff members see it differently.
“I was not offered my current position back,” said Randall who’s been with the establishment for 10 years, the last three as general manager. “They offered me what I feel is just a glorified waiter position. I feel it was more of just a way of giving me something rather than nothing.”
Though Randall was hoping to break the news to the staff members himself, the news was pre-empted by the Facebook posting and, predictably, had an emotional impact on the current Château staffers.
“It was unexpected,” said Randall who plans to stay on long enough to clear out bookkeeping and vacation pay issues.
Though the sale had been rumoured, many staff members said they didn’t know the sale would involve changing both the name and business model as in its current form, the hotel is not equipped with a kitchen and has traditionally been a venue to have a few drinks and take in local musical acts.
The Château du Lac bar and rooming house is presently owned by Hudsonite Rob Gale whose dad, Phil Gale purchased it in 1987 and in the last 50 years, it has only belonged to one other family – the Séguins, as Gale told The Journal June 2.
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO Current owner Rob Gale says he's confident the new proprietors will respect the Château du Lac's charm and history.
The popular watering hole has always housed a bar on the main floor with eight rooms per rent – all sharing a single bathroom – on the second and third floors. In 1987, the charge for a room was $25 a week. Replete with creaky wooden siding and historical charm, the Chat has a loyal following which the staff, without exception, refers to as a community akin to a family. A small portion of the interviews conducted outdoors for this story saw repeated waves, honks, and even an offer of, “cigars, Scotch, and Bloody Caesars” for all the current staffers from passing motorists.
This year's unfortunate timing of the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with the Château du Lac's busiest day of the year – the annual St. Patrick's Day parade – saw a sharp decline in revenue on what would have typically made up for the winter sales doldrums and accumulated GST and heating bills.
“I'm close to 62 and up to here with my credit line,” said Gale, adding that not knowing even a projected opening date influenced his decision to sell. “How much longer is it going to be? It's an unknown.”
Gale said his hopes were to keep a semblance of the original Château alive and is confident the new owners will respect the establishment's history.
“I know a lot of people are upset,” he said, “but this is the only alternative to the building being torn down and developed into condos.”
Gale also cited a changing customer base, saying the traditional working class blue-collar crowd of regulars can no longer afford Hudson's real estate prices and the smoking bans have further diminished business.
“The young crowd used to come to the bar for happy hour after work,” he said. “Now they're more likely to go to the gym.”
Apart from adding a kitchen and possibly a terrace out back, Grant said much of the Château's interior will be preserved. The front portion will remain a bar and the room off to the side will serve food and welcome families.
“We've added a coat of paint and refreshed the bathrooms but we loved the way it looked the day we walked into it.”
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO Though the new owner says it will mostly be business as usual when the Château du Lac bar becomes the Château Orchard, current staffers (left to right) Shannon Conway, Shane Halfyard, and Lindsay Lubell-Smith took the news hard with emotion overriding any thought of social distancing.
Staff member Shannon Conway said finding out the Chat was being sold was similar to the feeling she got when her childhood home was put on the market. “It’s a place you feel an attachment to and where you’ve created so many of your best memories. The Chat has always been more than a bar to this community. It’s sentimental to many of us; it’s a little piece of home.”
“It's been awesome,” said bartender Bobby Guilbault, “a lot of good times.” And while he expects to keep his job, he echoes his colleagues' melancholy at the piece of local history lost while trying to balance realistic expectations. “It's easy to get sentimental but if the new owners have the right mentality, it could be similar.”
Guilbault, along with barmaid Lindsay Lubell-Smith, said they're both hoping certain traditions will be preserved, like 'Loser Night' when they were opened on Christmas (to a reported full house) the Pepsi Challenge (which counted the number of Francophone versus Anglophone patrons) and the many fundraisers for staffers and community members facing health challenges as well as stray dog rescues in the Dominican Republic.
Lubell-Smith's emotional reaction didn't come from the name or ownership change as much as – like many in our uncertain pandemic times – not being able to find closure by working a final shift and having that personal connection with the regular patrons. Over her roughly 15 years working behind the bar, she's been witness to how much money was raised for various causes by the bar staff and patrons.
“It was so cool to see everyone in the community come together,” she said. “I would hope those traditions would continue. This isn't just the centre of the town – it's the centre of the community. When you walked in that door, you had that sense of comfort and belonging. Will people have that again? That's the scary part of the change.”