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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Nymark's Lodge, St. Sauveur, Quebec

Nymark's Lodge 1940

In the autumn of 1964 I was the lone recipient of a suspension in high school for my involvement in a spitball fight between classes. While sitting at home, I came to the conclusion that high school and I were not simpatico and that it might be an idea for me to look at other possibilities. I scoured the Montreal Star want ads to see if there was anything that might interest me.
There was one ad that got my eye. Nymark’s Lodge at the foot of the ski hills in St. Sauveur  in the Laurentian Mountains was looking for a bellboy. I could do that I thought. I pictured myself hanging around reading magazines until someone needed assistance with their luggage. I could probably get in some skiing.
I was already familiar with Nymark’s. I barely missed getting taken away for underage drinking there the summer before. Trevor Payne and the Triangle had a steady gig there that summer. Trevor’s big tune was Watermelon Man. In 1994 he was awarded the Order of Canada. Yeah, this seemed like a good deal for me. Once the ski season got underway, this was spot was going to be party central.
I made the phone call. Collect. I was a bit surprised when they asked me how quickly I could make it up there. It never dawned on me that they hired me sight unseen. Wouldn’t a lot of people want this job? I never asked what the pay was. I might have not been the brightest 17 year old around. I packed up some clothes in a duffle bag and made my way up to St. Sauveur.
Nymark’s Lodge was built almost entirely by hand by Victor Nymark himself. Victor was an expert on creating buildings out of logs. He was originally from Finland. He was the head foreman on the construction of the Chateau Montebello that was built around 1930. For many years the chateau was the biggest log building in the world. Victor was in his seventies when I met him and he once told me story about being so poor when he was building Nymark’s Lodge that he would give his wife his pants if she had to go into town to get groceries.
I think it was about the middle of November when I turned up at the lodge. There were very few cars in the parking lot and there was no snow on the ground. I introduced myself and was given a tour of the building by the front desk guy who was Victor’s son-in-law. I think his name was Pat. I was assigned a small room that I shared with a guy who worked in the kitchen. His name was Gaetan and he didn’t speak English. We somehow managed to communicate between the few English words he knew and my limited French.
At some point on my tour with Pat I asked about what my pay would be. I was told that it was 15 bucks a week and included the room and meals. I wasn’t very impressed with my compensation but thought that once ski season rolled around the tips would easily make up for the lack of pay.
I soon discovered that the job was a little more than being a bellboy. They never told me that I was also expected to perform any odd job that they could come up with. For the first few days it was a variety of clean up chores and then one night the snow started to fall like there was no tomorrow. By the morning there was about 3 feet of the white stuff up on the roof. I was handed a wide shovel and a ladder and told to go up on the roof and get as much snow off as I could.
To say that this task was tad on the unsafe side would be putting it mildly. There were no ropes or anything like that to secure me. The only thing that might save me from a tumble and injuring myself was that the snow was also about 3 feet high on the ground. I was up above the kitchen shoveling away when I hit a rivet on the tin roof with the shovel and went flying through the air. While in flight I passed over the skylight above the stove in the kitchen below. Luckily, I missed crashing through the glass.
Nymark’s also owned a small ski hill behind the hotel that had a rope tow that was mostly used by beginners learning how to ski. I was assigned the task of grabbing the T-bar at the top of the hill to prevent it from swinging around wildly. It was like trying to grab bull horns with one hand. I got gored more than a few times. On top of that I was freezing to death. 15 bucks a week? You bastards!
Hill 70
It got so cold at the top of the hill that I had to warm up from time to time in the operator’s hut at the bottom of the hill. I was introduced to something I think was called Alcool which is about as close to raw alcohol one can get to and still be drinkable. It helped a bit.
By this time I realized I was just being used as very cheap labour. What really ticked me off that while I was shovelling the roof or working on the ski hill, someone else was getting tips carrying luggage to the rooms.  I thought about just quitting but the hotel had filled up and the Christmas season was just around the corner. Party central stuck in my head.
One day I was in town and used part of my 15 bucks to grab a pork sandwich in a local café right across the street from a place called The Inn which had been a favoured drinking spot by many young Montrealers dating back to the late 1930s. In fact I once found a badge that my uncle who died in WW2 had owned that had the name of The Inn on it with crossed skiis and the year 1939 on it.
I ran into a few guys in the restaurant that I had met a number of months earlier when I auditioned as a singer for a band called Jennifer’s Gentleman in Montreal. I sucked pretty bad. Two of the guys from that band had joined a new band that included two brothers with the last name Lunney. I think they were related to Bob Lunney who owned a sporting goods store on Cote St. Luc Road in N.D.G in Montreal. The long and the short of this chance meeting was I introduced them to Victor Nymark’s son-in-law and they got a gig for the winter weekends.
I went home for a few days at Christmas. The hotel was now packed. I met a couple of guys from Toronto who were really into partying. One of them was a real bull shitter and went around claiming to be David Clayton Thomas. Nobody from the Montreal area had a clue who David Clayton Thomas was at the time so I guess it didn’t much matter.
If these two guys had any funds at all it certainly wasn’t for lodging. Each night they managed to crash in some guest’s room. When they learned that I was going home for Christmas they asked if they could sleep in my room. I said fine but they would have to leave the door unlocked and explain themselves to my roommate. When I got back from Montreal I opened the door to my room and found about two feet of snow covering everything. Apparently they had been using the window to come and go and had left it open.
By the time New Year’s rolled around I knew my days were numbered. Some friends came up from Montreal on a weekend afternoon and we all got drunk in the lounge. One of those friends later became the manager of one of Canada’s biggest companies. He had an interesting habit of trying to freak out girls by taking out a false tooth that was the result of a football collision.
I was fired that afternoon for not only being drunk but for standing on a chair and putting my hand through some ceiling tiles. I was giving bellboys everywhere a bad name I guess. Not working any longer at Nymark’s was OK by me. Fair enough. And then I thought that there should be some settling of accounts.
I went up to one of the top floor bathrooms and placed a rubber mat over the drain in the shower. The bathroom door had one of those old latch hooks and I managed to make it look like the bathroom was occupied by someone by tripping the latch.
I think I had been back home for about a month when one day my father mentioned that he had got a phone call a number of weeks before from Nymark’s and that they wanted to know if I knew anything about a flood that had occurred at the hotel. Who me? I think my father put two and two together.
My history with Nymark’s was not complete. A few months later I rented a pair of wooden skiis from them. I took a bit of a header coming down a hill and one of the skis broke in half. I tried to join the two jagged pieces and took them back to try and get my deposit back. It didn’t work.
Over the next few years I spent a number of weekends up at St. Sauveur. Sometimes I crashed at a friend’s ski shack. A few times I stayed at a little rooming house called the Wee Ski. I slept out by the swimming pool behind Nymark’s one night. The oddest place I ever slept at was in a small chapel just down the road from Nymark’s. I remember waking up in the loft and seeing people wandering in for Sunday services down below. I crunched myself in a corner until the service was over so I wouldn’t be seen.
Ski train from Montreal 1939
I was back east around 1982 and we took a drive up to the Laurentians and I saw Nymarks’s Lodge one last time. I later learned that it had burned down. It wasn’t me!  Honest.
Nymark's Lodge 1978.
Main drag St. Sauveur 2012.
Newer building where I think The Inn used to stand. 2012
Catholic church in St. Sauveur 2012.
Loft in chapel where I slept one night in mid 1960s.


1 comment:

  1. Hello
    I lived up North. I knew Victor Nymark and his son Bill and family. Where Newer building The Inn used to stand. i knew the owners, There daughter was my bestie and i spent many weekends at the INN with the Edwards. There was a golf cource where there is now a water slide. Beside the church is a bakery where on a saturday night dad would bring beans and the baker would cook them and after church dad would go and get the beans and we would have them for breakfest The little church near Nymark was run by REV Baugh. Those were the good old days. I am going up to Sauveur on oct 13 2017 I can not wait TKX FOR THE MEMORIES SIGN DIANE ROBERGE