René Shooner, president of the Pierreville historical society
Étiennette Biron-Bélisle, daughter of the first man to sell Abenakis brand mineral water
Dominic Pearson from Breuvages Bull's Head Inc., which now sells Abenakis brand mineral water
For more information (in French only): L'eau minérale Abénakis
Video transcript: View
(8 minutes, 11 seconds)
INTERVIEW WITH ÉTIENNETTE BIRON-BÉLISLE AND PAUL SHOONER
Étiennette Biron-Bélisle: I'm Étiennette Biron-Bélisle, daughter of Omer Biron, former owner of the Abénakis springs. He purchased the springs in 1945. He retained ownership until 1975, when there was a fire in the factory, which isn't there anymore. That's where the factory was. You can see the foundations, and that was a ramp for trucks. That was the old dance hall. It used to be on the other side of the street, but they moved it here to build the factory.
My father would have liked to form a partnership with a doctor, or with the Department of Natural Resources that existed back then, to keep offering the saltwater baths that they had back then. They were said to have healing powers. Paul Shooner: Ha ha ha ha! Étiennette Biron-Bélisle: That's what I heard. They cured gout, every time! Paul Shooner: Ha ha ha ha!
Paul Shooner: I'm Paul Shooner, from Pierreville. I have a few memories of the hotel. In the early 1930s, I can remember that far back, there was the Abénakis Springs Hotel. Us kids would come here from Pierreville on our bikes. Our parents first brought us here to taste the spring water. When you went down here, next to the hill, there were water fountains. And later we would come here during the holidays to drink the salt water. I also remember that, back then, it was a Mr. Watts who owned the place. Mr. Watts was a client who would come by the Shooner store. Tourists would come to the hotel, especially Americans, and Mr. Watts would organize outings for them on Lake Saint-Pierre. He would also hire guides, every fall, to take them duck hunting.
I know that people from Pierreville and Saint-François-du-Lac would also come here, because the hotel was a popular meeting spot, especially on weekends. They would play music at the hotel, and people would dance. And in church on Sundays, the sermon would deal with that topic fairly often. In those times, dancing may not actually have been a sin, but...ha ha ha ha! It sure was treated like one! The main attraction was the salt water, the salt springs that were here. People came here because it was said that the salt water had healing powers. So people would come to bathe in the salt water. That was the main attraction of the hotel.
INTERVIEW WITH RENÉ SHOONER
René Shooner: Hi, I'm René Shooner. My family is well-known in this region, and my ancestors did business with the Abénakis Springs people for many years. I am a member of the local historical society. Right now, we are in front of what we could call the home of Mr. Watts, because I'm not sure if Mr. Kimpton also lived here. This house was built by Mr. Watts around... Up there, it says 1880. I don't know if it was really built in 1880, but it's quite possible. So Mr. Watts lived here, and later all the other owners of Abénakis Springs, including Mr. Biron. Legend tells that the springs were discovered by the Abenaki, who would come along the river here.
They didn't bottle the water yet, at that time. The water was used at the hotel, and there were public water fountains, accessible to everyone, on the other side of the road. I remember when I was four or five, my father would bring us to drink from the fountains. The fountains were shaped like big vases, with a jet of water coming out the top. I was too small to reach it, so my father would lift me up so I could drink from the fountain. We would do it often. When people would first taste the water, they found it terrible. It was so salty they couldn't drink it! But they would get used to it very, very quickly. Even today, I still drink it sometimes.
INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIC PEARSON
Dominic Pearson: My name is Dominic Pearson. I am one of the current owners of the Abénakis springs. There are three owners: me, my brother, and Charles Martel, a friend of mine from university. We bought the springs two years ago from a Mr. Lapierre, who lives in Drummondville. He had bought it from Mr. Biron, a few years back. We used to distribute Abénakis mineral water. We have a soft drink company, and we would distribute the water in the Eastern Townships, to our clients. I knew Mr. Lapierre from before we bought the soft drink company. He had told us that he was interested in moving on. So that's when we decided to buy the business. There is a lot of history behind Abénakis mineral water, and we found that fascinating. People have been bottling this water for many, many years. It's been famous even longer than that for its quality and high mineral content. It is a unique mineral water. We researched it, and we weren't able to find any other bottled water with such a high mineral content. Not just in Canada—not anywhere in North America, or even in other parts of the world.
The spring is in that little white cabin. We pump water from that cabin. We put it in a tank truck, together with water from another cabin that is just behind it. Then we bring it to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to be bottled. Modern machines work very quickly. It goes so fast that there isn't really any demand for small bottling operations. That's why we have our water bottled. But the water all comes from that cabin. There is also an underground pipe that brings the water here from the other spring. So the truck comes right here. It stays around 12 hours, which is how long it takes to fill the tank. Then the guy comes to pick up the truck and brings it to the plant in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.