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By Kristen Smith
STE-MARTHE, QC—When much of the Auberge des Gallant w
as destroyed in a fire nearly two years ago, the owners were faced with whether to rebuild.
Not only did they rebuild; the Gallants upgraded and expanded.
The Gallant restaurant opened in 1972, after Gerry Gallant bought 400 acres in a maple and cedar forest near the Quebec/Ontario border. The hotel was built in 1988, followed by the Sugar Shack in 2000 and the spa six years later.
Situated between Montreal and Ottawa on Riguad Mountain, Auberge des Gallant is located in a wildlife sanctuary with more than 25 kilometres of trails.
With 40 on staff, co-owner Linda Gallant allocated portions of her hotel team to work security keeping people out of the fire-ravaged areas, clean up smoke and water damage and perform some wedding duties.
The restaurant business was temporarily transferred to the on-property Sugar Shack, a log building which offers a maple menu during the spring and brunch year-round.
No one was hurt in the fire, but the inn’s 24 rooms were lost and the recently renovated 150-seat, two-room fine dining restaurant had to be redone.
Gallant said the fire was caused by a cigarette in a pillar ashtray, which someone moved too close to a cedar wall outside. She said it was likely the top came off when it was shuffled—allowing in oxygen—and there was probably some garbage inside, which ignited.
“When we noticed there was a fire, the flames were actually coming out of the roof,” said Gallant. “We knew it was a goner.”
The April 2012 fire occurred at the start of the wedding season. “We had quite a few panicked brides and grooms,” said Gallant, noting the inn didn’t cancel any weddings and one was held four days later; Gallant said they bused people to other hotels and were able to maintain wedding business throughout the renovation.
“The one good thing about the fire was we didn’t have to question ourselves
on whether we were going to rebuild. We were planning on expanding for an opening in 2014,” said Gallant.
In the late ‘80s, easy access was in higher demand than extraordinary views and the original rooms faced the parking lot. Now, they are in a separate wing with a better view.
Half the new rooms were being rented in January 2014, and the 42 rooms were all slated to open by this month.
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The Gallant family turned the portion that burned down into a large banquet room, which is beside the kitchen, and accommodates 250 people. The Phoenix Hall was unveiled in October. “It rose from the ashes,” explained Gallant.
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According to the Family Business Institute, the majority of current family business owners believe the same family or families will control their business in five years, but succession statistics indicate that about 30 per cent of family and businesses survive into the second generation, 12 per cent are still viable into the third generation, and only about three per cent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.
Gallant noted that many independent hotels are up for sale; it seems the next generation isn’t interested in taking the torch because of the sacrifices they saw their parents make. The three Gallant sons, Neil, Steven, and Michael, work within the company.
“When my son [Neil] came home from school to announce to us that he was going to the hotel institute for cooking lessons, he could have told us that he wanted to be a doctor and he had been accepted at Harvard. I don’t think we would have been any happier,” said Gallant. “It was the best day of our lives, because we did not expect it.”
When Steven decided to study banquet and service, she was “over the moon.” The couple had always believed that inheritance of the business would have to come with a diploma.
The renovation cost about $7.5 million—the inn shareholders investing $3.5 million with the remainder financed by government and credit union—and Gallant noted that putting everything back into the business and starting over again required faith her boys would carry on the business.