Photography: Angus McRitchie
For some people, history is stored in rarely thumbed books that sit on dusty shelves in an area of a library that attracts the occasional browser. For others, it flashes on a screen, a collection of tidbits that are summoned to their fingertips during a casual Wikipedia search. But for Dominique Filion, history lives in the slant of cedar shingles, along the edges of wide natural wood floor-boards that have been smoothed by centuries, and in the pattern of the stones that frame the hearth in a kitchen that was built decades before Confederation.
That’s because for Filion, history – and more specifically, a small piece of Quebec’s past – lives in a home in the Richelieu Valley on the South Shore of Montreal. It has a specific address. And anyone who is interested can not only visit, but can stay for the weekend. Because how better to learn about history than to experience it?
But there will be no hewing of wood, drawing of water nor cooking over an open flame. Filion’s piece of history has all the modern amenities and upscale extras that today’s travellers and tourists are seeking in a five-star Airbnb rental. In fact, this is an Airbnb rental that has earned multiple five- star ratings.
“I bought this house to let people – people from France and Europe – live the experience of what life was like in Nouveau France,” Filion says.
A landscape specialist by profession, Filion bought the Canadiana-style house in a rural area of Beloeil in August of 2019. A resident of nearby Saint-Basile-le-Grand, he was familiar with the home, which dates to the 1770s. When he saw the “for sale” sign go up one day while driving by, he stopped in.
The house – known as the Maison Ancestral Ledoux-Bernard, according to the Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec – is a farmhouse that was built between 1772 and 1774. It was built by Louis Ledoux on a stretch of land that was given to him by his father, Jacques, in 1772. Made of wood, it has three stone fireplaces and chimneys, and is today the second oldest dwelling in the region.
It has a humble history as it was passed down from generation to generation to the members of the Ledoux and, then later the Bernard family. The Ledoux family lived on the small family farm for more than 70 years, while the Bernard family called it home for the next 129 years, from 1844 until 1973. Over the decades that stretched into centuries, the farmhouse witnessed a series of changes, including an expansion in the form of an addition built at the back of the home.
In 1973, the property was sold to a young couple, Yves Lemonde and Francine Maher. And over the span of 25 years they set to the meticulous task of restoring it to its original style.
According to Filion, this meant removing three layers of roof that had been added over the generations to reveal the original structure, which was refinished in what was used back in its early days: cedar shingles. With the help of a specialist from the l’Île d’Orléans across the river from Quebec City, all the windows were restored to reflect the original style – panels of square panes of glass set in wood frames. Even the floors, which had been covered in laminate in various spots, were replaced with wide wooden floorboards that had been salvaged from a house of similar vintage in Otterburn Park, Filion explains. “It was renovated respecting the norms and style of the old times,” he says, adding that as each element was restored, the charm and character of the old farmhouse was revealed.
Visitors who walk in feel that charm immediately. The rustic wood beams, which are all original to the structure, Filion points out, trace the outline of the rooms that are decorated with a mix of antiques and refined contemporary sofas and chairs.
The original fireplaces – all in working order – provide an eye-catching glimpse of what life was like back in the late 1700s. With one large hearth in the kitchen and two in the living room, and their accompanying stone chimneys, which trace their way up through the house at each end, they provide eye-catching decor elements that set the tone in the upstairs bedrooms and third-storey loft.
As an added reminder of life long ago, Filion points to the cast-iron bread oven, set in the chimney in the kitchen. It was added to the house around 1785, he says.
He bought the property with the plan to offer it as an Airbnb short-term rental in an attempt to not only share the property but to ensure that he could maintain it to showcase its heritage value. Today, it is rented for periods throughout the year, attracting vacationers from across Canada and abroad. People from New York, France and Belgium have all lived in the home for brief periods, he says.
The old house appeals to a clientele who are looking “for a certain experience, of having a glimpse of what life was like long ago in a new land, but with all the amenities of modern time to make you comfortable, such as heated floors,” he says. “The most important thing for me was to conserve the patrimony, to conserve the house and to allow others to live the experience.”
To that end, a binder is on display for visitors to peruse. It contains copies of old, original documents that tell its story. “I want them to know the whole history, so that they can appreciate the history of the house,” he explains. “In the end, this is an example of a beautiful home of a family who owned it for 200 years.”
It is a home where a little piece of history lives. •