Au Cœur De La Pomme – A True Historical Site
The year 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Au Coeur de la pomme, in Frelighsburg.
Au cœur de la pomme is much more than an environmentally-friendly orchard. This unique site is almost 300 years old and its history is directly connected to the roots of this country. From the First nations to the first Levasseur who owned the Saint Armand Seigneury, from the loyalist settlers to the Spencer family, from the former Quebec Premier Adélard Godbout to the numerous and popular Labrecque family, this farmland has a unique history. And the family of Helene and Steve Lavasseur has been engaged for the last 30 years in enhancing this site and its resources.
The Abenaki Period and the first Lavasseur
The area surrounding Frelighsburg was occupied by the Abenakis for more than a century and they kept living there for a few years after the establishment of the Saint-Armand Seigneury on September 23, 1748.
The new Seigneury, created out of territories extracted from three existing Seigneuries, was conceded to Sir Nicolas-René Levasseur, born in Dunkerque, France, on February 16, 1707, who was a builder of large vessels (500 to 700 barrels) for the King of France. Attracted by the abundance of white oak which is ideal for shipbuilding, Levasseur builds a saw mill around 1749 at the foot of the Missisquoi River first fall in Swanton.
The Quebec military defeat put a stop to the shipbuilding activity in the Nouvelle-France.
The British Regime and the Spencer Family
The development of the region itself, however, starts in 1786 when the first county is sold to Thomas Dunn and his 34 associates. They divide it into lots of 210 acres which they sell for $200 each, mostly to Loyalist settlers coming from the northern United States.
Among the first settlers is Abram Freligh, a physician of Dutch origin, who arrives around 1801 with his wife and 10 children, his servants and slaves. The development of Frelighsburg then starts, and it is soon recognized as a mostly anglophone village, typical of the Eastern Townships of the time. The main economic activity is agriculture and the story of the land where the Au cœur de la pomme orchards now grow, bears witness to this era.
In the early days of Frelighsburg, the land is first bought by Jeremiah Spencer, who had arrived in Saint-Armand around 1790. With the help of his son Elijah, he clears out many lots and works at building what would become three important dairy farms during the XIXth century. Farmers from generation to generation, the Spencers are recognized as pioneers of agricultural and social life in Frelighsburg.
Throughout the years, the Spencer family builds the barns using mortise and tenon joints, a technique which requires no nails, and the barns are still being used today. Then, around 1857, the family house is erected using bricks that were made on site. Traditionally, Loyalist settlers would plant three white pines in front of the house to let other Loyalists know they could stop there to rest and eat. The Spencer house had its three pines but unfortunately, the last of the three pines was broken in a storm a few years back and had to be cut down.
Over time and throughout their various projects, the Spencers became totally self-reliant and self-sufficient; the farm houses a forge, a woodworking shop, a weaving loom as well as a cheese factory.
There is so much work to be done on the farm! Whenever additional help is needed, the Spencers use an infallible communications method: a white sheet is hung outside the attic window and can be seen from the village. The members of the Spencer family would then quickly arrive to lend a hand when it was needed.
At the beginning of the XXth century, the land where Au cœur de la pomme currently stands was a prosperous dairy farm. Peleg Spencer is the last member of the Spencer family to own the farmland until his death in 1934. A few years later, in 1940, the Spencer family sells the farm to Adélard Godbout, then Quebec Premier, for $15,700. A new chapter of history begins.
Adélard Godbout, Quebec Premier
A native of Témiscouata, Adélard Godbout visits Frelighsburg as part of his duties as Minister of Agriculture from 1930 to 1936. Enthused by the area, he acquires a neighbouring farm from the Harvey family in 1931 and renames it Les Trois Ruisseaux. In those days, it was practically unconceivable to imagine that the Minister of Agriculture would not own a farm.
As Quebec Premier in 1936 and from 1939 to 1944, Adélard Godbout will be remembered in Quebec history for his legislations recognizing the women’s right to vote and creating Hydro-Quebec.
Following his purchase of the farmland in 1940, and having the improvement of the land’s yield as his primary goal, Adélard Godbout undertakes, with the help of neighbours, to recuperate arable land: first on the site of the old abandoned railway, and second by rectifying the course of the meandering Pike River, draining the land to make it cultivable. The major works completed under his stewardship have left their permanent mark on the landscape of the area.
Leaving politics in 1948, Adélard Godbout settles on his land in Frelighsburg. In 1954 he sells the farm site to Alexina Labonté. Paul Labrecque rents the dairy farm in April of 1956 and uses the facilities until he buys them in 1966. Over the years, the Labrecque family, with its 14 children, created a joyful meeting place for all of Frelighsburg.
At the time, apples are not a big part of the local economy even if apple growing was introduced in the Frelighsburg area around 1920, and the first orchard dates back to 1867 in Meig’s Corner, in the County of Dunham. However the region is well on its way to being recognized for its orchards and apple products.
The Levasseur Family – 30 Years Growing Au cœur de la pomme
When Hélène and Steve Levasseur acquire the farm from Paul Labrecque in 1982, two hectares of apple orchard are present on the land but the pastures and fields are rented, the buildings are empty, and the house is uninhabited. The Levasseur family decides to settle, restores the house and the buildings, and turns to apple growing. This magnificent historical house and unique domain along the Pike River start a new life with the inception of Au Coeur de la pomme.
Following the birth of their second daughter Laurence, in 1990, Hélène and Steve decide on a new vocation for the orchard which will allow them to settle permanently in the countryside house. The new mission of the site is traced naturally: the production of old-fashioned cider vinegar is organised inside the old barns while protecting the heritage look of the buildings.
From 1986 to 1994, Steve Lavasseur is busy planting another five hectares of orchard in order to increase the apple production. He and Hélène also start working on acquiring expertise in vinegar making. Their main goal is to produce an authentic cider vinegar and safeguard its therapeutic properties. Hence the recipe uses a mix of hand-picked apple varieties, to achieve a maximum of quality and preserve all properties.
It is also essential to maintain the integrity of the product by reducing its handling to a minimum. Their cider vinegar is therefore made without filtration or pasteurization, and contains no added yeast, acetic powder or preservatives. The process certainly takes more time, but since the vinegar is naturally transformed, a very high quality product can be obtained. The deposit that forms in this unfiltered cider vinegar is called the mother-vinegar, a guarantee of authenticity.
Throughout the years, different homemade products were added to the vinegar production, such as chutneys, jams, mustards, jellies, and several others.
Au cœur de la pomme Welcomes You
In the heart of Frelighsburg, Au cœur de la pomme pomme is known as an environmentally-friendly orchard prized by customers for its fresh apples and homemade products.
The old manure shed was transformed into a beautiful country store where stands a magnificent “Queen Victoria” double deck stove from 1917.
In harvest season, from mid-August until early November, the patrons and friends of Au cœur de la pomme can stop in to go apple picking or enjoy the wonderful taste of many regional delicacies, picnicking around the barns or along the Pike River. And they can also buy fresh homemade products that they will enjoy for several months remembering their visit.
Luckily, they and many more will have the opportunity to do so for several years to come as the Levasseur’s eldest daughter Stéphanie is keeping the tradition going!