During the summer of 1980 I bartended in the village of St. Sauveur, an hour north of Montreal. I was 19 and had no experience but was hired on the spot by the two young doctors from Montreal who had just bought the fading Win-Sum Inn. A three-story log hotel, the Win-Sum Inn had been a popular ski destination in the 1950’s for Montreal and New Yorkers: 22 steam-heated rooms, an automatic sprinkler system, a log-walled dining room and delicious food prepared by “a really good chef”.
I worked in the basement bar once advertised as the “amusingly decorated Dog House”. There was no trace of anything amusing, just dark bar furniture and a pool table. I opened at 4 pm every day. It was a drag to have to go into the cold dark cellar and serve scotch with a beer chaser to old Eddy. He didn’t like the new owners very much because he could no longer keep a running tab or smoke his pipe inside. A fixture at the far end of the bar with his full head of white hair and matching mustache, he rambled on about the injustice of being a German soldier in WW 2, the virtues of his long dead wife, and the uppity outsiders buying up the town. One day he brought in an old hand gun for no particular reason, he just laid it on the bar and ordered his usual. The young doctors told him he couldn’t come back, and tensions simmered all summer long between some locals and people from away.
André the chef and I were the only two people living at Inn; he came with the place when it changed hands. I couldn’t really tell if he was a good cook or not – the inn was never very busy. He rarely spoke to me, but he always asked how I wanted my dinner. I wasn’t a picky eater, I just didn’t like to eat fish with the head still on.
Andre had a room on the second floor, just around the corner from the staircase leading up from the kitchen. I chose a room way up on the third floor – two twin beds, a little sink where I brushed my teeth, and a small window set into a sloping roof that looked out over the mountains. It was cozy, but there were lots of creepy noises – clanging, creaking, knocking. There weren’t many guests, so when someone did come up the stairs at night, I paid attention. One night some friends were staying over, four of us crammed into my room, when the footsteps stopped outside my door. It was Eddy, drunk, and wanting to chat. His white hair glowed as he attempted to perch on the bed nearest the door. We persuaded him to leave and never mentioned it to anyone.
I learned to play pool really well that summer in between pouring beer for the locals, who all wanted to help me improve my game in some way. The Air Canada pilot became quite flushed after a few drinks and had lots of pointers from the bar stool, the lanky social worker from the youth detention center, who invited me to his best friend’s Jewish wedding, was much more hands-on with cues and angles. And a small, compact man, who claimed to be the only black resident in the village, pushed Ayn Rand’s book on Selfishness into my hands, gave me two days to read it, and then wanted to come up to my room and discuss it.
I stopped in St.Sauveur about 10 years ago and went up the hill only to find a deceptively small meadow bordered by very tall evergreens. The only person I could find who remembered anything was a baker at Boulangerie Pagé, the oldest family-run business in town. The Win-Sum Inn had burned down years ago, and it was probably to claim the insurance.
I stopped in St.Sauveur again recently. Pastel aluminum-sided bunglows lined the freshly-built street that ended in the meadow. It was silent, I hoped kids played here at least. Could a whole other world have really existed on this impossibly small patch of green?
I asked the woman running the Jugo Juice store what she knew about the WinSum Inn. She’d grown up here, but had never heard of it, and was actually a bit skeptical. Pagé bakery had been sold. Maybe there was no one left in town who could corroborate my story, but there was the internet.