The Baron Louis Empain

Louis Empain (1908-1976)


An empire of seventy companies

Louis Empain was the youngest son of Édouard Empain, a Belgian engineer, industrialist and financier who made his fortune in railroad construction (namely the Paris metro system). Édouard Empain died in 1929, leaving Louis and his brother, Jean, to lead an empire of seventy companies. Louis chose to hand full control of the empire over to his brother in order to pursue his own business endeavours.

Land acquisition

In 1935, he made an exploratory trip to Quebec to study business prospects and decided to invest in the region. Thanks to a method entitled the Empain System, where several companies owned by the same person work together, he created companies in a variety of areas, including construction, import/export; mining, forestry and farming. Furthermore, he also acquired a plot of undeveloped land in the Laurentians around lakes Masson, Dupuis and du Nord with the intent to build a luxurious tourist resort. A true nature lover, Empain named it Domaine d’Esterel after the Esterel Massif in Provence, France for its beauty and poetic name.
 

Pointe Bleue

The Baron hired Antoine Courtens, renowned Belgian architect from the Bauhaus school and well-versed in the Art Deco style, for the project. The Domaine was comprised of four main buildings:

            The Hotel de la Pointe bleue was perched on a 27-metre headland overlooking Lac Masson, with a downhill ski slope behind. Its architectural design featured a mix of square, rectangular and rounded shapes; the resulting illusion of height, in conjunction with large windows, provided a superb contrast of vertical and horizontal lines. Guest room furniture, also designed by Antoine Courtens, was built locally out of maple wood. The hotel was unfortunately demolished in 2012 after being sold to a land developer.

Manor of Pointe Bleue

The Shopping Centre is the oldest in Canada. Featuring an imposing “prow” with an immense bay window to admire the beautiful natural surroundings, the centre housed a Belgian pastry shop, a post office, a hair salon, an automotive repair garage, a 300-seat cinema for guests and nearby residents, as well as the Blue Room, a cabaret-style performance space inaugurated in 1938 by clarinetist Benny Goodman.

Commercial & community centre

Construction of the commercial & community centre.

Other view

View from the lake.

Other view

View from the front.

Sporting Club

The Sporting Club was located slightly behind, on Lac Dupuis. Like the shopping centre, its architecture was inspired by luxury liners that sailed the seas during the first half of the 20th century. As of 1938, the lake hosted numerous sporting events the likes of swimming and diving championships, sailing regattas and “car-boat” races.

Ski Lodge

The Ski Lodge was a large log inn built by Victor Nymark. Equipped with 15 rooms and two dormitories, it also featured a seaplane hangar. Flights were available from New York, Boston and Saint-Hubert. The lodge mysteriously burned down in 2012.

Holt Renfrew Store

Baron Empain added numerous residential buildings to his Domaine, including a villa, log cabins, cottages, several modern houses and stables.
           
The Second World War forced Louis Empain to return to Europe to serve his country, while the Government of Canada placed his property under receivership for protection. At the end of the war, the Baron announced his decision to sell all of his assets in Canada and in Belgium.

After many years without a buyer, the Domaine d'Estérel was finally purchased in 1957 by Fridolin Simard, the future founder of the town of Estérel. On March 4, 2014, the former shopping centre and surrounding natural environment were proclaimed a heritage site by Minister for Culture and Communications, Maka Kotta.

Credits

Historical and iconographic research, text:
Marc-André Lapointe and Samuel Mathieu

Sources :
-Jean Damecour, Patrimoine moderne en péril, Histoire Québec, n. 2, 2007.
-Frédérique Mercure, Sur les traces du baron Louis Empain, 2001.
-Société d'histoire de Sainte-Marguerite-du-lac-Masson et d'Estérel, L'héritage architectural de Louis Empain et d'Antoine Courtens, website visited 14 September 2016.
-Paul Trépanier, Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson et Estérel: le legs du baron Empain, dans Continuité, no 52, Winter 1992, pages 33 to 37.

Pictures:
Société d’histoire de Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson et d’Estérel, Fonds Empain

Extract of
Great Developers of Pays-d'en-Haut

Great Developers of Pays-d'en-Haut image circuit

Presented by : MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut

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