Residents of sleepy Quebec town prepare to welcome the world for G7 summit
Le Manoir Richelieu is shown in La Malbaie, Quebec on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
LA MALBAIE, Que. - Locals in Quebec's Charlevoix region are quick to boast about their "paysage" - their landscape - which was formed when a meteorite smashed into Earth hundreds of millions of years ago along the St. Lawrence River.
Towns such as La Malbaie and Baie-Saint-Paul are inside the impact crater and surrounded by a ring of mountains that extends to the St. Lawrence River, where fresh water meets the saline water of the Atlantic Ocean, creating a playground for beluga whales.
It is in this crater where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will welcome the leaders of some of the world's most developed democracies for their annual meeting known as the G7 summit.
The heads of state of Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, the United States and Japan will gather June 8-9 for the 44th annual summit at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu hotel, which sits atop a cliff overlooking the blue water.
Rosaire Tremblay's three-floor, white-and-red-painted house lies below the Manoir at the foot of the cliff and has already been encircled by a steel security fence erected by the federal government.
Dubbed by Quebec media as "the most secure house in the world," Tremblay's home is located inside the security perimeter known as the "red zone," which stretches around the hotel and its golf course, an area that will be strictly controlled by the RCMP and other security forces.
"There will be an agent standing every 20 feet the length of the fence," Tremblay said, sitting by his dining table in La Malbaie, about 150 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
For a man whose property has essentially been occupied by the federal government - a presence that will only increase as the summit approaches - he was in a rather jolly mood.
"All the journalists who come talk to me want me to criticize the fence," he said.
But the 63-year-old father of three is willing to put up with the temporary inconvenience for the long-term benefits of the summit - one of which he's already enjoying.
"They cut down all the trees by the shore over there," he said, referring to federal officials, who needed an unimpeded view of the water for security reasons.
"I wasn't allowed to touch the trees - now I can see the water from my kitchen table. In the summer, I can sit here and see three whales every morning."
Tremblay was far more interested in talking about the mallards that breed every year in a marsh on his property than about the summit.
He also boasted how the Charlevoix tourist train runs on tracks just outside his house. The train carries passengers from mid-June to late October on a 125-kilometre journey that snakes through forested mountains and rocky shorelines.
A few metres down the road, Keven Dufour was painting the exterior window mouldings of his snack bar with help from Jessica Pelletier, who owns a restaurant across the street.
His two-floor, salmon-coloured bar is by the train tracks that run by Tremblay's house.
"Opinions here on the G7 are mixed," Dufour said. "It's an event that happens once in your life - that's how I look at it. I think that because it's costing a lot of money, people are against it."
Ottawa has budgeted $600 million for the summit and related G7 events throughout 2018.
Pelletier said because Ottawa is footing the bill, the summit's cost would be the same if the event were taking place in Vancouver.
"So we might as well take advantage of it," she said.
On the main street, a few kilometres north from Dufour and Pelletier, Beatrice Ouellet, 63, owns a women's lingerie store.
While people she knows are closing their business and heading out of town during the summit, she's not worried.
Ouellet's concern is more about unemployment, she said, unsolicited on the subject.
While locals warmly welcomed questions about the summit, many conversations turned toward the problems with the seasonal nature of the job market.
"The period of unemployment here is too long," Ouellet said, adding that government jobless benefits stop at the end of February, while most seasonal workers need financial help until May.
Audrey Gagnon, 34, owns a bistro a few blocks down the main street from Ouellet.
She's from Quebec's North Shore and says she's a little apprehensive as to what to expect from the summit.
"For me it's a little scary because I come from a region even smaller (in terms of population) than here," she said. "People who are older tell me they are anxious. Some say they won't leave their house."
She too, talked about how the region is beautiful but that jobs are a problem.
"Winter is quiet here and there is a job shortage, and then in the summer it's busy and there is a labour shortage," Gagnon said. "There are two extremes here."
Back at the most secure house in the world, Tremblay says aside from the whales, several seals relax by his home in the summertime, and that berries can be eaten "right off the bush" in his yard.
Residents, however, live in what he called a "black hole."
It's difficult to retain young people, he said, because the tourist season is not long enough to sustain unemployment benefits until the spring comes around.
But he thinks the G7 will help change that.
By 2020, Club Med plans to open a high-end ski resort at Le Massif, located about halfway between La Malbaie and Quebec City.
The $120-million project will bring many Europeans to the region, Tremblay said in a tone that suggested he was convinced it would happen.
"We get more than one million tourists from May to October," said an ebullient Tremblay. "The salaries are good. They go on unemployment after October and then in March - it's over. It's frustrating for young people, especially."
The G7 will end this, he said. "The Europeans, with the Club Med, will say: 'This is where the G7 happened. It's beautiful there.'
"And you know what? My little train in front of my house will run all year long."