Montreal

Brome Lake Duck Festival might end after 20-year run

No one wants to run the annual Brome Lake Duck Festival, which brings in $2 million in revenue for Quebec's Eastern Townships region.

Major Eastern Townships tourism event with shoestring budget struggles to attract a promoter

Former Brome Lake Duck Festival organizer, Jessica Brown, said promoting the festival needs to be a labour of love. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

One of the Eastern Township's largest festivals risks being cancelled for the first time in 20 years because no one has stepped forward to run it.

The Brome Lake Duck Festival has been an annual event since 1995. It draws many tourists to come and sample local world-famous Brome duck, prepared in different area restaurants, over the course of two weekends in the fall.

Organizers say it brings in about $2 million in revenue for the town of Brome Lake, which is situated between Montreal and Sherbrooke, despite only working with an operating budget of $50,000. 

Labour of love

Traditionally, the festival has been run by committed business owners or residents of the small communities which make up Brome Lake.

Until this year, Knowlton resident Jessica Brown was the president of the festival and worked year-round looking for sponsors and coordinating the event.

I did it because I love the town.- Jessica Brown, former organizer

"I did it because I love the town. It's so close to my heart. This is where my family is, and my family has businesses here. The thought of it not happening made us want to keep it going, which is what we did," she said.

She said the community was supportive when she decided to step down as president.

"When I told everybody last year, nobody was super shocked, because they understand it's so much work for next to nothing, almost no pay. Basically we're all volunteers," she said.

Since she resigned, no one else has stepped forward.

Right now, she's storing a veritable graveyard of inflatable, wooden and rubber ducks in her basement, hoping someone will take them when they take over the festival.

Reminents from the Brome Lake Duck Festival are collecting dust in former organizer Jessica Brown's basement. She worries no one is interested in continuing to organize the festival. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Businesses worried

The possibility of losing the festival is worrying for business owners, who rely on events to bring out-of-towners to their quaint communities.

Aileen Gabereau runs the Auberge Knowlton. She estimates the weekends of the festival double or triple the amount of sales in her restaurant and inn. She's hoping someone will take over the festival, which she believes is part of Brome Lake's identity.

Aileen Gabereau says her restaurant and inn are twice as busy during the Brome Lake Duck Festival. 0:26

"I think it's very bad news. I think we need to tie festivals into things we already have... The duck festival is many years old and we're known for it," said Gabereau. 

Brome Lake holding out hope

A spokesman for the town told CBC News he expects someone will come forward to run the festival before it's too late. He said council is currently expecting a proposal from a new promoter.

Brown hopes the festival will be saved, but she said even if someone were to make a proposal, they've already missed months of planning. Typically, she said, preparation for the event starts in December.

About the Author

Kate McKenna is a reporter with CBC Montreal. Email her at kate.mckenna@cbc.ca.

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