Famous Quebec eatery set to close

A landmark rest stop in Quebec that's best known for the dinosaurs and monster trucks that litter its grounds is on the verge of shutting its doors for good.

Rest stop known for dinosaurs and monster trucks on the verge of shutting its doors

Le Madrid, on Highway 20 midway between Montreal and Quebec City, is known for its dinosaurs -- massive fibreglass structures built by hand. (CBC)

A landmark rest stop in Quebec that's best known for the dinosaurs and monster trucks that litter its grounds is on the verge of shutting its doors for good.

The family-owned Le Madrid has been a popular pit stop for travellers, attracting about 400,000 people a year.

But the red-roofed building, a staple on Highway 20 midway between Montreal and Quebec City, is to be torn down in early September.

Earlier this summer, the Arel family sold the popular institution in St-Leonard-d'Aston to a Quebec developer.

Julie Arel, who co-owns Le Madrid with her husband Daniel Paulin, said it's time to do something else and enjoy some family time.

But from the minute the closure was announced, the number of clients doubled with those wanting one last meal at the kitschy restaurant, Arel said.

Others just want to visit it before the place is bulldozed.

"What they like is that it's not like any other place they've been," Arel said.

A veritable who's who of Quebec celebrities has stopped at Le Madrid -- including political heavyweights such as former Quebec premiers Rene Levesque and Lucien Bouchard.

Levesque in particular would stop in routinely while making the drive to and from the provincial capital and order the vegetable soup -- something he documented in his book.

Arel said Bouchard went there once with his sons and absolutely wanted them to see the place.

"Sure there are monster trucks and dinosaurs outside but there's all sorts of stuff inside too," Arel said. "There's lots of things for the kids."

Inside, kids are entertained by toys and games and a salt-water aquarium.

There's a bit of history to the place too -- in a previous incarnation, the location was the site of Le Moulin Rouge, a dance hall where many local couples met and were married.

It burned down in 1967 and later Le Madrid -- named in part for the Spanish style building -- was built in its place.

It has its regulars -- some who even come for two meals a day. The locale also houses a convenience store, a gas station and a motel.

"Everyone has their story attached to Le Madrid," Arel said.

But soon all of it -- including most of the dinosaurs -- will be sold.

The place is shutting down on Aug. 31 before everything is put up for auction on Sept. 3. Three days later, the building will be destroyed.

Unique decor

A young child enjoys the fibreglass dinosaurs at Le Madrid. ((CBC))
Already, some people have helped themselves to mementoes like menus and other items.

But clearly, the popular items are the dinosaurs -- massive fibreglass structures built by hand in the Beauce region of Quebec and a big draw since their arrival in 1994.

"Some of them have already sold," Arel said, adding about 50 dinosaurs are left on the site. "My father owns them and he's started selling them. People are really excited about having them on their lawns."

The dinosaurs have also been popular with vandals and thieves.

Just last May, two of them were swiped and the three-metre-tall creatures were later found dangling from a tree about 25 kilometres away.

"People are really attached to the dinosaurs, some have even asked if they could adopt them," Arel said.

Immostar, the Quebec developer buying the site, said the name "Le Madrid" will stay in some form -- and so too will about 10 dinosaurs that will be integrated into a play area for the new, modern rest area.

The company said it is necessary to knock down the antiquated building and add modern features.

"[Le Madrid] is a rest area that's probably one of the best known rest stops in Canada so we seized the opportunity," said.

Daniel Larocque, the marketing and communications director for Immostar.

Larocque said the monster trucks won't be part of the new installation as they don't go with the company's green philosophy.

But the dinosaurs will.

"We want to keep a bit of the theme and the spirit of the Madrid," he said.

The business has been in the Arel family since Julie's father, Richard, bought it in a bankruptcy sale in 1997. Julie Arel, who has worked there since she was 13, has run it since 2002.

Her father had made it a goal to make Le Madrid the No. 1 rest stop between Montreal and Quebec City -- and Arel said the family did that.

"But I think I'm ready to turn the page," she said.

"I'm saddened that Le Madrid is going to be destroyed, but that's life."