July 26th, 1989
By Craig McKee
A WORLD OF OLD AND NEW IN STE-ANNE
Its sunny Wednesday afternoon in Ste .Anne de Bellevue as René D’Aoust takes money from a customer who’s found a pair of shoes to his liking. The customer gets more for his money than just the shoes, however. He gets to take a step back in time. D’Aoust puts the cash in a small metal canister along with the bill, and sends it whisking away across a series of cords and pulleys to the cashier’s station at the back of the store. The cashier checks the bill, counts out the correct change and sends it whizzing back across the ceiling form whence it came.
D’Aoust has worked in the G. D’Aoust department store, established by his father Guisolphe in 1900, for most of his 80 years. He says the 1924 Lamson cash system still in use has not needed repairs since it was installed 75 years ago. “It’s good for another 100 years if they want to use it.”
D’Aoust says he and his 83-year-old brother Jean-Charles keep the system because it draws curious people into the store to get a glimpse of how things were done in another era. “People are fascinated by that,” he said. It’s part of the building. This year, the cash register used in the store since 1912 was finally retired. D’Aoust says it just became impossible to find parts for it anymore. Nevertheless it will continue to be kept on display.
Jean-Charles remembers the days in the early part of the century when goods for the store would arrive by boat. Large kegs full of molasses, attracting flies by the thousands, would have to be rolled uphill to the store where they were brought in through the back door of the building. He laughs as he recalls his father Guisolphe buying his first car, a 1913 Ford. He tells a story that one day his father took the family for a drive to Senneville but then realized he hadn’t yet mastered reverse and didn’t know how to turn the car around for the return journey. So everybody had to get out and push until the automobile was facing the right way. “It was very, very quiet then.” Jean-Charles said. There were more horses than cars.
The store, which has been a Ste .Anne fixture since it opened, is just one of the attractions that draw people to the area. On a summer day, people come to Ste-Anne to walk along the boardwalk or maybe to have lunch at one of the many restaurants with outdoor terraces overlooking Lake St.Louis.
It is this visible combination of old and new that sets Ste. Anne apart from so many of its neighboring towns and cities.
Just a few hundred feet from the D’Aoust store are a number of bars and restaurants more commonly identified with modern-day Ste. Anne. Quai Sera, Annie’s, the Brasserie Bellevue, le Boum and L’Extension are just a few of the places that have helped make Ste. Anne one of the most popular night spots west of downtown Montreal. This has led to big changes in the town, changes that not everyone feels are for the better. Many residents complain about the noise and vandalism the bars have brought to area.
Boistrous partyers, leaving at closing time, have been known to make quite a bit of noise as they walk through the streets and back to their cars. The intimacy of the village atmosphere becomes a disadvantage at this point as many of the town’s inhabitants live just off the main strip where most of the bars and restaurants are located. René D’Aoust says this phenomenon has had both a positive and a negative effect on Ste. Anne. He says the increasing number of people who come to the town to spend money is definitely good for business but like so many long-time residents, he wonders if it’s worth it. “People are unhappy with the noise.” He said. “It’s too bad.” To respond to the problem, the town council has decided not to allow any new bars along Ste. Anne Street.
Photo page 1: Jean-Charles D’Aoust (right) and his brother René stand by their old cash register.
Photo page 4: This is what D’Aoust store looked like in the early 1900s. Horse and buggies were the main mode of transportation seen along Ste. Anne St. back then.