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Le Baluchon, an Exciting Adventure…

It was on October 26, 1982 that the Éco-plein air Le Baluchon idea was born, the inspiration of seven brainstorming, adventure-seeking students, led at the time by Louis Lessard (a student in biology) and Yves Savard (a student in graphic design). With community support, Le Baluchon really only got going in December 1982, when Hydro-Québec gave Le Baluchon the rights of possession of the land at the old Moulin Damphousse (Damphousse mill). Over the succeeding months, the Le Baluchon Corporation increasingly gained credibility, successively acquiring the rights to use the Chutes à Magnan (Magnan falls), the Chute aux trembles (Aspen falls), the Chute Damphousse (Damphousse falls) as well as the l’Archipel du sabot de la vierge (Lady’s-Slipper archipelago). The support the Le Baluchon project received exceeded all expectations, and this turn led to the idea of creating a multi-use tourist centre.  

At the same time, Louis and Yves were joined by three individuals who have played a vital role in the success of this outstanding holiday centre, Céline Lessard, Gilles Lessard, and Jean Marc Gauthier. In 1986, a master plan for the future tourist centre was presented to all levels of government and many meetings were set up to lay out the details of the project. Two years later, governments confirmed their financial support, which meant Le Baluchon would benefit from an overall investment of $2 million!

Construction began under the supervision of Louis Lessard et Yves Savard, who had both put aside their original career plans to completely devote themselves to Le Baluchon.  A year later, on June 24, 1990, Le Baluchon officially opened its doors to the public with 12 rooms and 20 employees. The students’ dream had indeed become reality.

Two years of operation saw Le Baluchon garnering several awards: “Innovation of the Year” in 1991 and the highest tourism award, the Excellence touristique (“Tourism Excellence” in English) in 1992 in the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois competition; and “Services Enterprise of the Year” for 1991 awarded during the Gala de l’entreprise de la MRC de Maskinongé, which recognized excellence in service. And Le Baluchon kept expanding. May 15, 1992, Le Baluchon inaugurated a 24-room inn as well as one of the most modern spas around. The same year, it was awarded the “Lodging and Catering Business of the Year” prize as well as a special mention in the Efforts marketing (“Marketing Initiatives”) category at the MRC de Maskinongé gala. In 1993, Le Baluchon was recognized as the business that best promoted the region through its marketing efforts, and was awarded the Prix de la promotion touristique (tourism promotion) prize at the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois gala. Le Baluchon was also one of the three nominees for the national award in the same category.

The adventure continued in 1994, and during the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois Le Baluchon won the highly coveted Gastronomy award, highlighting the refinement and excellence of its fine French and Québec cuisine. The Le Baluchon directors then decided to present an image more in keeping with a refined offering by changing its name to Le Baluchon, Auberges et relais champêtres. In November 1994, the MRC de Maskinongé awarded Auberge Le Baluchon its “Business of the Year” prize, which capped off a year of sustained business initiatives. During that same year, Le Baluchon, in collaboration with Innergex, developed and implemented an innovative project, Le parc récréotouristique des chutes à Magnan. This theme park features a micro-hydroelectric plant that is unique in Quebec, and organizes guided tours focusing on the protection of the Du Loup River environment.

In 1995, Auberge Le Baluchon doubled the area of its health spa by adding an indoor pool, a fitness room and several treatment rooms. Additionally, the dining room underwent major renovations, with guests now being welcomed in a most appealing country-style decor. That year as well, the Le Baluchon team was awarded the Excellence touristique prize during the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois

In 1997, that prize was once again awarded to Le Baluchon. In addition, the executive chef of the Le Baluchon dining room, Patrick Gérôme, was named the Chef santé de l’année, an award given by the Société des Chefs, Cuisiniers, Pâtissiers du Québec for his creativity and his efforts to ensure healthful gastronomic cuisine and with attention to impeccable culinary presentation. Le Baluchon’s reputation grew every year along with the many prizes it received: in 1998, Le Baluchon really excelled at  the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois awards by virtue of the quality of its package deals and the excellence of its service, winning the prestigious Accueil et service à la clientèle and Développement de la restauration québécoise (“Hospitality and Customer Service” and “Québec Catering Development”) awards. 

Le Baluchon had another outstanding year in 1998, from a business-development standpoint. An investment of $5.2 million investment added new locations and new activities in an unrivalled natural setting. They included a sugar shack, the Érablière de l’Intendant, which was transformed in turn into the Table du Roy, where 90 guests can celebrate any festive occasion. As Le Baluchon’s outdoor and cultural activities nerve centre, La Seigneurie de la Nouvelle-France offered several types of holiday packages allowing its guests to discover the setting and the stage decors featured in the Marguerite Volant  television series.

The new De la Rivière Inn, inaugurated at the same time, allows Le Baluchon to offer 60 very comfortable rooms in a remarkable setting. With its charming country-style character, the De la Rivière chalet was anovelty that also added to the resort’s charm. To put a finishing touch on the overall concept, the microbrewery Les bières de la Nouvelle-France offered country-style bistro menus, brewing three delicious beers that could be savoured onsite: the Ambrée de sarrasin, the Blonde d’épeautre and the Claire fontaine.

In March 1999, the executive chef of Le Baluchon was elected Regional Chef of the Year by the Mauricie chapter of the Société des Chefs, Cuisiniers et Pâtissiers du Québec.

Following this, the Collège des anciens Chef de l’année de la SCCPQ awarded Patrick Gérôme the highly coveted prize of 1999 Quebec Chef of the Year. Also in March 1999, the regional jury for the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois competition awarded the Promotion touristique prize to Le Baluchon for the quality of its promotional tools as well as for its efforts to promote the region as a tourist destination par excellence. At the national level, the jury emphasized the exceptional efforts of Le Baluchon to promote the region nationally as well as internationally by awarding it the bronze Promotion touristique prize. In July 1999, the Le Baluchon seignory launched the Fêtes champêtres de la seigneurie de le Nouvelle-France. To the surprise of its hosts, more than twice the number of expected visitors took in the event. An exciting program, shows, special entertainment evenings with themes and many activities, all steeped in authenticity, are the reasons for this event’s success. 

In January 2000, Le Baluchon received the “Gold” award for tourism during the Gala des 2000. This honour underlined the creation of 40 new jobs stemming from the many outdoor and cultural activities. Once again, the dining-room team was awarded the “Québec Catering Development” prize in March 2000 during the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois

Investing $5.5 million in 2001, Le Baluchon added a new 30-room inn in order to meet an the increasing demand. In so doing, Le Baluchon ventured to its advantage into the corporate group market. That investment also produced a remodelling of the Relais santé (health spa), with the addition of 12 treatment rooms, among other things. The dining room was expanded to satisfy its new clients, and the Nouvelle-France dining room was inaugurated, accommodating up to 250 guests for all types of occasions. Regarding outdoor and cultural activities, guests also discovered several new features: magnificent gardens, a historical bridge, a country-style relay station as well as many innovative cultural activities promoting the creative talent of artists and craftsmen from the region.

Recognition by the community continued. In January 2002, Le Baluchon was awarded the “Job Creation” prize at the Gala des 500. Crowning its efforts made in the packaging and marketing of the Québec winter, Le Baluchon was awarded the regional prize in the “Lodgings, 50 – 149 rooms” category, during the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois. In the same competition, this time at the national level in May 2002, Le Baluchon was awarded the gold medal, a true mark of quality given by tourist industry peers and a further motivation for attaining the summits of excellence.

In December 2002 Le Baluchon suffered a setback. The 12-room Damphousse Lodge, the first one opened in 1990, was destroyed by fire, and this marked a turning point for Le Baluchon’s owners. Projects were already being planned, and reconstruction began immediately following the fire; the lodge was completed five months later in June 2003.  In January of that year studies had shown that the Marguerite Volant TV miniseries’ buildings and sets had been prematurely suffering the ravages of time, and therefore had to be removed from the Le Baluchon site. Management then undertook a new direction; from then on, cultural activities offering clients high-quality participatory experiences would characterize Le Baluchon’s development.

Press reviews from 2003 saluted the cultural innovation represented by the “Theatre by the River.” A veritable trip down the La Mauricie memory lane and a unique theatrical treat, it concords fully with Le Baluchon’s tradition of authenticity. In fact, the cultural development embodied by this new theatre experience was behind Le Baluchon winning the top prize in 2004 in the Trois-Rivières Grands prix culturels competition, in the Culture and Education category. 

In May 2004 Le Baluchon was again honoured for its pursuit of the highest standards of customer service excellence; for the second time in three years it was the national Gold laureate in the “Lodgings, 50 – 149 rooms” category, at the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois

The honours did not stop there. In June 2004 Le Baluchon became one of the principal names to remember in the Québec business milieu, when it received a Mercure award for excellence in management and customer relations (Gestion et relation avec la clientele) during the Mercuriades competition (organized annually by the Québec Chambers of Commerce Federation). And saluting Auberge Le Baluchon’s creativity and innovation in activities development, the jury of the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois awarded the “Theatre by the River” the 2005 National Gold Award for tourist attractions involving less than 50 000 visitors.

In July 2005, Le Baluchon took another major step in officially becoming a smoke-free environment. This followed naturally from Le Baluchon’s objective of putting its clients’ well-being foremost.

Le Baluchon’s management practices were once again highlighted in October 2005. Auberge Le Baluchon was named as one of three finalists in the Canadian Tourism Industry Association’s National Awards for Tourism Excellence competition, presented by Canada’s The Globe and Mail, in the “CTHRC Award for Excellence in Human Resources Development – Single Unit Business” category. For a second year running, the Mouvement québécois de la quaité highlighted Auberge Le Baluchon’s program for improving service through effective complaint-management among visitors to its Salon des meilleures pratiques d’affaires (Best Business Practices Salon). As well, Le Baluchon won the Prix Desjardins Performance financière et sociale, which recognizes the accomplishments of businesspeople who stand out by virtue of their managerial achievements, effective business governance and responsible leadership

In November 2006, the Les bières de la Nouvelle-France withdrew its installations from the Le Baluchon site. This meant a new challenge for summer 2007: how to offer innovative activities while maintaining the historical characteristics established in 1998 with the launch of the Nouvelle France sector, and capitalize on the secrets of Le Baluchon’s success, its product and service quality. Le Baluchon’s Café-Bistro opened in December 2006, as ideas were fomenting for again developing unique site offerings to surprise clients in summer 2007.

January 2007 witnessed a new vision for tourism marketing in the Mauricie region. The Auberge du Lac-à-l’eau-claire and the Lac Blanc Outfitters teamed up with Le Baluchon to create a completely new brand, Les Auberges distinctives de La Mauricie (“Unique La Mauricie Inns”). The group’s mission is founded on the principle that in developing new markets “strength lays in numbers.”

Le Baluchon gained recognition of all kinds in 2007, thanks to management’s unceasing efforts at innovative product offerings and management concepts. The prizes were many. At the regional gala for the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois, Ms. Line Béland received the “Human Resources – Supervisor” prize, and Louis Lessard was honoured with the title of “La Mauricie Tourism Personality.” At the Gala des Sommets de la Chambre de commerce et de l’industrie de la MRC de Maskinongé, Line Béland won the Épine Dorsale (literally “The Backbone”) prize, which honours the employee of the year. Le Baluchon also won the prize for Formation, création d’emplois et qualité de vie au travail (“Training, Job Creation and Workplace Quality”).

In gastronomy, Véronique Levasseur won the “Patissière de l’année en Mauricie” award from the Société des chefs, cuisiniers et pâtissiers du Québec. She was also a winner at the Salon Rest-Hôte, where she represented Le Baluchon and took the silver award for pastry. In the Le Chef magazine’s Tapis rouge pour nappes blanches competition, Le Baluchon was selected in the “French Cooking” category, receiving the highly valued Nappes d’Argent prize, the public’s choice award.

In may 2007 Louis Lessard’s 25-year passion was rewarded with the highest possible recognition, when he received from Quebec’s Minister of Tourism Raymond Bachand the award of Quebec Tourism Personality of the Year. The selection jury noted: “Biologist and forerunner of sustainable tourism, Louis Lessard has been true to his passion, Auberge Le Baluchon, since 1990. A visionary and a key player in the development of health tourism and regional gastronomy, he has valorized the Quebec winter, made the Theatre by the River a showcase for La Mauricie culture, and created the Auberges Distinctives de la Mauricie. The keys to his success are client satisfaction, employee happiness, and a concern for authenticity.”

In summer of 2007, Le Baluchon’s history took a “green” turn with a major $1 million investment in sewage treatment via the Le Roseau Épurateur concept (a system of filtration using marsh vegetation). Many other daily activities support this important stage in the protection of the environment: the use of biodegradable products, infrastructure construction for collecting recyclable paper and glass, etc.).

With much pomp, in July 2007 the Éco-café Au bout du monde opened its doors, after 6 months spent in preparing a unique product. Mission accomplished! The Éco-café’s atmosphere is exceptional, giving guests the ultimate sensory experience. The Éco-café subscribes to the eco-gastronomy movement, promoting local foods and maintaining culinary traditions. A gustatory showcase for regional products, the Éco-café favours natural, organic production methods. There, too, guests can mingle with particular figures that have marked the Du Loup River’s history, while being regaled at one’s table with historical flavours of the region. It’s a another great way to bring together history and regional gastronomy.

In 2008 Auberge Le Baluchon’s commitment to the environment resulted in a prestigious Spa Select “Best Spa Concept in Quebec” award in the “Special Award – Virage Vert” category. 

On the heels of a winter that saw a record-breaking amount of snow, Le Baluchon itself enjoyed record occupancy rates. Spring 2008 brought with it more awards, compensating Le Baluchon for its innovative management practices. As part of the Grands Prix du tourisme québécois - Regional Awards, Le Baluchon won the award for “Accommodations – 4- and 5-star Establishments.” And Mario Lacombe, who had been voted “Employee of the Year” by his co-workers at Le Baluchon, won the title of “Tourism Supervisor of the Year.” Mario’s expertise and savoir-faire was also spotlighted during the Maskinongé MRC Board of Trade and Industry’s Soirée des Sommets, at which he was awarded the Employé Coup de cœur distinction.

In July 2009, Le Baluchon’s recycling efforts were rewarded with their recognition by RECYC-QUÉBEC as being among its most noteworthy ICI ON RECYCLE corporate recycling programs. Auberge Le Baluchon's environmental and community initiatives have once again been singled out, receiving a Desjardins Sustainable Development Prize at the October 2009 Desjardins & Co. Entrepreneur Prizes gala. The independent selection committee emphasized both Le Baluchon's avant-garde role and the inventiveness of its efforts. 

In April 2010, the Société des Chefs Cuisiniers et Patissiers du Québec (SCCPQ) named Le Baluchon’s pastry chef, Véronique Levasseur, Mauricie Pastry Chef of the Year as well as Quebec Health Chef of the Year. The honours highlighted our chef’s unstinting efforts at both using natural pastry ingredients and giving regional products pride of place in all her recipes.

A SILVER medal awarded at the 25th edition of the national Grands Prix du tourisme québécois competition spotlighted Le Baluchon’s commitment since 1990 to sustainable development; an accomplishment of which we are justifiably proud. A few weeks previously, Le Baluchon had been awarded the regional Sustainable Tourism award, and Assistant Chef Josée Savard was selected from among numerous candidates as Mauricie Tourist Supervisor of the Year.

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, Le Baluchon inaugurates its Fôret de notre reconnaissance (“A Forest of Appreciation”), in which each employee plants a tree. From now on, every spring, every new employee who has been with Le Baluchon for a year will also plant a tree in recognition. You can visit the grove, located near the chapel, on the riverbank.

Currently reputed as a high-end resort par excellence, Le Baluchon features an unconstrained focus on the real-life experiences its guests enjoy. It is a privately run operation, owned by shareholders and employees, most of who are inhabitants of the surrounding region. Le Baluchon owes its remarkable growth, focused on client satisfaction, to its 195 employees. And its success is assured by participative management, a practice wherein each department manager is actively responsible for his/her own department by serving on a management round table.

Every member of the Le Baluchon team strives to offer an original and high-quality product to its guests, while doing so in a natural setting whose beauty is truly remarkable.

The future is decidedly promising for Auberge Le Baluchon… 

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