A day in the country, a steak and potatoes dinner, and a free camera to boot. My husband and I couldn't resist the free coupon offered at a booth at some public show we were attending in downtown Montreal in the mid-1960's.
I was really suspicious. No one gives you anything for nothing. Why would someone be giving strangers free coupons for a bus trip to "Nowhere" in the Laurentian Mountains?
The salesman said that a developer wanted to show a new construction project in the country to the public and that, as a young married couple, we were ideal candidates. We were not expected to buy anything. They were not selling anything. It was a public relations effort to promote their building project and we could enjoy a day in the country and a lovely meal gratis.
Daring to take a chance, we accepted the free coupon, and in a few days, we found ourselves on a fully loaded bus heading up into the Laurentians. Gift camera in hand, we wondered what was ahead.
The bus rattled along for miles on the highway north of Montreal and after a long tedious drive, veered off the highway onto a very narrow forest road. It had been raining and the windows were fogged over. I suffer from motion sickness, so the trip was becoming very uncomfortable for me. The bus trudged along the muddy path for a long time, deeper and deeper into the forest. I felt sick and closed-in. But there was nothing to be done, nowhere to go.
At last, we came to a clearing. The bus stopped. Men who looked like wrestlers in business suits "helped" the passengers off the bus. In the clearing there was one building that looked like a very large cabin. The wrestlers escorted us inside.
We were advised that we should not attempt to leave the building on our own as there was nowhere to go in the forest except by bus and they didn't want us to risk getting hurt.
Inside, a large open room was filled with small tables. Each couple was escorted to and placed at one of the tables. There were three chairs at each table. All the couples seemed uneasy, confused. Clearly, everyone was wondering what was going on.
At the front of the room there was a large movie screen. A man who seemed to be the master of ceremonies stood near the screen. Looking back even now, it seems we were in some kind of nightmare orchestrated by Alfred Hitchcock.
Then one of those men in business suits approached each table and took the third chair. It was beyond weird. The third person at our table asked us some apparently innocuous questions about ourselves as one might expect from a stranger at a public luncheon. Very soon, waiters brought out plates of sumptuous steak and potatoes and served each table.
When the meal had been consumed in this strange, tense atmosphere, the master of ceremonies started to talk - about Quebec. How we all love Quebec, and how it is Our land, the land our fathers bled for and died for, and how precious Our Quebec land is to us, and how we must be committed to the land of Quebec.
This went on for some time as he segued into the "construction project". I can't recall what was shown on the screen during this lecture, but this company was being promoted by a famous Quebec personality named Frenchy Jerraud. I never found out if he was just an icon for the company or an owner.
The master of ceremonies continued talking about our love for the land in Quebec and how it was vital that the People of Quebec own that land to ensure that it could never again be taken by outsiders.
And there it was. The object of the entire production was for the "guests" to buy land from this company.
My husband and I were probably the only English speaking people in the room. The master of ceremonies spoke in English only once to say that most of the guests were French so he would speak only in French.
But the third person at our table told us that, since we were not really Quebecois, we were the exception, and we were definitely not expected to buy any of the land.
I needed to get out of there. I asked if I might use the ladies' room.
One of the wrestlers took my arm and escorted me out of the building to a wooden outhouse. I was relieved.
Meanwhile, the couples at all the other tables were signing contracts to buy their portions of Quebec land.
As for us, a hundred years of roots in Quebec did not qualify us to be among those who were ripped off that day. A bizarre blessing.
All these decades later, I must admit, I am grateful that the bus brought us back to Montreal. For a while there, I was so scared. I really didn't know if my husband and I would be allowed to return home.
My report entitled HARD SELL, HATE SELL was originally published in the Montreal magazine called TOTAL LIVING.
Phyllis Mass Carter