Community Profile (1)

This month, for our Community Profile we’ve chosen to give you the story of the origins of Café-sur-Mer in Métis-sur-Mer. The tale begins some 15 years ago, with local summer resident and visual artist Janis Gillan hatching a plan to create something big for the community.

As she, her sister Debbie and their mother, Ailsa Gillan were spending more time in Metis each year, they had the good fortune to meet many locals, francophone and anglophone alike.  It became apparent to them that a meeting place needed to be created so that all members of the community would be able to enjoy the same benefits of acquaintance…francophones, anglophones, locals, summer residents, tourists…the whole gang!

Serendipity led Janis to purchase the perfect location for this meeting place, the building at 160 rue Principale.  The long-shuttered shoe shop wasn’t on the market but when the realtor requested a visit by Janis and Debbie, Madame Leblond agreed, after many years of saying no. 

It was very much a “meant to be” moment.  Upon entering the front door of the old shop, both Janis and Debbie were flooded with memories of going into the store as young girls with their mother to buy new summer beach shoes.  Memories of being awed by the formidable presence and deep voice of the tender-hearted Madame flooded back.

Janis even had the very visceral sensation of their long deceased grandfather, Arthur Mathewson, taking her by the hand and leading the two sisters through the shop….shelves still full of boxes of shoes covered in decades of dust.

Meeting the formidable woman, sitting by the wood stove in the back kitchen, Janis recalls “when we introduced ourselves as Arthur Mathewson’s granddaughters I thought Madame Leblond was going to fall out of her chair!  The dramatic reaction was in part because Madame’s late husband had been a good friend of our grandfather.”  There was an instant emotional connection between them and a very strong sense that this was absolutely the right place for this project.  Following in the community-minded footsteps of their mother, Ailsa and their grandfather, Arthur, the sisters knew they could make it happen.

In local contractor Reno Isobel’s very capable hands, Janis’ vision of a warm inviting space came to life.  Having financed the project herself, she poured her heart and soul into its every detail.  Drawing on her background as both an interior designer and artist, the space inspired the desired coming together.

Janis consciously did not restrict the vision for the space except to create an inclusive space that would be responsive to the community’s needs and wishes.  Heritage Lower St. Lawrence was a great supporter and user of the cafe, offering art classes, children’s craft classes, and various workshops for the community and inviting musicians, storytellers, and other incredible performers to showcase their talent. As the demand grew, Janis put in a small stage, adding to the versatility of the space.

The response to these offerings and outpouring of creativity from the community was remarkable.  Janis remains in awe of how much artistic talent there is in the area.

Janis’ patience and faith in the community paid off.  Whatever historical divisions may have existed, they were not going to stand in the way.  She says “In my mind this space would work, without a doubt, because those divisions didn’t and don’t make sense”.

Her sister Debbie, a source of incredible support to Janis throughout the café project, adds “The fact that Heritage Lower St. Lawrence is taking on this project is very significant.  It’s very reassuring that the space is being maintained as a community hub…it has come full circle”.