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A storied past
by By Craig Waugh Special to The Low Down
Many know that Café Molo is for sale. For more than a few Wakefielders, Molo's is an officeaway-from-the-office, or a place to unwind and sip a java while checking emails
The Earle House, as the building is known, is an anchor in Wakefield, and has housed numerous restaurants. Before that, though, it was a private house for two generations of the family Earle for nearly a century.
In the beginning: 188? - 1975
carpenter, it rose to prominence along the Gatineau River in the 1880s. Robert's brother, Arthur, found that his growing family needed more space, and Robert and Arthur swapped residences. Arthur owned and operated a farm implements business right across Chemin de la Vallée de Wakefield from the Earle House, which is now Kaffé 1870. Robert owned and maintained a carriage and saddle business, also along Riverside. It is thought that Robert built the Kaffé building as well. Robert died in 1938.
Arthur and his wife Helena (McCagg) settled into their new house and business, and raised a family. They had three children, Verva, Claire (Bun), and Lorne. The business across the street was run and maintained by two generations of Earles. Arthur served as mayor of Wakefield for 25 years on two separate occasions. Arthur and Lenna both died in 1958. Arthur was considered a leader of this community - he helped to shape Wakefield as we know it.
The business was then run by Arthur's sons, Lorne and Bun, and when Lorne died in 1960, and his wife, Fran, and Bun kept it going. When Bun died in 1968, Fran took over for another ten years. Few women back then had a hand in business, but it was unheard of for a woman to own and maintain a farm implements shop, which also became a plumbing and hardware outlet. It was not uncommon for the implements to be acquired by trade - a chicken for a scythe, a lamb for a plow, and as many locals will tell you, the practice still goes on today.
Bun and his sister Verva continued to live in Earle House until they died, and Verva never worked outside the home. Neither married, and neither had children.
Jim and Shirley Brown: 1975 - 1979
After Bun and Fran died, the remaining family was faced with an enormous, expensive house that, while loved, no one could live in. Reluctantly, they decided to sell the property and auction off the contents. It was sold to James and Shirley Brown, who had ideas for the building. They said, "We'll turn it into the best restaurant in the Outaouais."
And they did. Of course, that's subjective. It could be argued that L'Oreé du Bois and Les Fougères are superior, but L'Oreé du Bois opened in 1984, and Les Fougères followed in 1993. For almost 10 years, the Earle House held the distinction of being the finest dining establishment in the area, bar none.
There were a few snags. The Browns bought in 1975, but it wasn't until June 1976 that the restaurant opened. 1975 brought one of Wakefield's famous floods and the building was damaged. There were also the expenses and administration to deal with - government permits, business development loans, purchasing furniture and kitchen equipment, installing a septic system.
But the Browns celebrated a first when opening day happened: lobster and steak were on the menu, and the custom-made tables were draped in white linen. The building was entirely renovated to transform the interior from a spacious family home to an upscale eatery. The upstairs piano bar was a hangout where those waiting for their tables on the main floor could have an appetizer and drink and be serenaded by whomever was at the piano or had hauled in a guitar.
Everyone who was interviewed for this story remembered the atmosphere, ambience, food, and staff. The breaded zucchini at the Earle House was famous, with at least one customer driving from Ottawa just for a taste.
Chefs who worked the kitchen came from far and wide - one was Chinese, and introduced many customers to crisp vegetables (unheard of for many a British palate). Despite his skill in the kitchen, he was on a learning curve when it came to the English language. He decided to introduce 'Peking Pie'. The staff and owners puzzled over this, thinking it was Peking Duck made into a dessert. Finally, someone asked the chef what was in it. "Oh, you know, it's a sweet pie with nuts on it. It's very popular," said the chef. Aha! Pecan Pie.
As Jim Brown recalled, "We had locals and those from outside the area. The locals got special treatment. We wanted everyone back, but the locals especially."
Bob Laflamme and others: 1979 - 1996
Little information is available for this span of time at the Earle House, but those who lived in The Hills in the 1980s will recall the raging battles brought on by signage laws inflicted by the Office québécois de la langue française. The late Terry Jabour, a part-owner of the restaurant and building, took Bill 178 on, installing exterior signage in English as well as Russian, Spanish, Ukranian, or whatever language caught his fancy in any particular week.
Lucie Langevin and Gilles Robertson: 1996 - 2004
The Earle House can claim fame to at least one childbirth. There may have been others, but they are undocumented.
Following a bankruptcy, Lucie and Gilles bought the property, arriving with four children in tow, and commenced renovations to the main floor and the third, turning that floor into bedrooms for the children.
They opened a seasonal restaurant catering to the train passengers from May to October who came into Wakefield on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Railway. A mad rush was made by staff to get the patrons fed and out the door. As the children grew, they joined the restaurant's staff.
On June 29, 1998, the family welcomed the arrival of Jacob. Lucie and Gilles elected to have Teresa Bandrowska, a local midwife, oversee the birth. There was some talk of going into the hospital in Wakefield, but Jacob was having none of that and came into this world around 3 a.m.
"It was a lot of work, but I loved it," said Lucie Langevin of the business, which they sold for health reasons. "But do I miss it? Mais oui."
Lucie St-Martin and Gerald Lesage: 2004 - circa 2010
Langevin and Robertson sold to another Lucie - St-Martin - and her husband, Gerald Lesage. St-Martin had no prior restaurant experience, and during their first year in business, she took courses in Gatineau. It must have paid off - their business tripled in 18 months.
St-Martin and Lesage ran the business year-round, seven days a week, and were known for hosting Halloween events, and presenting Québecois musicians on St. Jean Baptiste day and English musicians on Canada Day
And the train was good for business. There was a stop just across Riverside from Earle House, where passengers could avoid the walk from the turntable further down. Even so, it was a mad rush to get everyone served and back on the train. On some days, busloads of tourists would show up.
The restaurant earned its stripes, and was featured in Air Canada's enRoute magazine, while Moi et Cie proclaimed the Earle House's terrace to be among the top 20 in Québec.
Langevin and Robertson sold the business for personal reasons, but Langevin reminisces about the days of firing up the stove and waiting tables: "I still miss it. I miss the view, I miss the customers, and I miss the staff."
Café Molo (current iteration): 2014 - present
Diane Morey and Gillian Lovink had owned a place on Riverside, but moved to what had been the Earle House. They came up with a creative way of naming it, taking the first two letters of each last name (MOrey and LOvink). Café Molo has had two iterations - after running the café successfully for several years, they sold the business, but kept the property. The tenants were unable to maintain the business, and it reverted back to Morey and Lovink, who were joined by their partners, Wouter Noorlander and Franklin Menendez.
Ask any local - they'll tell you the view is the best and the coffee is unparalleled.
And then there's the ghost. At times, after kids had dug into Molo's toy box, staff would put the toys away only to find the box at the bottom of the stairs. One day, a staff member went down to the basement to get supplies and - bang - the lights went off. She was miffed, and castigated the upstairs staff, but no one claimed responsibility - they blamed a ghost.
Any building with a history as rich as the Earle House's can't have survived without a few phantoms staying behind. In the words of Diane Morey, "If you don't like it [Earle House], it's not going to like you."
Craig Waugh is a resident of Wakefield. He extends thanks to those who contributed to this story: Jane Earle, Barbara Booth, Melanie Hopkins, Wouter Noorlander, Diane Morey, Lucie St. Martin, Norma Geggie, Richard and Linda Morrison, Jim Brown, Armand Vienneau, Lucie Langevin, and Teresa Bandrowska.
Our story on the Earle House ('A storied past', Sept. 18 edition) had some inaccuracies: Robert Earle's business was a 'sleigh and carriage' business (not 'carriage and saddle'); Arthur Earle's wife was Helena Perry (not Helena McCagg); the reference to bartering pertained to Robert Earle's business during the late 1800s and early 1900s (not to Arthur's); the introduction to the section about Jim and Shirley Brown should read: 'After Bun and Verva died...' (not after Bun and Fran died...); the last paragraph about Lucie St-Martin refers to Lucie Langevin and Gilles Robertson. The Low Down regrets the errors.