SABATTUS — Just before 5 p.m. Saturday, a long table at the Jacques Cartier Club was brimming with baked beans of several varieties, hot dogs, bread, coleslaw and casseroles galore.
More than 100 waited to eat, for $6 apiece, a meal that included dessert and beverage. For the last time tables were called, one by one, for people to fill their plates.
Saturday was the last supper at the Jacques Cartier Club, and the end of an era.
Originally, the Franco club was a snowshoe club in Canada. When Canadians immigrated to Lewiston, they opened a Jacques Cartier Club in Lewiston.
In the 1920s, the club was one of the largest snowshoe clubs around.
“We have many pictures of the whole park full of snowshoers,” said club Director Clarence Hinkley.
The club had a summer place in Sabattus. Eventually, the Lewiston location was closed and moved to the Sabattus hall by the lake.
For years, the French-speaking club has hosted Friday night potluck suppers followed by card games. Twice a month, bean and casserole suppers were held, followed by dancing.
In recent years, membership and attendance had dwindled to the point that the club didn't have the money to continue. “The economy has killed us,” Hinkley said. “We need $2,700 a month to maintain this,” he said. “We weren't getting near that.”
The building has been sold and will become a private home. The club is closed.
“It's heartbreaking. We had a lot of good times,” said President Betty Dutil, who's been a member since 1963. The club was French-speaking until the 1980s. Saturday night, the majority spoke French, or English with a Franco accent.
In the kitchen, vice president and cook Pauline Gemme inspected her beans. “I cook the beans. I made the coleslaw, the hot dogs, cake, meatballs. She's doing casseroles,” Gemme said of Dutil.
Gemme starts her beans on Friday. “I soak the beans overnight. All from scratch. It's my own recipe. If they ask for it, I don't tell them the whole thing,” she said with a mischievous grin.
She teared up when asked what she'll miss with the club's closing.
“The people,” she said. “To cook. I've been cooking here 35 years.”
Sitting at a table was Antoinette Gagne, 101, and her son, Marcel Gagne, 65, both of Lewiston.
Antoinette said she was there in the '40s when the club opened in Sabattus, and was there to see it close.
Her son said he'd been attending since he was 5. Losing the Jacques Cartier Club is “like when dad passed away and the house was sold. When I closed the door, it was sad. This feels the same way.”
After dinner, the dishes were cleared, tables moved and the band The Trio began to play. One of their songs was a slow French ballad sung by Gerry Dube. Couples filled the floor and danced.
Marcel Gagne asked his mother to dance. She left her walker and danced. When they finished, friends applauded.
Treasurer Sally Dumont staffed a table near the door, saying goodbye to people as they left. Several thanked her and said how tasty the supper was.
She smiled and said, 'Thank you. I can't say, 'Come again.'”