Stephenson leaves lasting legacy in Brome Lake

By Staff Writer
Stephenson leaves lasting legacy in Brome Lake

The Town of Brome Lake is a shade darker this week after losing one of its most stalwart luminaries and leaders, Signy Stephenson.
Stephenson, 69, died last Saturday morning, Dec. 9, as merchants in the Victorian town were bustling to hang lanterns and illuminate the streets for Midnight Madness, a weekend of festivities, shopping, music and mulled wine that she helped create, and most certainly would have been at the centre of.
In fact, there wasn’t much that happened in the Town of Brome Lake in the last 30 years that didn’t have Stephenson’s thumbprint on it.
Stephenson, a public relations specialist and editor of Toronto’s trendy Style Magazine, and her husband, Michel Gabereau , a one-time TV cameraman, left their high-powered media jobs in 1988 to purchase a small inn, Auberge du Joli Vent on bucolic Bondville Road, a quiet tree-lined road facing beautiful Brome Lake. The couple used their business acumen and media savvy to transform the century-old farmhouse into a charming inn and meeting place for locals and visitors looking for great food and country-chic ambiance. A master at weaving a sow’s ear into a silk purse, Stephenson capitalized on the building’s somewhat scurrilous history as the scene of a 1900s murder with the lingering presence of the victim’s ghost, parlaying it into a storied house, complete with light-hearted sightings and séances. She bolstered business in both the inn and the town by hosting walking tours and informative sessions for Elderhostel guests, highlighting the Victorian history and architecture of Brome Lake.
After honing their hotelery skills for a decade, Stephenson and Gabereau purchased the historic Blinn Inn, a piece of Knowlton history, built in 1849 to accommodate stagecoach travelers, strategically situated in the heart of the village. With careful attention to detail, the couple refurbished the dilapidated building, preserving a historic landmark, and making it once again a central meeting place and focal point for every event staged in town.
Le Relais, which she skillfully and successfully managed with her husband and staff, was ‘the’ place to sample every manner of duck concoction during the Duck Festival which she enthusiastically promoted, and a hub for post-theatre and post-town council de-briefings.
It was there that Stephenson often ‘held court’, brainstorming with community leaders about ways to churn the town’s cachet into cash for merchants, mapping out strategies to brand Knowlton’s unique qualities, planning events like the Literary Festival, Midnight Madness, the Dog Pageant, House and Garden Tour, and Festival of Lights. Stephenson was key to these sessions for several reasons: she knew people, she knew media, and she worked doggedly to make every project she had a hand in a success.
As cream naturally rises to the top, Stephenson was the crème de la crème of Brome Lake. She served as a councillor on Brome Lake’s town council representing Foster and is credited with saving the local railway station from oblivion and converting it to a tourist bureau. She was president of Theatre Lac Brome and spearheaded the campaign to purchase the land for the new theatre, securing a place for live theatre in the town for years to come. Stephenson’s creativity and vision are behind many of the innovative initiatives undertaken by merchants and groups in Brome Lake to promote the town. She helped select the homes for the House and Garden tour, and secured and hosted guest writers for the Literary Festival. Her skills as a media maven with a substantial list of contacts were put to good use promoting the town, its events and history, both in Quebec and beyond.
In addition to her many achievements in Brome Lake which will be her legacy, she was a devoted mother to two children and two stepchildren, a loyal and supportive figure to a large and eclectic circle of friends, and an inspiration to all who crossed her path.
The Record joins the community in extending sincere condolences to her husband Michel, her children Georges and Aileen, her stepchildren Morgan and Eve, her grandchildren, and her many friends and family members.

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