BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Murray Bay, like Nirvana, is not so much a place as a state of mind. —Tim Porteous on the enchanted summer resort, known to the Québécois as La Malbaie, located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Charlevoix.
The golden era of summer resort life flourishes today in Murray Bay with cocktails on the verandas of hidden villas built for prominent Americans and Canadians over 100 years ago. Drinks and delicious hors d’oeuvres are in order after a day of hiking in a nearby national park, golfing at the Manoir Richelieu (where the international G7 conference was just held), picnicking and fishing at hidden spots, a slide into the pool of a favorite waterfall, touring a world-famous garden, whale-watching, or visits to lively local craftsmen.
Like Newport, the grand villas built during the Gilded Age are called “cottages,” but the resemblance ends there. The houses are filled with rustic yet beautifully made furniture and crafts from the region. The focus is on entertaining outside in lovely gardens filled with phlox, golden globes, delphinium, lavatera, and the other wonderful flowers that thrive there. All experience Murray Bay’s most famous quote, said by the town’s most famous resident, President William Howard Taft: “The invigorating air of Murray Bay exhilarates like champagne without the effects of the morning after.”
Not only do several Chicagoans live the fun Tafts, Tiffanys, Vanderbilts, and Sedgwicks experienced years ago in historic homes—most with a unique river view—their guests from our city quickly become transformed into devotees of the enchanting way of life. It is the combination of the best of both worlds, the casual and the elegant, that welcomes you to this Nirvana.
For almost 150 years, noted artists have painted the area’s enchanting views, and residents have been quick to collect their work, along with other items made by local artisans. Representative of the international Arts and Crafts movement, their wooden carvings and textiles, including bedspreads, placemats, rugs, and even woven Murray Bay socks, are highly prized.
Murray Bay’s Musée de Charlevoix, exhibitor of some of the region’s finest folk art, joined recently with the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec in Quebec City for “A Summer’s Eve in Charlevoix,” a celebration of arts and culture under a tent at the home of Grant Hamilton and Louis Roy on the Boulevard des Falaises, Murray Bay’s most exclusive street. Several Chicagoans celebrated with guests from French-speaking Quebec as well as across the United States.
Longtime summer resident Jeanne Jenkins described the area as “not only one of the most beautiful places in the world but [filled with] so many interesting people, all of whom love being in Murray Bay,” adding:
“An old friend, Marge Mackenzie, once said, ‘We see the same people all the time, and we always have something to talk about.’ She was right and it wasn’t petty gossip. Murray Bay has always been peopled by those with interesting experiences and differing abilities, skills, and hobbies. What a blessing it was to spend summers there.”
One of Chicago’s all-time most interesting visitors anywhere was the legendary Peggy Carr, a frequent Murray Bay houseguest almost until her death in 2016 at 103.
Peggy’s host in Murray Bay was often Chicagoan Todd Schwebel, owner of the 100-year-old Vertefeuille, built by Sir Lomer Gouin, the 13th Premier of Quebec. Modeled after a French manor house, it is surrounded by a lovely garden and hedges, and Todd is its third owner. He shared with us an ode Peggy composed that captured the effervescence of summer moments:
“Ode to Murray Bay”
You’re the top
Where it’s always sunny
You’re the tail on a Playboy Bunny
You’re the place that parties day and night
You’re a movie star
You’re the winning roll of dice
You’re an act eternal that is never gray or flags
Here’s to Murray Bay-er’s
They are the top!
My idea of heaven
Love and Kisses, Peggy Carr
Guests who visited the magnificent private gardens Les Quatre Vents, which are generously made available to supporters of local environmental causes, seemed to heed the message that appears on a wall inside the Pigeonnier, one of Les Quatre Vents 32 distinct gardens overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Murray Bay meals reflect the vibrant flora and fauna of the region, with local vegetables, cheeses, and sinful desserts such as sucre a la crème, a delight to all visitors. Marie Dempsey Carter, a lifelong visitor to Murray Bay, reflects her mother’s French-Canadian heritage in her cookbook Daily Bread, which is available on Amazon. Because most entertaining is done at home, with the delights of freshly cut flowers, hand-stitched placemats, and the best “farm to table” experience anywhere, hostesses planning an impromptu dinner party have been delighted to find Marie’s quick recipe for tarte au chocolate, framboises et bluets, which uses the raspberries and blueberries picked nearby. We conclude by reprinting this perfect summertime delight:
Tarte au Chocolate, Framboises et Bluets
Reprinted with permission from the author
1½ cups crushed chocolate graham crackers
½ cup butter (one stick)
1 cup milk chocolate morsels
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup fresh raspberries, mashed
½ cup fresh blueberries, mashed
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. To prepare crust, combine the crushed cookies and melted butter into a medium bowl. Press into a pie plate and bake for 10 minutes.
Combine the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler and heat over hot water until melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with a fork and add ever so slowly to the chocolate. Stir in the flour and then stir in the vanilla and mashed berries. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 45 minutes.
To serve, pour a bit of heavy cream in a dessert plate. Set a slice of pie on the cream and sprinkle some raspberries and blueberries on the plate.
So delicious and easy, just like a summer in Murray Bay—thank you, Marie!