Brome Lake Ducks has been an economic pillar in Brome Lake for 110 years and continues to make headway in a niche market for Pekin Duck in Quebec and elsewhere. Brome Lake Ducks was started in 1912 by American Henry Bates who believed the region was the ideal place to breed the duck; his decision was also based on its popularity in New York State at the time located not far from the province.
Bates decided to build the duck farm just west of Brome Lake. His son, Arthur, would buy a piece of land on the eastern shore of the lake just two years later wanting to bring the buildings and out houses there. This way, he believed, the ducks could be raised more naturally and they would be able to swim in the lake in the summertime.
Not long afterwards, breeding began to decline. According to Record archives, a clothing manufacturer got wind of the farm’s financial difficulties and wanted to buy the land from under them.
Locals were not for it, and under the leadership of George G. Foster, local entrepreneurs and some Knowlton residents got together to buy the duck farm.
Brome Lake Ducks was saved, but breeding was steadfastly declining. In the late 1920s, the group decided to hire a poulter from Montreal to try and help get the situation under control, but things remained stagnate.
In 1939, Foster’s son and a business man from Montreal partnered up and purchased the farm. They wanted to avoid the industrialization of Brome Lake and they wanted to create jobs for the community.
In 1965, Foster became the sole owner and he eventually passed on the farm to his two daughters whose husbands helped run the business.
Managers of the farm eventually learned that allowing the ducks to swim during the summer months exposed them to animal-borne diseases that could infect an entire flock resulting in their decision to raise them indoors.
By the 1990s, the company began to experience a shift after it was taken over by Claude Trottier.
Trottier wanted to invest in research and development for breeding the Pekin duck. The company worked with veterinarians, chefs, nutritionists, agronomists, etc., to ensure high quality products.
At the time, Brome Lake Ducks filled the demand for the Pekin duck in high-end restaurants in cities across Canada and in Asian communities here and in the United States where the product was popular. In the late 1990s, it began focusing on growing their local market in Quebec.
By the mid 2000s, ownership was transferred to Mario Côté, an entrepreneur heavily involved in the agricultural sector, and Joe Jurgielewicz, a veterinarian and owner of a company that produced Pekin duck in the United States.
Together, they created new products, such as pâtés, smoked dried duck breast, duck sausages, amongst various other specialties. They also found new markets in cruise ships, trains, and large grocery stores, as a new demand emerged in Quebec for speciality meat products.
It became heavily involved in the production, processing, they developed another plant in Racine and expanded the Knowlton facilities, and distribution of Pekin duck.
The company faced disaster when a fire destroyed one of its barns in Racine, killing 55,000 ducks, on New Year’s Day in 2016.
A few months later in June, another fire destroyed its processing plant, offices, and the farm shop, in Knowlton, but the cause of the fire was never found. It took two years for it to rebuild its facilities and they added its now very popular boutique where people can purchase products.
Nevertheless, Brome Lake Ducks overcame the various challenges it faced over its 110 years and established a strong reputation for itself. In its beginnings, it employed around 20 people during peak season, but it now employs hundreds, making it an economic force in Brome Lake and the Eastern Townships.