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LAC CARLIN, THEN AND NOW

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Carling Lake Golf Course. (Photo - Courtesy of Gordon Rainey)Lac Carlin, also known as Carling Lake, is just northwest of Pine Hill, Quebec, along Highway 327, in the lower Laurentians. Today it is the site of an upscale golf course and hotel…a classy resort destination.

Return with me though, to the origins of its name. The year is 1835. James Carlin, 37, his wife Mary Doherty, his 80 year old widowed mother Margaret Shannon and two toddlers, Terrance and Catherine, have just got off a boat at Carillon, Quebec. They came to Canada in the first big immigration wave from Ireland, triggered by the cholera epidemic of 1832-1833. They came from County Mayo, Ireland. James had bought a 200-acre lot (R10-L4) in Grenville Township, sight unseen. The hope was for a better life. The challenge for them was to walk 25 miles through the bush, locate their place and begin to eke out a livelihood from the wilderness, starting with little more than their bare hands.
Hôtel Lac Carlin. (Photo - Courtesy of Gordon Rainey)The first order of business was to build a log cabin. By 1851, sixteen years later, they had cleared 50 acres along the western flank of Lac Carlin. 150 acres were still wild. Of the 50 acres cleared, seven were cultivated and 43 were pasture. Of the seven cultivated acres, four were in oats (producing 100 bushels a year), two were in potatoes (producing 80 bushels a year) and one acre was in turnips (producing 50 bushels a year). Four tons of hay were also harvested that year. Their animals included 3 milk cows, 1 calf, 1 heifer, 2 horses, 10 sheep and 1 pig.
The 1851 census also noted that 50 lbs of butter and 1 barrel of pork were produced. From 20 lbs of wool sheared from the sheep, 10 yards of woollen cloth were made. Another 10 yards of flannel cloth were produced. Seven children had also been added to the family in the intervening 16 years.James Carlin (1798-1886) is thought to be buried, with his wife Mary, in the Montfort Catholic Cemetery, west of Morin Heights, Quebec.

Their oldest son, Terrance Carlin (1832-1908), had moved to a farm near Mulgrave, northeast of Buckingham, Quebec, in 1860, where Carlin descendants can be found today. Their youngest son Thomas Carlin (1849-1912), raised his family on the old homestead at Lac Carlin and continued farming there until the early 1900s.

Fast forward now to 1984, nearly 100 years from the time James Carlin died. Image a jet-setting German, Casanova-type, business tycoon. Imagine a man who reportedly becomes so smitten with a woman he sees singing in a choir in Bogata, Colombia, that he flies her entire choir to his hometown in Germany—where he woos and ultimately weds her in a Cinderella ceremony. Imagine a man so wealthy, he bought twenty-seven castles across Europe. Let your imagination take flight, and you’ve entered the fairy-tale life of manufacturing and real estate mogul Herbert Hillebrand, who developed Hotel du Lac Carling.

The plight of the original Irish and Scottish immigrants is in sharp contrast to the wave of relatively recent German influence in the Pine Hill area. The original settlers were barely able to claw an existence from a forbidding wilderness. At the other end of the opportunity spectrum, German affluence has now carved out of the same wilderness a retreat consisting of a hotel, spa, golf club and cottage community.

The German flag is unfurled beside the Canadian and American standards, fronting the country club setting. Otherwise the impact of the flow of high-end resort-oriented guests and seasonal residents has been purposely kept at a low key, which suits the privacy objective of the rich and famous.

The Carling Lake Complex is nestled in the Laurentians and laid out in the heart of a grandiose natural setting amid mountains, lakes and trees. The exclusive cottage community, created between Pine Hill and Lac Carlin, bears street names like Berlin, Munchen, Bonn, Nurnberg, Dusseldorf, etc.

Back at the turn of the 19th century, Thomas Carlin sold the family farm to the Ayers family of Lachute, Quebec, who converted it into a cattle-breeding farm and then to a mink ranch, before deciding to build a private golf course. Already owners of the Lachute Golf Club (20 miles south-east of Lac Carlin) since 1925, Ayers opened a 9-hole golf course at Lac Carlin in 1945. Between 1961 and 1965 the course was extended to 18 holes. Ayers also developed a nearby hill for downhill skiing.

In January 1984, the Ayers family sold 7,000 acres of real estate to Herbert Hillebrand, including the Carling Lake Golf Club, which was opened as a public course. In 1992, Hillebrand completed the construction of Hôtel du Lac Carling, along the first hole fairway of the golf course. The 97-room hotel includes a fine restaurant, meeting rooms, nautilus training facilities, indoor swimming pool, health spa and tennis courts.

Following the detailed restorations of his medieval castles, Hillebrand had decided to create a modern-day castle. It’s old-world charm and elegance, combined with today’s conveniences, is synonymous with the discreet getaway, and an expression of romanticism combined with modernism.

But the fairy-tale world of a business tycoon can also be tumultuous. Herbert Hillebrand was born in 1940 and was, for several decades, a successful German businessman. He built a corporate empire, was Honarary Consul of Columbia, a winner of the German Federal Cross of Merit and a multi-millionaire. Hillebrand learned about financing at a Raiffeisen Bank and later had success as a fertilizer merchant.

Burg Rheineck. (Photo - Courtesy of Gordon Rainey)Within about 30 years he had banked his first million deutsche marks. At the beginning of the 1970s his construction company built high-end residential parks with swimming pools and tennis courts. At the same time, Hillebrand “collected” castles, 27 in total, in Germany, Belgium and Scandinavia. He became known as the “castle king”. Each of his 15 children (with several wives) was given a castle. Castles not given to his children were renovated and rented as seniors’ residences, town halls, and so on. Castle Hemmersbach in Horren, Germany, became his headquarters.

Hillebrand also had properties in North America, including a hotel in the Bahamas, an apartment community and land holdings in Grants Pass, Oregon, and the resort complex at Carling Lake.

But wealth, glitz and glamour are often difficult to sustain. After the 1989-90 unification of Germany, opportunities were there for entrepreneurs, but not without risks, as Hillebrand would soon realize. By 1992, the Herbert Hillebrand real estate group also included a ceramics and crystal manufacturing company in West Germany. Four more manufacturing companies, producing crystal, cutlery and porcelain, were acquired in East Germany.

The plants in East Germany were in need of modernization and by the mid-1990s, these bad investments forced him to part with a large part of his assets. At that time, Hillebrand vowed, "the kids' castles aren't up for sale." His woes continued, and by 1999 his tax debt forced him into bankruptcy. Thus the Hillebrand empire was largely dismantled and Hillebrand himself even had to serve a 2-year jail sentence, albeit on probation.

During his successful years, Hillebrand had been generous. He invited medical clinics to use his palace in Rheinische Durren and built and supported children’s homes, schools and clinics in Bogota, Columbia.

Burg Rheineck is an example of the castles Hillebrand bought. It stands on a hilltop upriver from Bad Breisig, overlooking a bend in the Rhein. It was sold and used in the 1990s as a conference centre and, later, as a hotel. Then it remained idle for six years. Recently, it was converted into a research laboratory.

Hillebrand is apparently currently working for one of his children’s enterprises. But his many broken promises to banks have effectively ruined his reputation in financial circles. Presumeably, the Germans who bought into his dream at the Carling Lake complex are now effectively fending for themselves.

Margaret Moore. (Photo - Courtesy of Gordon Rainey)In the summer of 2006, Margaret Moore made a trip east, from her home in Seattle, Washington. Her mission was to meet distant Carlin relatives and to trace her roots. In large measure, she was the inspiration for this story.

Margaret’s visit to the region, however, fell short in at least two respects. It did not reveal to her the location of her great great-grandfather James Carlin’s homestead, nor his gravesite. She did, however, meet relatives in the Mayo, Quebec, area northeast of Buckingham.

Margaret Moore has since, continued her genealogical research. Her long-distance persistence is paying off and results have convinced her to plan another trip east to the Laurentians for 2009. This time she wants to stay at the Carling Lake Resort.