By Scott Wheeler
Note: Scuba Diver, historian, ecologist, and monster hunter, Jacques Boisvert, died on Saturday, February 4, 2006 at 73 years old. He played a vital role at preserving the history of Lake Memphremagog and surrounding communities. Jacques contributions to this website have been invaluable and we will miss his friendly comments and generosity. Vermonter.com is devoted to preserving the legacy of Vermont history, legends (and people who are indeed legends in their own right). Jacques Boisvert was one of these remarkable individuals and he will be missed but his work will not be forgotten.
With more than 6,000 dives into the depths of Lake Memphremagog, Jacques Boisvert of Magog, Quebec, was a scuba diver, historian, ecologist, and a monster hunter all wrapped into one. His diving adventures into the lake helped write, and sometimes rewrite, the history of the lake and its surrounding communities on both sides of the border. But Boisvert is probably best known for bringing the legendary, many say, mythical, dinosaur-like creature of Lake Memphremagog – Memphre – to life, or at least into the region’s collective consciousness.
People from both sides of the border traveled to Magog to say good-bye to Jacques. The 73 year old Magog man died of a heart attack on Saturday, February 4, 2006 while working at his computer.
The first I heard of Jacques death was in a short article on the front page of the February 6 issue of the Newport Daily Express. I was shocked and saddened by the news. In the few years that I had known Jacques (which included him writing articles for my publication, Vermont’s Northland Journal), I had come to have great respect for the man. However, I know there was so much more that he could have taught me about the lake’s history if he’d have had more time on earth.
One of the many things I admired about Jacques was that although he knew so much about the region’s history, he didn’t brag or claim he knew everything. He was always willing to share his information and wisdom with others while listening to their thoughts and opinions. I can’t ever recall him saying an unkind word about anybody, even about those who sometimes found reason to criticize him. He didn’t lower himself to those standards. Jacques was a gentleman and a class act. Most importantly, Jacques knew that although he worked diligently to preserve the history and culture of the area, he knew that the history didn’t belong to him. It belongs to all the people – past, present, and future. His attention to historical details earned him great respect in history circles on both sides of the border, works that extended far beyond his research into the lake. His historical research and writings have appeared in numerous publications on both sides of the border.
In the days following Jacques’ death, I communicated with many other people who had a mutual admiration of the man, a man who was as comfortable in the water as he was on land. Among the people who shared his thoughts with me was Duncan Kilmartin of Newport. Duncan, who is a Newport attorney and state representative, served as Jacques’ legal council in the Magog man’s efforts to share the name Memphre with the world. This would have allowed people to use it how they saw fit, and to have fun with the concept of a monster lurking within the depths of the lake.
“He was more than the father to Memphre, he was a goodwill ambassador for the lake, and for people who live along the border,” Duncan said. He noted how his client, turned friend had worked tirelessly to record “sightings” of the creature and to uncover the history of its presence, or at least the myth of it, in the lake. The Newport attorney said he was also impressed with how Jacques wanted to form a bond between the communities on both sides of the International border, particularly between Magog, Quebec, and Newport, Vermont, communities on opposite ends of the 30 mile lake.
I couldn’t agree more with Duncan’s words. While many people look across the International border, either south or north, and see only strangers, Jacques extended his hand across the border and embraced the hands of strangers and made them his friends. In doing so, he brought people and communities on both sides of the border together. Although I think he understood the need to toughen border security in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he often complained to me that the new laws were a bit too stringent and were doing little to promote international relations between border communities.
When, on July 30 2003, the beautiful city of Magog, Quebec set aside a day to celebrate the commemorating of the “Memphre Tower” on MacPherson Wharf on the community’s waterfront, Jacques insisted that their neighbors to the south be invited to take part in the festivities, festivities that included a furry Memphre character frolicking about in the crowd. The tower, which doubles as an observation post for those who hope to catch a glimpse of Memphre, was dedicated in the name of Jacques Boisvert. I, along with members of the Newport City Council and the Vermont’s North Country Chamber of Commerce were treated like royalty at the festivities courtesy of Jacques Boisvert.
Jacques Boisvert was the guest of honor at the July 30, 2003 commemoration of the Memphre Tower in Magog, Quebec. Guests from both sides of the border attended the event. Left to right: A furry Memphre; Mr. Boisvert; Marc Poulin, the mayor of Magog, and Paul Monette, the president of the Newport City Council. In Quebec, Memphre is celebrated by the people, even by the majority who believe that the lake creature is nothing more than a combination of a legend and an overactive imagination. People passing through Magog will note a number of businesses named after Memphre. His name is even found on food menus. On the other hand, on the American side of the border, the very word Memphre elicits chuckles and jokes.
Evan Beloff of Montreal, the writer, producer, and director of Ontic Media, worked long hours with Jacques on the movie, The Legend of Memphre, also had many kind words about the Magog man. The movie was produced when Evan was with the Montreal film company, Diversus. Evan’s film takes a sometimes serious, sometimes satirical, look at the phenomena called, Memphre.
“Jacques was very much an adventurer to me,” Evan said. “He seemed ageless and right out of an Indiana Jones film. I was astounded at his ability to do the strenuous activities he did with his diving on a daily basis. He also had a humility which I found to be quite surprising considering he was the man of the lake, an archivist, a living scrapbook of memories that was known and respected by everyone in town. This approachability and wisdom was something I will never forget. He was of course, invaluable to the entire process of making this film. He and his wife opened their home to us and let us document their lives for over nine months and I am grateful for his generosity of time.”