From Humble Beginnings
Back in February 1994, my father and I purchased the restaurant next door to his motel in Dubreuilville. The Motel Bienvenue was a 12-room building he had built in 1983 and the new restaurant acquisition was rebranded as “Pat’s Resto.” It had the famous glow in-the-dark “Igloo Bar,” complete with Igloo entrance and snowmobile priority parking. This part of the business was run under my management. I was 24 years old, green as grass, and didn’t know much when it came to running a business. Tourism in Dubreuilville didn’t really exist then. It was known for great fishing and hunting, but not as the powersports destination that it is today.
Back then, the Province of Ontario was completing the implementation of the SNO-TRAC initiative; it had invested $14 million in building connecting trails between communities. Dubreuilville received funds to build three connectors: one to White River, one to Hornepayne, and one to Chapleau via Missanabie. They already had a trail to Wawa via the Magpie reservoir. Given these new assets, we decided to change our business model from being focussed on hunting and fishing to snowmobiling, and to brand ourselves as a snowmobile-friendly destination. With the SNO-TRAC 1992-95 program granting a new CASE Gilbert groomer to the Dubreuilville Alouettes Snowmobile Club, we needed operators.
The first couple of operators were the die-hard riders like Sylvain Guay and my father, Raymond Dubreuil, who poured their hearts and souls into building the trails and making sure they were groomed. They were supported by several club volunteers and the local Ski-Doo dealership owned by André Guay. But they were short operators because nobody wanted to sit in a groomer for 23 hours as they groomed the trail to Hornepayne and back. We usually had to send a relief guy to swap out midway or else the operators wouldn’t want to do it. It was dangerous, to say the least.
Then came Luc Levesque, a young man that didn’t have work because he had been in a bad ATV accident a couple of years prior and was left with a bum knee that gave him a bad limp. He wanted to volunteer as an operator. He took lessons from Sylvain Guay and started to groom the trails on a semi-regular basis, rotating among the operators.
Seeing that Luc was an asset to the club and to our business, we offered him a job as an assistant manager. This helped me, as I was busy running the restaurant or on the trails interacting with riders.
The Birth of The Groomer Guy
21 years ago, behind a dimly lit computer screen, “The Groomer Guy” was “birthed” by Luc Levesque. Back then, the only way to promote snowmobiling was by using online bulletin boards and forums. Hence, during one cold winter day, he conceptualized the “Groomer Guy” handle or “nom de plume,” in order to promote the great snowmobile trails found in the Dubreuilville area. He went with The Groomer Guy because he thought the Jim Carrey movie "The Cable Guy" was cool. Typical Luc story...
Information was shared by a few internet-savvy riders trolling snowmobile forums and Ontario Trails Conditions, which was Luc's favourite spot to yak. These bulletin boards and their vast array of visitors searching for snow and trail conditions became our marketing targets. Luc was encouraged to post while he was on manager duty at the restaurant. We quickly understood that the more people heard about us, the more business we could build. This was a surefire way to promote our business and encourage prospective snowmobilers to venture over from the USA and other parts of Ontario to the great and vast snowmobile trails of Dubreuilville—the hub of Northern Ontario, as we so often positioned it at the time.
We followed up this promotion concept with creating the famous Superior Snow Challenge Loop in 1999. I'm sure many hardcore riders remember this loop, which was probably the first real identified loop in Ontario. Another success.
Fake it 'til you Make it
Luc’s job was to post about trail conditions, snowfall, and the great trails that could be experienced in Northern Ontario under the “Groomer Guy” handle. He was not the best groomer operator—but, as they say, you learn from experience and making mistakes. Everyone has groomer retrieval stories that involve “The Groomer Guy” behind the steering wheel; I know I have several.
The Dubreuilville Alouettes Snowmobile Club was run out of our restaurant and motel for the most part. We used the facilities for radio call-safety checkpoints, as the operators were gone on grooming for up to 23 hours. The restaurant was open late and there was always someone who could be reached while the operator was out there alone grooming the trails. We used the CB radio to confirm their position and status.
Getting the Hang of It
Luc got the hang of operating the groomers over the years and made "The Groomer Guy" his own thing, complete with spelling mistakes and bad English in the mix! The “Jolly Frenchman” promoted snowmobile trail riding like no one else by adding his own personal flavour to the posts. Eventually, he added GoPro video cameras, live video streams, photographs, and a colourful vocabulary. His tell-it-like-it-is approach encouraged a loyal following of diehard snowmobilers. It became so popular that riders would—and will—travel to Dubreuilville to visit Luc at his Quickee-Mart corner store and ask to take a selfie or group picture with him. They know it will get posted and that they will have bragging rights.
We sold the restaurant and motel businesses in 2000 and Luc, "The GroomerGuy,” kept up with the promotion of the Dubreuilville trails, in addition to becoming president of the snowmobile club after having held several other key positions there along the way. He has earned his stripes through experience, trial and error, and networking with fellow groomer operators in the province. Since then, Luc has become an icon of Ontario snowmobile trail promotion. With ten thousand loyal followers, he can boost a post to several thousand likes within an hour; he can cross-promote a product and event, or send a safety message which will be shared, liked, and acted upon in a manner that is sometimes near unexplainable.
Recently Luc Levesque was honoured by the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organization (CCSO) and received the 2017 Excellence Award for Tourism Promotion and Development as The Groomer Guy. He also received the OFSC Snowmobile Promoter of the year for 2016. Ironically, he has never collected his awards in person because of family obligations, but true to himself and his style, he sent in a video montage thanking everyone and wishing everyone a good snowmobile season—not forgetting to plug his hometown of Dubreuilville.
Thanks to Luc for promoting our little town and snowmobile club. Here's to a great season ahead!