This fall marks the 30th anniversary of my arrival in the Eastern Townships. I thought the Town of Stanstead would be planning a parade to mark the occasion, but my wife is a municipal councillor and there was a conflict of interest. (She had no interest and then we had a conflict.)
Instead, let’s capture those days of uncertainty, optimism and unflattering haircuts with an oral history of me (Ross Murray) as told by those who saw me coming but let me come anyway.
Peter Scowen, former owner, The Stanstead Journal: You have to understand, back in the early 90s, this region was a wild, wild west. Every issue of the paper we put out, we wondered whether it would be the last because, if you published an unflattering news story or, God forbid, wrote a critical editorial, the exotic dancers would be at your door.
Leonard Gervais, former Journal publisher; bon vivant: The nude dancers controlled the neighbourhoods, including the drug and sequin trade. You couldn’t walk down the street without someone shoving a thong in your face. They were aggressive and violent and limber, a dangerous combination. Bromptonville was the worst. Oh—that has nothing to do with the dancers; it was just the worst.
Luxie Velour, retired adult performer, current ReMax agent: Most of us girls were just trying to make a living. There weren’t a lot of venues in the Townships for us to perform so we had to find other ways, and if that meant shaking our booties at the Compton County Plowing Match, so be it.
Bob Deerholm, president, Compton County Plowing Match: They really messed with our furrows.
Matthew Farfan, historian: Why the exotic dancers converged on the Townships, no one can say for sure. Some say because of affordable rents, maybe the winter sports. One version says they were imported by the City of Magog to scare away the seagulls. People tried to co-exist with them for awhile. Being mainly farming communities, people weren’t too shocked. You know, udders and all that. But when school kids showed up to find ladies pole dancing on the jungle gyms, that was going too far.
Scowen: We knew that there was only one way we could end this anarchy and semi-nudity in the Townships, and that was through the mighty power of local journalism. We needed an editor.
Ross Murray, hero: I was living in Montreal at the time, and I heard that there was a newspaper job opening up in Estrie. And my first thoughts were, “‘Estrie’? Is that a word? What’s an ‘estrie’? It sounds like a medical problem. ‘I got a dose of estrie in my duodenum!’ Anyway, I was broke so I applied.
Scowen: I was reluctant to hire Ross at first because he had very little experience and had only ever seen one-and-a-half naked women. I wasn’t sure he was up to churning out news stories and editorials week after week while battling the burlesque. Plus he kept calling the strippers “ecdysiasts.”
Murray: I had recently purchased a thesaurus.
Gervais: I had a hunch. Surgery took care of that, thankfully. Anyway, I also had a good feeling about Ross. Maybe his fresh perspective and total cluelessness were just what the Townships needed to find a way to fight these feral feminine flashers.
Sylvain Roy, former flower shop owner: Oral history? I thought you said “floral history.”
Murray: When I arrived in Stanstead in the fall of 1992, I was immediately impressed by two things: 1) how friendly everyone was and 2) there were a lot of ladies gyrating in their underwear. They weren’t so friendly. But then I noticed that the locals waved at me when they saw me on the street, and that made me feel welcome. What, I wondered, if we made the exotic dancers feel just as welcome?
Farfan: Ross wrote a brilliant editorial that suggested each municipality set up an organization that would provide the dancers with resources and training to integrate into their respective communities. And the municipalities responded. Ross truly is a brilliant man and also very good looking.
Murray: And that’s how Town Strippers Association was formed. And every year, a different community would host Town Strippers Day. It pretty much solved the exotic dancer problem in the region. I’m really proud of that. Alas, we never could do anything about the cloggers.
* This piece originally appeared in Townships Weekend, November 12, 2022. It contains many local references and in-jokes, so if you don’t get it, it’s not me, it’s you.