ROUGEMONT, Que. - It may have been the largest annual trucking company party in Canada. Between 5,000 and 6,000 employees and their families came to the 15th annual Robert Transport apple festival Oct. 2. They ate, socialized, enjoyed live music a...
SMILE: The festival was a family affair with entertainment for one and all.
ROUGEMONT, Que. – It may have been the largest annual trucking company party in Canada. Between 5,000 and 6,000 employees and their families came to the 15th annual Robert Transport apple festival Oct. 2. They ate, socialized, enjoyed live music and raided the company orchard, loaded this year with fat Lobos and MacIntosh apples.
“It’s a family picnic,” explained VP of operations Claude Riopel. A 20-year employee, he shook hands, high-fived, slapped shoulders and greeted people by name nonstop as we toured the company’s Rougemont terminal, a half-hour east of Montreal, where Rosario Robert started his business in the 1930s.
Around the same time Monsieur Robert planted a 500-tree orchard right behind the huge terminal yard. There are 6,000 fine trees now, and at every festival the employees are welcome to fill their boots (sturdy plastic bags, actually) with apples to take home. In fact, apples are such an important part of the tradition that one fall when the crop was small, the boss shipped in apples for everyone. Those apples scored a solid 10 in the who knows how many homemade pies company volunteers churned out on site. When I stuck my head in the kitchen for a look around, a huge three-rack oven was baking 54 at once and a couple of hundred hot golden brown pies on warming racks were waiting to be consumed.
Outside, the crowds queuing for pie and ice cream only thinned long enough to let out their belts and swing around for more.
“I’ve had three or four pieces,” said Simon Coursol, a company driver from Laval, who was attending his fifth apple festival. He came by himself, but colleague Denis Savard came from Ste-Julie with his wife and two children.
Pierre and Ghislaine Gougeon, along with eight children and grandchildren, made the three-hour trek from Gatineau, near Ottawa.
“We’ve been to almost every apple festival,” said Ghislaine. I’ve never seen so many people here.” Her husband, a 20-year driver, added: “It’s a family thing. It is very special.” As for the apple pies – “We usually go back two or three times,” he said.
While many other company socials exclude children, the focus of this apple festival is on family spirit, a high-minded goal in a company with 2,800 employees scattered across Quebec, Ontario and the United States. Robert even bussed in about 100 employees from the Toronto area and put them up in a Montreal hotel for the nights before and after the festival. And it was rumoured that some employees came from as far away as Timmins. Nearly 200 employees volunteered their time to put on the festival.
Kids crawled over several fire trucks that made regular tours of the orchard, their old-style sirens sounding every few minutes. And a clown, under the unblinking gaze of a 20-foot high blue dinosaur with yellow polkadots, made balloon animals for the kids.
No one went hungry. Ninety volunteers worked flat-out in a temporary kitchen garage making and serving dogs, burgers, palm-sized pizzas and pogos to a lineup of people that snaked through a giant yellow and white-striped tent cafeteria and out across the terminal yard. It was an all-you-could-eat-athon, with a separate tent serving yogurt, cotton candy, juice and popcorn. Come again. Have some more. There was even a mini-zoo with pony rides and craft tables with room for plenty of children (country fair carousels were the objet d’art du jour) one of those bouncy fun house things shaped like an orange sabre tooth tiger and a portable climbing wall.
For the more motor-minded, Claude Robert opened the doors to his private collection of six very fine McCormick Farmall tractors from the better days of agricultural equipment, as well as some nicely-restored vintage trucks. There was a Model TRTL 72 1958 Mack, with the phone number “623-3” printed on the door. Try dialing that number today. There was a blue 1943 Dodge two-tonne, a 1933 Ford one and a half-tonne with a dump trailer that cost $650 new and a three-speed, four cylinder 1924 International.
Robert also had some modern tractors on display in the company livery: There was a 2005 International Model 9900 and a spotless 2003 Model 9200i in which driver Marc Duchesne had racked up 364,257 kms. There was also a 2004, 12-speed automatic Volvo Model 780 tractor and two Meritor and Eaton transmissions, a Volvo VED12D engine, a Thermo King reefer and a collection of model tractor-trailer rigs rounded out the display.
The Oct. 2 apple festival rounded out a three-weekend event: On the two previous weekends Robert hosted an estimated 5,000 customers and their families. That’s a lot of apple pie.