After establishing its presence on Nuns’ Island, in Mont-Saint-Hilaire and Sherbrooke, then on the banks of the St. Lawrence in Old Quebec, Strøm Nordic Spa is proud to be able to become the centre of balance for a new community by settling in the Laurentians, where the tradition of Nordic spas is already firmly established.
Indeed, it was on the edge of the Rivière à Simon that the first Nordic spa in Quebec was born in the ’60s, which would later be known as the Polar Bear’s Club. In 2022, having acquired the Polar Bear’s Club and Bagni Spa Station Santé, the spa located on the other side of the river, Strøm is proud to be able to follow in the footsteps of those who were the first to promote thermotherapy in the province. With respect for the history of the place and the values shared with the previous owners, we will continue to develop the site, where the proximity of the building and the river gives life to an exceptionally relaxing environment.
To pay tribute to this meaningful and influential place, here is its history, traced from the beginning.
Paul Charette bought the land from a farmer in Piedmont for the sum of $350. Located on the edge of the Rivière à Simon, the land also included an inhabitable house. Charette had a second house built there near the river, where he lived. The original house was rented out. He then had a wood sauna built for his wife just above the Rivière à Simon. This sauna is still accessible today.
THE EARLY 1960S
Charette started inviting his friends, including Giovanni Ramacieri, a well-known entrepreneur and designer, to come and enjoy the sauna and the Rivière à Simon. Men (women would be admitted later) met up there with friends, often on Saturdays at the end of the day, after skiing. When the river froze over, they even drilled a hole in the ice to immerse themselves.
tHE WOOD SAUNA
At the time, the wood sauna, in addition to a fireplace, contained a stainless steel barrel and a heat exchanger containing water that propelled steam. Since humidity conducts heat, that made it warmer than a traditional dry sauna, which does not go above 90°C. In addition to its heating capacity, the advantage of this sauna is that it is located very close to the river, which facilitates the hot-cold cycle.
At the time, people didn’t go to the “spa,” but to the “sauna.” There was no other facility, and the friends invited by Charette got changed in the cellar upon arrival, as one would do in a private house. The place was unknown to the public: new visitors were brought and referred by existing members.
Charette sold the place to Ramacieri, who would little by little give it a more “commercial” vocation. The sauna would become accessible on Fridays and Sundays as well. Gradually, visits became paid. “ Members” were charged $3 or $5 per visit, or $25 per year for a “membership.” The place still had no name, and the membership fees were used to cover the costs related to the maintenance of the sauna. It was reminiscent of a private club that was only frequented in the autumn and winter, so Ramacieri named the place the “Polar Bear’s Club.”
The spa was purchased by Robert Larose, one of the members. He added opening days to the schedule. Two decades of major changes followed: it went from one tub and one sauna to seven tubs and three saunas. At that point, membership cost a few hundred dollars per year.
OCTOBER 6, 1993
The wood sauna was the victim of a fire. Larose took advantage of the repair of the sauna to carry out a major expansion of the spa and a refurbishment of the facilities. Buildings were added, as well as new services and attractions.
A permit to build a walkway from the spa reception to the large terrace was obtained, as well as a permit to destroy the house built by Charette at the time and erect in its place the building housing the steam bath, changing rooms, and massage therapy rooms. In the years that followed, rooms intended for rental were also added.
The spa was sold to Dominique Bock and François Carrier. In the decade that followed, major redevelopment and modernization work would take place, including the addition of a new reception, the renovation of the saunas (including the original wood sauna), the addition of massage therapy rooms, and the opening of a bistro, which would later be renamed Chez Fabrice in honour of Fabrice Coutanceau, who had operated it for many years.
Acquisition of the Polar Bear’s Club by Strøm Nordic Spa
First phase of updates: addition of experiences, services, culinary offerings, and the iconic Strøm design
Second phase of updates: structural transformation
We would like to thank Caroline Richer La Flèche and Derek Russell Murray for their generous contributions to this article.
Unlike the practice of the thermal experience that is widespread these days, early members often visited the sauna, but didn’t stay there for many hours. They enjoyed three or four sauna- river cycles lasting 20 to 30 minutes each, then left. The benefits reported by the first members are the same as those for which the thermal experience is practiced today: the effectiveness of the hot-cold alternation on physical well- being, muscle therapy, relaxation, and time for yourself. At the time, the word going around was that the endorphins provided by the ritual could be felt between the second and third cycle.
Some members who visited the place in its early days are still customers of the spa today, preferring the original wood sauna to the other facilities.