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Once upon a time After more than half a century of service, the Beaver Club in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel is no more. 
It was a muted death for a restaurant once considered the crème de la crème of formal haute gastronomy in Montreal. A restaurant that fed the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Princess Grace, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and John Lennon - as well as ordinary Montrealers and out-of-towners of course.
Recognized as a Montréal culinary institution since 1958 and the oldest gastronomic club in Canada, The Beaver Club was a favorite of epicureans. Through the years, it earned prestigious distinctions such as the CAA Four Diamonds, the Dirona Award, the 4-Star Debeur Award and the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
Although I struggled to afford the charmed life of a hedonist, those who can and do have always intrigued me. This is a story about that once famous Beaver Club. 
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James  McGill,  Thomas Frobisher, and Charles Chaboillez were among the founding members of the Beaver Club in 1785. It began with 19 men of exceptional fortitude.  
Prerequisite was that each man had wintered in the treacherous Canadian North West and must be capable of enduring social events of bacchanalian measure. Most of those men were trappers, explorers and fur traders who staged their dinner meetings in Montreal during the winter months. 

Montreal fur traders came together to found the North West Company in 1779. Over 40 years, they built a veritable empire that controlled over 80% of commerce in the North. Railways and roads didn’t exist, so trappers relied on canoes and rivers for their westward trek and return to Montreal. But what did these men do when winter paralyzed their watery highways?

It may have been a taste for luxury that brought them here, but the British also brought with them a lifestyle that favoured decadence. In 1785, a handful of them founded the Beaver Club. The 19 members met in an ad hoc manner every two weeks in different locations. Between April and December, their delectable dinners pumped the heart of Montreal society.

Membership in the club was exclusive – only by unanimous vote were men who had journeyed to and wintered in the North West admitted. Their motto, “fortitude in distress”, is a reminder of the harsh conditions they faced on the hostile terrain.

From a diary of the time: 
" December 24,  1808. Dinner:  there were 35 diners, of whom 16 were members  and 19 guests. They drank 40 bottles of madeira, 12 of port, 14 of porter, eight quarts of beer, six of cider and  four other bottles of various wines." 
Although food was not mentioned in that account, their willingness to imbibe was matched by pantagruelian assaults upon tables groaning beneath salvers of venison, pemmican, bear meat and beaver.
(in Rabelais' Pantagruel) the huge son of Gargantua, represented as dealing with serious matters in a spirit of broad and somewhat cynical good humor.
To the disappointment of its devotees, the club died in 1817 and more or less remained so for 142 years. 
The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, in 1959, reactivated the Beaver Club and resurrected past glories. Although the restaurant of the same name is open to the public, it had a membership of some 900 in more than 40 countries.
Lunch at the Beaver Club was a religion to many corporate heads. Several of the restaurant's 80 tables are termed "corporate tables."  It was a meeting place for mercantile moguls, financial giants and corporate hopefuls who would lounge back in comfortable chairs discussing the world-at-large.  
The ornate doors opened at noon and reservations were de rigueur
Fittingly, the decor is old-boy’s club, dark oak panelling. Mounted trophies of bison head and complete beaver from lofty corners peer down upon tables in pal  yellow cover set with embossed copper  plates.   Memorabilia o  the "coureurs des bois" (trappers) prompt visions of an adventurous past. It is a room which transports the mind while freezing a chapter in the passage of Canadian history. 
As to be expected, attention to service is impeccable.  At seating, one is presented with a bowl of crudities. Set amongst a medley of bright vegetables are pretty quail eggs.
Being a party of five, we were well served with the opportunity of viewing and tasting a diversity of dishes, some from the table  d'hote and others from the regular menu. The overall quality of food  served in the Beaver Club is excellent and to criticise is to walk softly.
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Described here are  a few dishes sampled
For the entree, a fine white china platter contrasted the bright green of large  asparagus spears set in trident form.  Another from the regular menu,  "arpege de legumes a la  mousseline de dore et aux rouelles de homard",  (vegetables, fish and lobster) a work of art with flavour just as long as its name.
The beef consomme, a rich, transparent amber, presented in a delicate cup is best described as superb. The lunch  table  d'hote listed three soups, two or three entrees and four main courses. As a main dish I chose the roast prime rib of beef au jus. 
From the main menu came cassoulet de St-Jacques a la creme de persil.  Executive chef at that time was Edward Merard's assembly of this platter wasa visual work of art. A  round cassoulet of tomato fondue held  a perfect stack of white sea scallops topped with browned crumbs. The whole being set upon a bright green veloute of parsley which my confrere ate without offer to share.
As you might expect, the wine list was extensive. Thusly, we enjoyed a sensational Hospices de Beaune 1981 Meursault. 
The cheese and pastry cart was arrayed in a deliberate attempt to crumble the strongest will.  A variety of coffees, tisanes, {teas} digestives, chocolate truffles and cigars were served with usual ceremony.
Meanwhile, now back in Australia, I must decide my tea for tonight and relegate reveries of the above to past glories.
Chef Merard has long since retired and I’m no longer a feted big-time restaurant critic.
Try this easy summer dish for the patio or picnic. Quantities are for two.
Easy Salmon Salad
2 small tins salmon, drained and flaked
a small bunch of asparagus, cooked
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
cucumber slices
1/2 red capsicum in slices
several lettuce leaves
1/2 cup vinaigrette
pepper & salt
Nicely arrange all ingredients on a bed of lettuce and top with vinaigrette.
Not Chaucer's recipe but  it has" the vibe "
Serve with a crusty bread and a fruity white wine.
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