Lac-Mégantic was established in 1884 as a stop on a former Canadian Pacific Railway line which ran from Montréal and Sherbrooke eastward across northern Maine to Saint John, New Brunswick. The region is 98% francophone and relies heavily on tourism from other French-speaking settlements such as Sherbrooke and Quebec City.
A small lakefront town in an isolated location on the Québec-Maine border, Mégantic was built largely on forestry and natural resources. Hunting and fishing have traditionally been popular locally. The region is mountainous and well known for its granite. The town’s slogan used to be « de la voie ferrée à la voie lactée », “from the railway to the Milky Way”, a reference to a dark sky preserve and observatory based in a nearby provincial park.
Lac-Mégantic had a charming, historic town centre until a runaway crude oil train derailed overnight on 6 July 2013, incinerating much of the historic district and contaminating the rest with enough oil and benzene to require its demolition. The village church, because of its hilltop location, survived – creating a surreal image of a statue of Jesus helplessly watching firefighters from near and far grapple for two days to extinguish an inferno which cremated forty-seven townsfolk alive.
While the rest of the town remained open and functional throughout the lengthy local recovery process, the downtown main street (rue Frontenac) didn’t reopen until 2016 – and then only as a collection of open spaces and new construction sites. Many landmarks at the centre of the destruction, such as the Musi-Café and the local library, were rebuilt elsewhere in the town. Veterans Park and the marina eventually re-opened in their original locations. A few businesses, including the l’Eau Berge inn, never returned. A $133-million project to re-route the rail line to bypass the town was announced in 2018.
Visitor information may be obtained by calling +1 819-583-5515 or +1-800-363-5515.