Gas stations close near Wakefield, Quebec

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by Trevor Greenway on August 19, 2010

Jean-Francois Gauvreau closed down the pumps at his garage in Masham last month, leaving only one left in all of La Peche

Jean-Francois Gauvreau closed down the pumps at his garage in Masham last month, leaving only one left in all of La Peche

The next time you’re planning to take in a hockey game or a council meeting in Masham, or simply heading for the Hills, you’d better make sure your tank is topped up. Both gas stations in the village have locked down their pumps within the last month.

Jean-Paul Brisebois, for one, just can’t afford to operate anymore. When the La Peche Ward 4 councillor shut down his Francis Fuels station in Masham recently, he left behind 16-years of business in Masham.

“It’s too bad for the customers,” said Brisebois, adding that he will miss seeing his “regulars” in the morning. “But when you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.”

Brisebois said he was earning only about one cent on every litre of gas he sold, once insurance, worker salaries and other expenses were paid.

Aug 18 Front page

Aug 18 Front page

“It’s just not worth it anymore,” said Brisebois. “There is no money to be made in gas these days.”

Brisebois said the previous 16 years were much easier, when he ran the station with his late wife, Denise. The couple would take turns pumping gas and selling vegetables from the stand next to the station, but since she died earlier this year Brisebois has been working an average of 85 hours per week.

“I don’t have time to do anything at home,” said Brisebois, who is considering operating the vegetable stand from his house.

Brisebois hired student workers to relieve him for the summer, but the salaries ate into his profits, leaving him with no choice but to close for good.

Just down the road, at Garage J.F. Gauvreau Inc. at the end of the Masham Village, the pumps have been shut off since the end of July, with the operator telling much the same story.

“At the end of the day, you’re making nothing,” said owner Jean-Francois Gauvreau, referring to the one-and-a-half cents he was making from each litre sold. “This is ridiculous.”

Gauvreau said he was paying out almost $1,300 a week in salaries to keep the gas bar running and was barely bringing in that amount in sales.

“It’s not enough to keep us going,” he said.

Gauvreau said Ultramar, his supplier, was just taking too much of a cut to make it worth his while. He said that while his prices may have been three cents higher than those in the city, he wasn’t seeing any of that cash – Ultramar was.

Gauvreau now spends much of his day giving customers directions to Ryan’s Garage in Alcove, the only gas bar still operating left in La Peche. Gauvreau said he is considering reopening with an independent supplier, but the deal would have to be worth it for him.

Dan Faasen, owner of La Vallee Restaurant in Chelsea, foresaw this problem long ago,  since he closed his pumps in 1995 for the same reason. He said most people would stop only to purchase $5 or $10 worth – just enough to make it to Ottawa with its cheaper city prices.

“For one or two cents cheaper, people would fill up in town,” said Faasen. “That’s what killed us.”

Rumours of Ryan’s Garage closing its pumps at summer’s end have echoed throughout the Gatineau Hills recently, but Warren Stevenson quashed them when the Low Down called.

“Absolutely not,” said Stevenson, when asked if the rumours had merit.

But if Ryan’s Garage were to turn off its pumps, there would be no gas stations in all of La Peche.