In 1969 The Dirty Reich motorcycle club of Sherbrooke officially changed their name to The Gitans at a general assembly meeting held that spring. The event was covered in the June 19, 1969 edition of La Tribune as if reporting on a matter of governmental business in Quebec parliament. It would take some time, La Tribune dutifully noted, for members to produce new crests which would cost the club $500 – could their treasury bear the expense! There was a long discussion of simply patching over and joining Le Quebecois MC in neighboring Granby, this would solve the problem, as it was argued of “Dirty Reich” not being French enough -though the name certainly had an old-world European feel to it. In the end a majority vote won the day, and The Gitans were born.
La Tribune reported on “other projects”, how The Gitans were working on a capital campaign to buy a run down barn in St. Denis de Brompton, a small village located about 20 kilometers northwest of the city of Sherbrooke. Fundraising had begun and a weekend car wash was planned to raise $500 for the purchase, and another $500 for renovation and landscape work. In the end, The bikers got their headquarters, one of the first of the “bunkers”. More community eyesores would eventually spawn in Lennoxville and Sorel-Tracy.
Throughout the summers of 1969 and 1970 La Tribune ran an almost weekly page on youth issues singing the virtues of motorcycle clubs like their hometown Gitans. More details emerged about the St. Denis de Brompton bunker. The father of Andre Coulombe, the young biker killed in a motorcycle accident that spring was now working on the construction of the facility, and the bikers thanked all who had “provided materials, boards, sand or cement.” Similar to the Montreal MUQ “clubhouse” (located on land donated by the Town of Anjou and British Petroleum), there was a tract of woods in the back where members might stage races… or provide the distances needed so the public couldn’t observe what they were up to. Recall that Teresa Martin was more than likely murdered at the MUQ clubhouse. One Gitans member commented that the land was big enough so that the public couldn’t hear the revving of motorcycle engines… or a woman’s scream.
No longer questioning the Gitans’ motives, La Tribune now put the blame on the public for their pre-judgement and ignorance:
” It makes one think that basically bikers are not so different from other very young people of their age. If we do not hold any prejudices that employ us against the bikers. perhaps we would be more available to discover an image that is more real, and values that are more positive than those to which, unfortunately, we are accustomed to from sensationalists.”La Tribune
Of particular interest reporter Andre Bernier wrote:
“Among the Gitans, as is the case for several biker clubs, you have to follow certain laws. For example, no member may do anything that could harm the reputation of the club. In addition, the carrying of weapons and the consumption of drugs are prohibited.”“A club based on a solid organization”, Andre Bernier, La Tribune – September 27, 1969
During this period, the Gitans were still hiding behind the cassock of Father Jean Salvail, the biker priest from the Ste. Famille parish in Sherbrooke who was now being referred to as “the “great chief” of the three clans“, for he had now become the chaplain for biker clubs in neighboring Cowansville and Frelighsburg. The Gitans now had their focus on a new project:
“to join the MUQ (Motards Unis du Quebec). If the project materializes, it will be possible for them to take part in a larger-scale activity throughout the province. In addition, they will be able to fraternize more with fellow bikers from all over Quebec.”“A club based on a solid organization”, Andre Bernier, La Tribune – September 27, 1969
Consolidation had clearly already begun, and according to one Gitans member the club received divine assistance to help with their organization. In the same La Tribune edition, reporter Raymond Lapine profiled the biker priest with the gushing headline, “A chaplain not like the others”. Salvail was credited with being,
“…a bit of a thinker, a bit more experienced. And the guys trust him when it comes to making quick decisions or solving complicated organizational problems”. He does not do everything, far from it. but he can help the guys to organize themselves.”“A chaplain not like the others”, Raymond Lapine, La Tribune – September 27, 1969
Salvail’s ministry extended to working with “the guys”, and helping them with their problems. There are even photos of Jean Salvail working on the refurbishment of their barn project in St. Denis de Brompton. It should be noted that the move to join the membership of La MUQ was a rather brilliant tactical maneuver. Now, whenever a biker got rousted by police in Montreal, or vice versa, you could simply say you were there on MUQ business, when your real purpose was the distribution of narcotics and the trafficking of young girls, and with all of this illicit business conducted under the direct blessing of the police, the government, and now the most powerful social force in the province: the Catholic church.
Meanwhile back in Sherbrooke, the city was struggling to figure out why crime was going up. In March 1969 Mayor Armand Nadeau kicked off “Obey the Law Week”, and blamed the spike in crime on “citizens who refuse to help their police department”. Is it any wonder the people of Sherbrooke were confused when the same leaders were telling them that the actual criminals were just a hairy bunch of beatniks. How could they be bad, they had God on their side?
I’ll cut to the chase and say that leadership in Sherbrooke never really improved, as witnessed in the Rock Forest Affair in the 1980s that we previously covered. Nadeau was ousted in 1970, followed by one-termer, Marc Bureau. The next mayor, Jacques O’Bready is chiefly remembered for arguing in 1981 that the then proposed freedom of information laws shouldn’t apply to municipalities because, “municipal administrations already do a good job of telling their citizens what is going on.”
“L’ami des motards” choisi l’homme do mois de septembre par La TRIBUNE
In October 1969 La Tribune anointed Father Jean Salvail their ‘man of the month’, the young Abbé who “wanted to live in the contested milieu of young amateur motorcyclists whom the population had so much to reproach.” La Tribune continued:
“Misunderstood, misjudged, often unjustly, the young people, who seek strong sensations on their motorbikes, have found a brother, a guide, “a guy who thinks more than them and who is there when we need him”. It should be noted that the police officers of Sherbrooke have not had to address major reproaches to the motorcyclists since Abbe Salvail became a member of the “gang”. ““L’ami des motards” choisi l’homme do mois de septembre par La TRIBUNE, October 18, 1969
La Tribune again reminded everyone that Father Salvail was now the president of the three “Gitans” clans, those of Sherbrooke, Frelighsburg and Cowansville, and that among the bikers, “Nothing must be done to harm the reputation of the club, and the carrying of arms and the use of drugs are strictly forbidden.”
In a “call and response” that could have only happened through La Tribune’s encouragement, the following spring, May 1970, the Cowansville municipal police honored two Gitans club members. Robert Ménard, secretary of the Cowansville chapter, was named “gentleman biker of 1969”. An honorable mention was given to club president, Claude Levesque. The Cowansville chief of police noted he was considering organizing some motorcycle competitions, which would be seen as sign of cooperation between bikers and police. That summer such an event did take place, in Sherbrooke, of course:
Gitans president Georges Bo-Boy Beaulieu was interviewed at the event and asked such challenging questions as “Why do you have long hair” and “How satisfied are you with being a motorcyclist?”. Nevertheless, some of Beaulieu’s responses were interesting:
“The president (of the club) has absolute authority. The members respect him and follow his directions, even more so than they follow their mother’s directions in most cases.
We are free to go where we want and we are not attached to roads. If you want to go into the woods, you go and that’s it. We have the freedom that the ordinary citizen cannot have. “La Tribune. July 6, 1970
Three years later the calliope crashed to the ground. On October 5, 1973 The Sherbrooke Record reported how rivalries between the Atomes and Gitans, “broke into open war”. Georges Beaulieu and Lucien Cyr, who was said to be affiliated with a Montreal gang, were charged with shooting and the attempted beating of three Atoms’ members outside the Chez Freud discotheque. Members of the Sherbrooke Police and the Surete du Quebec (then named the Quebec Police Force or QPF) then raided the St Denis de Brompton ‘camp’ and discovered a large arsenal of “rifles, shotguns, revolvers, knives, a machete and weapons made from chains“, along side a large cache of ammunition.
This wasn’t the first incident known to police, but it was the first time the public learned of the rivalry – not from La Tribune, but in Sherbrooke’s other, English newspaper, The Record. According to police sources the violence had begun two years earlier when Gitans ripped the colors or patches off of Atomes members, an act seen as unpardonable. Skirmishes ensued outside nightclubs and parking lots. In late September, the Atomes camp in Edwidge – a village 15 kilometers southeast of Compton – was burned to the ground by Gitans. According to police, the conflicts boiled down to territory, “The Gitans do not believe there is enough room in Sherbrooke for two gangs.”
On October 23, 1973 The Sherbrooke Record reported how two Gitans members dragged a teenage girl from a nightclub with the intend to bring her back to the St, Denis de Brompton camp for a gang-rape. The news made it to the front page of The Sherbrooke Record but was not reported in La Tribune.
Capping off the month of October was the following story which made all the news, including La Presse in Montreal:
“Eleven members of the Gitans club appeared yesterday morning before magistrate Roland Dugré on charges of rape and complicity in the rape of two young girls, aged 18 and 24. Guy Pelletier and Jacques Kilteau, 26 years old, are accused of rape and complicity in rape.
Yves Savoie and Laurent Provencher, ages 21 and 23 respectively, are charged with rape. Nil Fortier, 19, two charges of complicity in rape; Gaétan Berger, 20, complicity in rape, as well as Michel Roy, 33, Michel Fortier, 23, Pierre Jacob, 23, and Jacques Boucher, 19
Georges “Boy Boy” Beaulieu, president of the The Gitans Club, who was already on bail pending a preliminary investigation into a charge of aggravated assault on the person of a member of the Atoms, was charged yesterday with two counts: intimidation of a witness in connection with the abduction of a young girl, and complicity in rape.”11 Gitans accusés de viol, La Tribune, October 30, 1973
The Gitans, who the public had been lead to believe just wanted to be left alone -by the press, the police, the church – had now gang-raped or attempted to gang-rape several young girls from Sherbrooke. Two of the eleven men charged, Gaetan Berger and Georges Beaulieu would eventually be named in the Quebec government’s CECO report.
And I’ll pause there and have you consider that Edwidge – Compton connection mentioned earlier. In the early 1970s, King’s Hall Compton was not a coed CEGEP facility like it became in the later part of that decade, but an all girls private boarding school. And you had bikers – bikers who gang-raped – traveling along the route to the Atomes camp, eventually burning it down, passing that school on a daily basis. The King’s Hall Girls School was shuttered in 1972, we are told for financial reasons. But is that the whole story? As it was a private institution, we might never know what abuses were suffered by those young woman unless someone summons the courage to come forward,
Since the spring of 1969 when they were first known as The Dirty Reich, Father Jean Salvail’s involvement with the Gitans had bought them the time they needed to get organized and become a fully functioning criminal operation. No one from the press – certainly not La Tribune – reached out to Father Salvail to ask for his comments on the matter.