Pause-Déjeuner: A Conversation with Ernie Pomerleau

“Governor Douglas called me in and said, ‘I just made you honorary consul of France in Vermont.’ When I asked why, he said, ‘Because your name is Pomerleau.’”

That’s how Chevalier Ernie Pomerleau described his appointment during our Pause-Déjeuner of August 31. For more than a decade, Pomerleau has been deeply involved in promoting French connections in Vermont and beyond, including ten years as honorary consul.

“I by accident became honorary consul [of France in Vermont] expecting to do it for a year, and I did it for ten years. And I had fun.”

Pomerleau’s appointment to this role came as Vermont and Québec, in 2009, were celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s founding of New France and his “discovery” of the lake that bears his name. The enthusiasm and energy around the Quadricentennial provided fertile ground for fostering what Pomerleau described as a triangle of connections between France, Québec, and Vermont.

The connection with Québec is vital to Vermont’s economy, according to Pomerleau. He pointed out that when the pandemic closed the border, many Vermont businesses lost over half of their customers. “Over one million people cross the border from Quebec to Vermont yearly. Or at least they did before COVID.”

Honfleur bassin by Dana
The bassin at Honfleur

Another product of this triangle of connection is the Sister City relationship between Burlington and Honfleur, the city from which Samuel de Champlain sailed on most of his voyages to New France. The foundation for this relationship was laid in 2012 when a delegation of Vermonters including Pomerleau presented the mayor of Honfleur with a replica of Champlain’s ship, the Don de Dieu. Next month a contingent of Honfleur residents will visit Burlington, in the latest chapter of this story of connection.

In 2019 the French government honored Pomerleau by inducting him into the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest award for civil achievements.

Pomerleau also touched on his philosophy of generosity that has led his family to support so many causes and organizations in our area. “When an area has been good to you, and you’ve benefited from the environment in which you do business, you really have a deep, deep obligation to give back.”

One of the organizations that have benefited greatly from Pomerleau’s generosity over the years is our own AFLCR. In recognition of his ongoing support, AFLCR thanked Pomerleau in 2016 by giving him an honorary lifetime membership.

During Wednesday’s conversation, Pomerleau restated his willingness to support the efforts of AFLCR. One way to make visitors from Québec feel more welcome, he suggested, would be for area restaurants to provide a French page in their menus. “If you would like to work on that, I’d be extremely happy to support it,” he said.

Some more quotes from Ernie Pomerleau:

  • “When you cross over, you’re not asked how much money you made. You’re asked what you did with the money you had.”
  • “Action without vision is just running in place. Vision without action is just dreaming. Vision with action will change the world.”
  • “You cannot push out darkness. You can only bring in light.”

–Dana Baron