The former Hells Angels' bunker in Lennoxville — which was seized by police in 2009 and has been empty for more than 12 years — is no more.
The distinctive red compound, sitting atop a hill and surrounded by chain-link fence, where members of the Hells Angels planned strategy, made drug deals, and ordered contract killings throughout the gang wars in the 1990s, was demolished Wednesday.
The bunker was shut down during a major law enforcement operation more than a decade ago and became the property of the government last year.
"This is an invincible fortress that was used by the accused throughout the gang wars between July 1, 1994 and July 11, 2002," said Audrey Roy Cloutier, a prosecutor and spokesperson for the Quebec prosecution service, the DPCP.
In 2009, Operation SharQc targeted 156 individuals with 177 police raids in a massive sweep of organized crime in Quebec and New Brunswick. In Sherbrooke, 38 people were arrested.
Roy Cloutier said the bunker was designated an "offence-related property," meaning it was used to commit crimes, including drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder.
"It's really a symbol of organized crime, as were the other bunkers that were seized before," Roy Cloutier said. "It's the last one standing, so it's the last demolition that will occur in Operation SharQc, so that's something really important that's happened today."
Retired Sherbrooke Police officer René Dubreuil told Radio-Canada it's a big moment, given the bunker's history.
"[In 1985], as I recall, five members of the Hells were executed here and subsequently transported for the most part to the river, and were found a few months later tied up in sleeping bags," he recounted.
Later, in 1992, the Sherbrooke chapter of the Hells Angels hosted the gang's annual World Run, a gathering of hundreds of full patch members from around the world.
When the compound was still in use, it was outfitted with tinted bulletproof windows, metres-high wood fences and elaborate camera systems
Richard Tremblay is the former director of police services in Lennoxville, where there is no longer a designated police department.
He told Radio-Canada he was in town for another reason Wednesday, but heard about the demolition and decided to see it for himself.
"Coming here to see this today being demolished, it's historic," said Tremblay, explaining that the bunker was a constant source of concern in his time because the small local police service was not equipped to handle some of the activities that took place there.
He said he once had to threaten to turn off the power to the bunker when members were having a party that got so loud it was disrupting patients at the nearby hospital.
"We had to be very direct with them, but they co-operated," he said.
Former investigator Benoît Perron said the gang's activities are not necessarily impeded by the loss of a building, but the police being able to shut one down is an important token for the government and neighbouring residents.
"The bunker for the Hells Angels is a symbol, it's a strong symbol for them," Perron said. "Every time we can seize a bunker and destroy it, it's a big thing for them."
"It's a power symbol," he added.
Still, Perron said, the Hells Angels remain the number one gang in Quebec.
No decision has been made on what to do with the bunker land, although it may be made into a park. It'll go up for sale after the remains of the building are cleared away.
Lennoxville borough president and Sherbrooke city councillor Claude Charron told Breakaway in April that council changed the zoning on the land to to prevent any new housing development.
"Definitely it's not an easy topography and that's one of the reasons also that the whole thing is zoned natural, you can't really build there easily anyways, it takes a lot of money," Charron said.
He said the city declined the offer to purchase the land from the Quebec prosecution service, but council hopes an environmental conservation organization will buy it.