The streets and buildings of Old Quebec must be experienced because of their quaint European nature and the variety of cafes, shops and boutiques. This part of the city is divided into the Upper and Lower sections by a steep cliff that historically protected the citadel located above - and whose cannons controlled the passage of ships on the St. Lawrence River. This photo was taken during our chilly May, 2005 trip, looking down into the Petit Champlain district of the Lower section as we descend from higher ground.
While wandering around this historic area during a much warmer visit in July, 2002, we came across a large mural painted onto the side of one of the stone buildings. It depicted various characters who had played some sort of role in the development of Quebec as a French province. In the 2nd photo, I am standing beside Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who first reached here in 1608, after failing in an earlier settlement attempt during the winter of 1604-05 on an island in the St. Croix River between present day New Brunswick, Canada and Maine, USA. These attempts at French colonization in Canada followed a failure 65 years earlier. After Jacques Cartier's explorations of the Gaspe and St. Lawrence River in 1534, he returned to establish a colony near the mouth of the river in 1541, but it was abandoned two years later due to harsh conditions .
As we continued our walk in the 3rd photo, we came across Place Royale, the historic heart of Quebec City. The old buildings around the square have been lovingly restored, including the oldest stone church in Quebec - the Eglise Norte-Dame-des-Victoires, built in 1688.
Who needs the Canary Islands or the Azores or even the Florida Keys when there is an exotic holiday destination only a few hours drive away? Throw in a 5-hour cruise, French culture with beautiful cliffs and sandy beaches and you have the makings of a fantastic trip! After living next door to Quebec's remote archipelago of the Iles de la Madeleine, I decided in late-June, 2003 that it was high time to go have a first-hand look.
Running southwest to northeast are a series of islands joined by long narrow sand dunes with a great highway system connecting most of the islands. Starting from the south are the islands of Havre-Aubert, Cap-aux-Meules, Havre-aux-Maisons (Harbour of Houses), aux-Loups (Wolf), Grosse-Ile (Big Island) and Grande-Entree (Big Entrance). Unconnected islands include D'Entree (Entry) near the ferry landing and the now unpopulated Ile-Brion. Ile-Brion was actually the first of the islands to be discovered by Europeans, sighted in 1534 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier.
Just outside the community of Fatima on Cap-aux-Meules, are located the impressive red sandstone cliffs of Belle-Anse (Nice Cove). As with most of the cliffs on the Islands, the land is quite unstable so exercise caution when enjoying the views! I grabbed some of these rocks at one of the beaches and you can literally crumble it with your bare hands. You will find that you really can 'get away from it all out here!'
No matter where you go on the islands, you will see fishing boats either plying their trade, tied up at dock or rotting away in a field! While we were at Belle-Anse, the boats were very active in the waters below us, moving in to throw lobster traps over the side. Even I wasn't crazy enough to get too close to the edge of those cliffs (2nd photo)! However, there was one spot very close to here where we were able to look down into the close inshore waters and watch the Black Guillemots (northern equivalent of Penguins) floating on the surface and then slipping beneath the surface to 'fly' underwater.
La Grave is a group of old fishing village houses and buildings located along a narrow spit of land with a pebbly beach ('greve' is French for pebbly or sandy terrain) at the southern end of Rte. 199 on Ile Havre-Aubert. It was very interesting to walk around this area of small tourist shops, museums and restaurants. This was the only historic spot like this that we came across in our entire tour of the islands. This photo was taken from the Musee de la Mer, looking down on the buildings of La Grave, with the peaks of Les Demoiselles on the right.
Towering above the town of Havre-Aubert are two treeless and grassy peaks, known as Les Demoiselles (2nd photo). The lower peak has a large cross on it but the higher hill is devoid of any structure. There is actually a rough road almost to the top of the higher peak (or you can walk up). It is worth the effort for the amazing views! The view from there was taken looking out over the town of Havre-Aubert and its point of land containing La Grave and the Sea Museum, as well as the peaks of the distant and islolated Ile d'Entree.
After a morning spent at the Montmorency Falls, my wife and I crossed the nearby suspension bridge to Ile d'Orleans, sitting in the St. Lawrence River. This small island, only 40 miles in circumference, is a short 15 minute drive from downtown Quebec City. Its fertile soil has attracted settlers for over 300 years and it today serves as the vegetable and fruit breadbasket of its nearby large neighbour. Because of its long-standing islolation from the mainland, many cultural aspects of the island have been retained to the present day, leading to its declaration as a national historic district in 1970. The southern and eastern parts of the island appeared to be the main agricultural areas, with large fields of potatos, corn and wheat. We were also impressed with the classic style of many of the homes in this area. This is a view taken in the village of Saint-Francois at the eastern tip of the island. The summer of 2003 had been a warm one, so the onset of the Autumn leaf colours was delayed until mid-October for our viewing pleasure (2nd photo) as we made our way around the island.
As we neared the completion of our 2-hour circumnavigation, we noticed that the farms and houses along the north shore seemed to be more affluent than those on the south side. There were a number of large farms here as well, but the speciality was in apples orchards - with a great deal of U-pick activity taking place. The 3rd photo was taken from the highway, showing one of these houses overlooking the north channel of the St. Lawrence River and the Saint-Anne-de Beaupre area of the mainland.
West of the Madeleines and north of my home province lies Quebec's Gaspe peninsula, so named by the local Mikmaq natives, with the word 'gespeg' in their language meaning 'land's end'. The first known sighting of Perce Roch by a European took place in 1534 when French explorer Jacques Cartier landed after sailing past the Madeleines. Strangely, the natives were able to converse with these explorers using a pidgin form of Basque. Although English explorer John Cabot sailed these waters in 1497, it is believed that Basque fishermen from the Grand Banks off Newfoundland must have made contact with the locals before Cartier did! When first recorded, this massive limestone rock had two holes in its outer end, but 311 years later, on June 17, 1845, the outermost tunnel collapsed . Today, the rock is still impressive, rising 290-feet (88-m) out of the Gulf with dimensions of 1420-ft (433-m) by 300-ft (90-m) and with the remaining arch rising 50-ft out of the sea. Both Perce Roch and the nearby and larger Isle Bonavenure (a bird sanctuary, see 2nd photo) are remnants of the Appalachian Mountains which run up along the eastern side of of North America. For about 4 hours when the tide is out, it is possible to walk out the Perce Roch from the village, and that is an experience in itself!
In our case, we had a sunny holiday weekend in August, 1998, so without any planning, we just took off in the car, crossing over from Campbellton, NB into the Gaspe and then driving along its southern coastline. This is like stepping back in time, with quaint villages and no fast food outlets! The highway was great and we made it to the village of Gaspe after a long day, even managing to find a motel on the hillside with a great view of the Rock. For breakfast the next morning, we found a fantastic little restaurant that served the most exquisite meal that I can remember. Unfortunately, we did not have time for further explorations on that trip, but I have always fully intended to get back to the Gaspe again for a proper go!
Holding on against the relentless ocean, Cap Noir (Black Cape) is made up of some sort of black rock, probably volcanic, which has a harder texture than most of the material in the islands. In the photo, you can see that it is taking the brunt of the ocean attack, while its weaker neighbours are slowly giving ground. This was the view from the cliff-side field where we spent an afternoon observing off-shore Minke whales and flocks of Gannets plunging into the water after schools of fish, not far west of our accommodations in the village of Bassin. Just off the upper right corner of the photo is a multi-level house belonging to a reclusive artist, according to the locals. It sits all by itself surrounded by huge open fields with a great ocean view from its perch. The 2nd photo shows where we left our car as we made the gently sloping walk through the field to the crumbling cliffside. Our islolated afternoon here in the field overlooking the Gulf was the highlight of the entire trip!
When we first reached Grosse-Ile at the northern end of the island chain, we turned left off the highway into a smaller part of it called Grosse-Ile Nord, our first sight of the Scottish settlements on the island (Anglophones now number only about 5% of the population of this chain of islands). There are a few houses scattered around the hill and a small fishing boat port as on most of the islands. Overlooking this was a very nice cemetary, with a view out over the harbour and the peaks of the northerly Grosse-Ile visible in the distance. We had a wander around the cemetary to see what story the gravestones had to tell. Some of the names we saw were Best, Keating, Rankin, McPhail and Clarke, with the oldest birth date being about 1841. One marker held the names of a father and his two sons - all died in 1936, did their boat sink?
Continuing north to the distant island, we reached the small port of Old Harry. There, we enjoyed spectacular cliff views with waves from the Atlantic Ocean side crashing ashore into caves and also the very picturesque scene (2nd pic) of these lobster boats winched up onto a large wooden platform at Old Harry. In the background is the beach of Grand Echouerie leading out to the National Wildlife Reserve of East Point which covers the whole northern tip of this island.
Poor Montmorency Falls, living in the shadow of Niagara! This is one you never hear much about, but a few inklings of its existance had filtered through to me, so one sunny day as we were in the midst of passing through Quebec City I decided that it was high-time to pay it a visit. I was really surprised at how easy it was to reach, only 15-minutes from the city core in our rental van and we were there! Located just east of the city along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Montmorency Falls is well worth a visit.
With a drop of 272-feet (83-m), this waterfall is actually higher than Niagara, but is not in the same league when you are talking about width. Still, it is located in a relatively serene part of Quebec with just a modest visitors centre instead of the all the tourist trappings that you will find surrounding its much more famous cousin. It was a beautiful October morning, so we did the round trip tour - cable car from the vistors centre to the left precipice, a walk across the pedestrian suspension bridge over the falls and then back down via a zig-zag boardwalk on the right-side cliff. In winter, the waterfalls is completely frozen and is used to practise ice-climbing techniques! While we were high above gazing out over the St. Lawrence River, we could see below us the old suspension bridge leading out to historic Isle d'Orleans! Humm, that looked interesting too, so that was our next port of call!
Two hours down the Autoroute from Quebec City lies the much bigger and livelier city of Montreal. We have made quite a few trips to this very appealing metropolis, including a visit in October, 2003 when we stumbled upon this granite obelisk which pays tribute to the founding of the city. Located in the d'Youville area of Old Montreal, it was erected in the early 1890s to commemorate the founding of the city in May, 1642.
Walking a bit further into Old Montreal will soon bring you to the pedestrian walkway at Place Jacques-Cartier. This broad avenue is lined with restaurants and small shops and has a great view down toward the harbour or uphill toward the main part of the city. The other photos show scenes from this very popular tourist area, including views of the old City Hall and a needle-like monument to British Admiral Horatio Nelson. The Nelson column was erected in 1809, only 4 years after Nelson died at Trafalgar and was the first one in the British Empire to commemorate the many victories of the great Admiral. To the right is the the City Hall (Hotel de Ville) originally built in the Second Empire style between 1872-1878. It was badly damaged by a fire in 1922 and was rebuilt between 1923-1926. Today, the building still serves as City Hall.
The Chateau Frontenac is one of those quintessential Canadian hotels that have defined the country. Built in the 1890s to accommodate the guests of the Canadian Pacific Railway, this hotel has sisters all across the country - from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Along with many other events in its history, the Frontenac was used as a one of the meeting places of Churchill, Roosevelt and King as they plotted the joint British/US/Canadian strategy in World War II.
During our May, 2005 visit, our accommodations were right beside the Chateau Frontenac, so we had to wander in and at least sample their service. The Bar St. Laurent is at the end of the long hallway where you enter the hotel, and has window seating that provides great views out over the Lower part of Vieux Quebec and the St. Lawrence River below. There was no problem to just wander in and take a seat in this rather exclusive looking spot, and the waiter was very professional and helpful. In the end, we made a brief stop here in late morning after our cold and windy walk on the battlements of the Citadel and we also returned on the Friday evening for a nightcap before retiring to our room only a few steps away. The drink prices were very reasonable, including the glass of Port that I had before we tottered off to our Auberge!
The 3rd photo shows the exterior courtyard of the hotel through which you will pass to reach the main entrance doors. The final photo is a more distant look at the hotel from one of my earlier trips, this time taken from the ferry that runs back and forth across the St. Lawrence to Levis on the south shore.
Every one of the Madeleines has world-class sandy beaches, backed by tall dunes. The southern-most island of Havre-Aubert is no exception, so we spent an afternoon on its western coast, at the lower end of the Dune de l'Ouest. We pulled out our folding chairs and sat on the windward side of the dunes, admiring the long sandy beach and the view of the ocean. The wind started to feel a bit chilly towards the end, so we moved our chairs a few feet to the other, sheltered, side of the dune and had a completely different view over the swamps and forested area leading up to the shallow lagoon trapped between the two main sets of dunes that connect Havre-Aubert to the northern islands.
Later, after our wind-blown exploration of Grand-Entree at the northern end of the chain, we decided to retreat, seeking shelter on the leeward side of the Dunes du Nord mid-way between Ile aux Loups and Gross-Ile. As you drive along Rte. 199, there are not many places to access the beach through the dunes, because of their fragile nature. However, we finally found a spot with a picnic table where cars could pull off and you could then take a path through the dunes onto the beach. The beaches here stretch for miles (2nd pic), and we only saw one other group of people the entire afternoon. We had our folding chairs and a some wine and cheese with us, so we found a sheltered spot from the wind and just enjoyed the afternoon with the sun on our faces as we looked out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. You could actually see the wind whipping fine sheets of sand across the beach - and I think a few reached the camera lens! We thought we had another whale sighting when we saw a spout of water just off-shore, but further examination showed that it was Northern Gannets dive-bombing into the water after fish. Not long after this, my wife spotted a large seal moving close in-shore. He would pop up every now and then, stretching out of the water as much as he could, to take a look at us. It was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon!
During the course of our walks around Quebec City, we passed through the St. Jean gate in the wall that surrounds the city. These fortifications for the city were begun by the French in 1690 with a series of redoubts linked by palisades. With the fall of the city to the British in 1759, it was not until after the American Revolution that stronger walls were erected (1778-83), after Quebec City had beaten off an American attack during that war. Further fortifications were added between 1786-1812 during the Napoleonic Wars period and it was a good thing, because the Americans made another attempt to conquer Canada in the War of 1812-1814 while Britain had its hands full in Europe. The walls run for 4.6 km (~3 miles) around the Upper City and are about 12 m (40 ft) high and between 2-8 m thick.
The walls connect to the old British Army barracks located in the Citadel on the cliffs above the St. Lawrence River. On a REALLY long ago trip, August 1975, we and our children stopped in the city for a few days and took in the Changing of the Guard ceremony there, a practise which continues to the present day. The troops garrisoning this barracks are members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, a unit formed during World War I to allow an all French-speaking regiment. Because of the French pronounciation of '22nd' (Vingt-Deuxieme), the unit is commonly called the Van Doos. They have served with distinction in all of Canada's wars and peacekeeping duties since Korea, and are presently kitting up to take their turn with the NATO force in Afghanistan. The 2nd and 3rd grainy old photos show the marching manoevers being carried out in their 'dress' red uniforms!
In the summer of 1990, Hydro-Quebec, the provincial power company in Quebec, hosted a number of technical people from eastern Canada and the northeastern USA at their massive hydro-generation facilites at Radisson on James Bay. They have their own fleet of turbo-prop airplanes to fly staff back and forth between Montreal and this location 600 miles to the north. In addition to our regular group meeting, we had a very informative tour of the dams, their power houses and associated control equipment.
However, we were also treated to a one-day fishing trip even further north on the shore of Hudson Bay (see my 'Transportation' tips for a look at the two rugged de Haviland 'Otter' float planes that took us on that side trip). As the photo shows, I have proof that I did indeed manage to catch a nice sized trout! Not having really been prepared for this, on the return trip to New Brunswick, I wrapped it in newspapers, threw it into my luggage for the flight home and then cooked it up as soon as I arrived! Although my wife was not too impressed, the fish was delicious!
It was interesting to see what the landscape looked like on the eastern shores where Hudson and James Bay meet each other (2nd photo). The weather was quite pleasant in June and the bugs were not yet out in full force. There is a very long highway that can be used to reach the Radisson area, but flying is definitely so much easier if you want to actually try this for yourself!
Montreal's Olympic Stadium is still used for many functions, but its opening in 1976 for the Summer Olympic Games is what will always stick in my mind! We were living not far away in New Brunswick so had this one and only chance (so far) to take in the Games.
Because of cost over-runs (due to corruption) that are still being paid to this day, the "Big Owe", as it is sometimes called, has become a legend in its own right! As you can see from the photo, time ran out before the main concrete support for the planned retractable roof could be completed - the Games were already underway! Eventually the roof was completed, but it is not retractable - a Kevlar tent-like roof now covers the stadium, suspended on cables from the concrete support above. Nevertheless, it was still a very impressive structure to sit in and watch the Games take place! Luckily, the July weather was so good that there was very little need for a roof anyway!
Despite what people say about the structure, being there inside the Olympic Stadium in 1976 was an experience that I will never forget. It was amazing to me to be in such a large sports arena (having always by geography been a long way from any Professional sports venues in North America)! The atmosphere of the crowd was electric and I can still hear the sweet sounds of the staff working their way through the crowd with cries of 'Biere Froid - Cold Beer"! We managed to see some Track & Field heats as well as a Soccer match between Cameroon and East Germany while we were taking in the events.
It still makes for a nice Montreal 'icon' when viewed from afar, on top of Mount Royal for instance!
During a walk around the cobbled streets of Vieux Montreal, you will enjoy many fine examples of the old-world architecture of this part of the city. This area is located on the side of a gently sloping hill between the modern-day downtown core and the waterfront along the St. Lawrence River. Many of the streets are paved with stones and the ambiance is great. This photo of a typical street corner was taken not far from a very cosy restaurant we found, and there are lots of them to choose from!
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