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Built on Faith

Canada #42 Montréal

By definition, an oratory is a small roadside chapel open to travellers for private worship. Brother André Bessette and his colleagues founded an oratory fitting this description on Mount Royal in Montréal in 1904. The chapel still stands today and the small rooms occupied by Brother André have been left as they were when he lived there as caretaker.

Nearby is a much larger building, also called an oratory and founded by Brother André. Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is a Roman Catholic basilica and the largest church in Canada.

Brother André was well-known as a healer and, as stories of miraculous recovery spread, devotees flocked to his chapel. He attributed these miracles to Saint Joseph and a larger crypt church dedicated to the saint was completed in 1917.  Construction then began on the basilica in 1924 and it opened in 1967. Today Saint Joseph’s Oratory is visited each year by more than two million people.

After Brother André died in 1937 at the age of 91 the miracles continued. In 2010, he was formally canonised as Saint André of Montréal. A display in the entrance to the church depicts the story of his life of dedication, while his black marble tomb stands in the Votive Chapel where pilgrims and visitors may pay their respects.

Outside the basilica, the Garden of the Way of the Cross provides another opportunity for quiet contemplation. The 14 Stations of the Cross depicting the last day of Jesus Christ are represented by beautiful sculptures located throughout the garden.

While the oratory has become much more than that simple wayside chapel, its purpose as a peaceful place of worship remains the same.

 

Into the Blue

Canada #41 Montréal

A ferris wheel is always a fun way to get a different perspective on a city and La Grande Roue de Montréal is no exception. At a height of 60 metres it is the tallest observation wheel in Canada, with 360° views – on a clear day up to a distance of 28 kilometres.

Centrally located in the Old Port of Montréal on Bonsecours Basin, the wheel is perfectly positioned. On one side passengers see the mighty St Lawrence River flowing towards the Jacques-Cartier Bridge.

On the opposite side, they look down on playgrounds for both children and adults at Voiles en Voiles, a pirate themed high ropes course, and the Tyrolienne zipline, where adventurers soar over the calm waters of the basin.

The Bonsecours Market building, surrounded by the stately buildings of the old city, is distinguished by its tall silver dome. Beyond it, the city of Montréal is a seamless blend of old and modern architecture.

On a warm summer’s day, a ride on La Grande Roue is the perfect way to see the city of Montréal.

 

Joining in Becky’s Blue Squares in July

Over, Under and Back Again

Canada #40 Montréal

As we explored the streets of downtown Montréal, we often caught glimpses of the elegant curves and contrasting geometric patterns of Jacques-Cartier bridge.

Built in 1930, the bridge spans the St Lawrence River and is 3,425.6 metres long. Originally named the Harbour Bridge, it was renamed in 1934 in honour of the French explorer Jacques Cartier, commemorating his first voyage along the St Lawrence River 400 years before.

With more than 35.8 million vehicles using the bridge every year, it is the third busiest in Canada and it’s not restricted to cars and buses. A sidewalk on one side of the bridge caters for pedestrians and cyclists while on the opposite side there’s a pedestrian only walkway. With amazing views of the river and the city, we knew this was going to be a walk with a difference.

Our walk began on the approach viaduct, where only a low cement wall separated us from five lanes of traffic. At the start, the sidewalk seemed as busy as the road. We had to be careful to stay on the right and listen for the warning bells as cyclists came up behind us.

Further along it became less busy, as those on bicycles hurtled past and regular walkers hurried on their way. We dawdled, admiring the views of the city, picking out familiar landmarks and watching as ferries and boats passed far below.

The views above us, of the huge steel trusses crosshatched against the blue sky, were equally as impressive.

Around the halfway mark where the bridge passes over St Helen’s Island, we came to a doorway leading to a staircase. We assumed the steps would take us down to ground level where we expected to find a corresponding staircase in the opposite pylon.

Instead, the steps went down just one level. An enclosed walkway one floor below the road was decorated with a colourful timeline of the bridge’s construction. Again we took our time, learning more about the history of the bridge.

At the far end, we climbed up the stairs to the pedestrian only sidewalk. With no need to keep an eye out for cyclists, we could stop at any time to enjoy more views of the river and the city. From our elevated position we heard the screams of people on the rollercoasters at a nearby fun park.

As we left the bridge and walked once more along the approach viaduct, we stopped and turned back for one last look. Luckily, with an pedestrian underpass nearby, we didn’t have to brave the traffic to cross the road!

 

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Let’s Go Shopping!

Canada #39 Montréal

With fresh produce of all sorts in bountiful supply in Canada, it’s no surprise to find wonderful markets everywhere. While St Lawrence Market in Toronto has been declared the world’s best food market, Jean-Talon Market in Montréal lays claim to being one of North America’s largest open air food markets.

Located since 1933 in the Little Italy district of Montréal, this market is open all year round. In summer the stalls are filled to capacity by more than 300 vendors. Fresh seasonal produce sold by local farmers is complemented by delicious treats from bakers, butchers and fishmongers and stallholders selling cheeses, spices and international foods.

With such a wide selection shoppers take their time, sometimes seeming almost perplexed by the choices on offer.

There is even a book shop dedicated to recipe books; when the decisions are finally made, there’s a good chance of enjoying a delicious meal later in the day.

Competition can be fierce among the vendors and samples of food are on offer at most stalls. Visitors can easily eat their way around the market, tasting everything from freshly harvested berries to aged salami.

At one stall, the farmer is happy to discuss the difference in sweetness in his two varieties of corn and shares a piece of each, hot and steaming straight from the pot.

Along with all the food sellers there are stalls packed with cut flowers and potted plants.

Flowers of all varieties are ready to take home to decorate the table or the garden, while other plants offer more edible options.

Some even boast of their ability to repel unwanted visitors. Mosquitos, squirrels and cats beware!

With an abundance of wonderful food at Jean-Talon Market, there’s no need to leave hungry.

 

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Feel the Beat

Canada #35 Québec

The beating of drums drowned out the sounds of early morning commuters as we entered Old Québec through Porte St Jean. Next to Artillery Park, a sergeant of the Compagnies Franche gave a stirring speech encouraging us to join the Governor’s guard. As an added incentive, an artillery man fired his musket, the blast disturbing birds resting in nearby trees.

We weren’t tempted to enlist. Instead, we joined Canada Parks guide Pierre-Olivier for a walk along the ramparts of Québec City.

The fortified walls surrounding Old Québec are the only remaining city walls in North America north of Mexico. Recognised as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada, the defensive system of walls dates from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Beginning at Porte St Jean, we climbed to the top of the ramparts. While we enjoyed views of the old city and the newer areas beyond the ramparts, we learned how the walls were constructed, looked inside a soldier’s casemate, fortified to protect the guns inside, and learned how ammunition was stored in the powder magazine.

When our walk with Pierre-Olivier ended at Porte St Louis, we continued along the ramparts to La Promenades des Gouverneurs, a walkway built in 1958 to commemorate Québec’s 350th anniversary.

The 655 metre path clings to the side of Cap Diamant, where the fortifications of the old city are still visible. We stopped many times to admire the broad expanse of the mighty St Lawrence River.

After descending 310 steps we arrived at Terrasse Dufferin, named for Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada from 1872 to 1878. It was due to his intervention that Québec’s famous city walls were saved from demolition, before being repaired and restored. In his final act as Governor General, Lord Dufferin laid the foundation stone for the terrace that bears his name.

The 671 metre boardwalk, high above the river, leads from the promenade to the base of Château Frontenac, Québec’s famous luxury hotel, opened in 1893.

At the end of the terrace, we boarded the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec for an ride down the steep hill to Petit-Champlain and Place Royale, site of the first French settlement in North America in 1608. It was easy to imagine we’d been transported to 17th century France as we wandered along cobblestoned streets past beautiful French styled buildings.

Before parting ways with Pierre-Olivier earlier in the day, we’d asked him what he would suggest we do in Québec. His recommendation – a 12 minute ferry ride across the St Lawrence River to Lévis. After several hours of walking, it made a nice change to sit on the outside deck enjoying the cool breeze. From the ferry terminal, we walked along Quai Paquet, where children played among 160 jets of a fountain set into the pavement.

A red wooden staircase zigzagging up the cliff beckoned and, with no idea what was at the top, we climbed up. All we found was a quiet suburban street, but when we turned around the view over the river to Québec City, with Château Frontenac towering above the old town, was stunning.

After returning on the ferry, we joined the crowds in front of the Fresque des Québécois mural, painted on the side of Maison Soumande. The beautifully detailed mural depicts fifteen of Québec’s most important historical people, including the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain and its protector, Lord Dufferin.

Instead of ascending on the funiculaire, we climbed our third set of stairs for the day. The Escalier Casse-Cou, also known as the Breakneck Stairs because of their steep incline, are the city’s oldest steps, built in 1635. When we reached the top, we had one last Québecois destination in mind – Chocolato. This chocolate themed café on Rue Saint-Jean has an incredible range of ice creams, sorbets and sundaes and the most difficult decision of the whole day was what to choose. After much deliberation, we ordered sundaes; mine was a Forêt Noir, Glen’s a Caramel Royal.

Our day ended where it had begun, at Porte St Jean, but this time the beating we could hear was not the drums calling us to action, but our hearts as we savoured every delicious mouthful of our afternoon treats.

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A Day of Learning

Canada #34 Musée huron-wendat, Wendake

After exploring the banks of the Akiawenrahk River and wandering through the First Nations reserve of Wendake, we were curious about the history of the Huron-Wendat Nation. The Musée huron-wendat was the perfect place for us to learn about this matriarchal society.

The museum, opened in 2008, showcases the history and culture of the Huron-Wendat people. Exhibitions of indigenous arts and crafts, beautifully decorated with beads and feathers, tell stories of the ancestors. Clothing and jewellery, household items and hunting tools explain traditional ways of life. They are displayed with photographs and explanations in the words of the people who made and used them.

The Ekionkiestha’ longhouse, where as many as 60 people from one clan would have lived, stands behind a tall protective palisade. The longhouse is made from white birch and alder trees; the lengths of timber and wide strips of bark would all have been gathered when the site was first cleared.

While the men were builders, hunters and fishers, the women of the clan tended abundant gardens, providing up to 80% of their food supply.

The garden beds surrounding the longhouse were filled with crops. The “Three Sisters” combination of corn, beans and squash grew together, companion planting at its best. The corn stalks provided support for the climbing beans, the beans renewed nitrogen in the soil and the large leaves of the squash plants shaded the soil, keeping weeds to a minimum. Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers also flourished in the garden.

Inside the longhouse it was cool and dim, with light only entering through the narrow doorway. Platform beds lined the walls, furs piled high ready for sleeping. Cooking fires glowed as tendrils of smoke drifted up to the high domed roof.

Standing in the longhouse, it was easy to imagine families gathering together at the end of the day, children playing while the evening meal was prepared. The Musée huron-wendat brought the culture of the Huron-Wendat Nation to life for us in a way that reading never could.

 

Island Life

Canada #31 Toronto Island Park

In the summer months, crowded ferries travel back and forth all day long from their terminal in downtown Toronto to Toronto Island Park. The curving beaches, wide flat cycle paths and walking tracks on the islands are busy, and the amusement park and children’s farm are popular attractions.

Even though the 15 islands which make up the park cover an area of just 330 hectares, it’s not difficult to leave the crowds behind and spend time in more peaceful surroundings. There are 262 private homes and more than 600 permanent residents on the islands, and a guided walking tour is the perfect way to learn about their relaxed island lifestyle.

On a warm summer’s day we join long term residents Susan and Linda for a 90 minute exploration of the residential communities on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island. We learn that the islands were not always islands; they were once joined to the shore of Lake Ontario by a sandbank. Wild storms in 1852 and 1858 washed away the sand, creating a wide channel linking Toronto’s inner harbour and Lake Ontario.

No cars are allowed on the islands and most people travel on foot or by bicycle. Six bridges connect the islands and shaded footpaths meander through the quiet neighbourhoods.

With warm humid weather in summer, most homes are surrounded by lush green gardens overflowing with flowers. We pause often to admire the  beautiful gardens and the wildlife they attract. Houses on the city side of the island also have enviable views across the water to Toronto’s CBD.

When our walk with Susan and Linda is finished, we say farewell and continue along a broad timber boardwalk. Beginning at Ward’s Island Beach, it follows the curves of the shoreline to the pier at Centreville.

On this sunny day the calm water of Lake Ontario gently laps the sandy shores of the island beaches. Watersports enthusiasts as well as the local wildlife take advantage of the glorious conditions.

As we come closer to Centreville, we hear once more the sounds of daytrippers enjoying themselves. It might only be a 13 minute ferry ride from the city, but they must all feel like they’re on an island holiday.

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