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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.

 

To Market, To Market

Canada #30 St Lawrence Market, Toronto

On Front Street the façade of St Lawrence Market has an almost stately appearance. The red of the bricks is enhanced by overflowing tubs of begonias, shady market umbrellas and a line of Canadian flags flapping in the breeze.

Step through the wide timber doors and the feeling of calm elegance disappears, as the bustle of vendors selling their wares is matched by the urgency of shoppers in search of the freshest produce and best bargains.

There has been a public market on this site since 1803, first in the north building and, since 1845, in the south. Today more than 120 specialty stores sell fresh foods – fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, bakery and dairy products.

As well as filling their baskets with fresh food to take home, hungry shoppers flock to the restaurants and cafés to fill up on local delicacies and traditional treats.

In April 2012, St Lawrence Market was declared by National Geographic as the world’s best food market.

After devouring our lunch of freshly made crêpes filled with fruit and cream, we could understand why!

The Kissing Bridge

Canada #28 West Montrose

As the pair walking hand in hand disappears into the darkness, it’s easy to see how the covered bridge at West Montrose got its nickname. In the past, lit only by coal oil lamps, there would have been ample time to steal a kiss or two as courting couples made the crossing in their buggies.

Even though the 62 metre bridge is now lit by electric fittings, there are still parts where the lighting is dim.

The covered bridge spanning the slow-moving waters of the Grand River is the last of its kind in Ontario. It has been restored and adapted to take the weight of modern vehicles, with the modifications cleverly hidden beneath the original structure.

Once across the bridge the country road continues alongside the river, but walkers are not encouraged to dawdle.

Just as pedestrians and 21st century vehicles regularly use the bridge, traditional Mennonite buggies also continue to go back and forth every day.

Although this gentleman has no pretty young lady by his side today, I wonder if he’s made use of the kissing bridge in the past.

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One Room

Canada #25 Casa Loma

On a hill overlooking the city of Toronto stands a Gothic Revival mansion, once home to the fabulously wealthy Pellatt family. Casa Loma, Spanish for Hill House, was built between 1911 and 1914. Now owned by the City of Toronto, the house and gardens are visited each year by more than half a million people.

There are 98 rooms in the house, some sumptuously decorated while others have remained unfinished since work stopped at the start of the First World War. From the grandeur of the Great Hall to the opulent private suites of Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady Mary Pellatt, there’s an exaggerated sense of luxury.

But the most beautiful room in this enormous house is also the least adorned.

The conservatory, designed in the style of a Mediterranean courtyard, is tiled with Italian marble. Garden beds lined with local marble from Bancroft, Ontario overflow with orchids, lilies and lush greenery.

Water plays over an ornamental fountain at one end of the conservatory; it sparkles in the sunlight shining through high arched windows.

The gaze of every visitor is drawn upwards to a central dome of elaborate stained glass. Decorated with trailing grapevines, the dome glows in the sunshine while at night 600 lightbulbs illuminate the delicate designs.

With a room as charming as this in their house, it’s a wonder Henry and Mary ever used the rest.

Sensing the Past

Canada #23 Fort York

When we first saw the historic buildings of Fort York surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto, the early 19th century defenses seemed out of place. It made more sense when we discovered that the city, originally named York, was founded here.

The first garrison was built on this site in 1793 by the British Army, in response to border hostilities with American forces. In 1811 it was fortified with the addition of the defensive wall and circular gun battery.

In 1812, the United States declared war on Canada and in 1813 the American Army and Navy attacked York. Much of the fort was destroyed at this time, but it was soon rebuilt by the British. In August 1814, a second American attack was unsuccessful. The war between Canada and the United States finally ended in December 1814 but Fort York remained an active military site until the 1930s.

Today the fort is a living history museum, with displays, exhibitions and re-enactments which heightened all of our senses.

We saw both the officers’ quarters and the enlisted men’s barracks. In the barracks soldiers, who were often accompanied by their families, lived side by side, eating and sleeping together.

In contrast, the officers dined in luxury with fine china, silverware and crystal. Probably even more precious in this building was the luxury of space.

Like the soldiers of the Guard’s Artillery Detachment, we covered our ears with our hands as the Cohorn mortar field gun was fired at midday.

We heeded the call of the Fort York Drums as they marched onto the parade ground. Wearing the uniform of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, the fifers and drummers played military tunes which would have been both familiar and comforting to 19th century soldiers.

We followed the scent of baking to the kitchen of the Officers’ Mess, where freshly baked gingerbread was cooling on the table.

While she shared the biscuits, the cook explained how these traditional treats are as popular now as they would have been in the early 1800s – there are never any left at the end of the day!

As we rested our hands on the kitchen table, we wondered about those who lived and worked here 200 years ago; who lifted the latch on the fortified gate, watched over the cooking in the open fireplace or dipped rainwater from the barrel with a bucket.

While we had time to wander in contemplation, we sensed we were surrounded by more than just those modern buildings outside the wall. The spirits of people from times long past were all around us.

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Welcome to 1867!

Canada #22 Black Creek Pioneer Village

In a quiet place far from Toronto’s bustling CBD, a little cemetery sits beside a mill pond. On an overcast day the pond mirrors its surroundings in a perfect reflection.

In the middle of the cemetery is a memorial to the Stong family, who migrated from Pennsylvania in 1800 to start a new life in Ontario. Daniel Stong and his wife Elizabeth both lie at rest here in the cemetery.

On the other side of the pond is a flour mill, dating from 1842 and nearby is a whole village of mid-19th century buildings. Of all these old buildings, the only ones original to the site are those which Daniel and Elizabeth built.

Black Creek Pioneer Village, in the Toronto suburb of North York, has grown around the Stong family farm as historic buildings from elsewhere in Ontario have been added to the collection. Some have been moved here complete, while others have been reconstructed after being carefully dismantled at their original sites.

Many of the old buildings are 19th century stores where, like the original occupants, modern artisans practise traditional crafts. They are passing their knowledge onto a new generation keen to keep the old skills alive.

Others are small museums, with their tools of the trade left as if the crafters will return for a new day. The village is a time capsule, set in 1867.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, chickens wander where they please and sheep and goats graze in the field near the barn Daniel Stong built in 1825.

Two farm houses sit side by side next to the mill pond. The first, a simple three room log cabin, was built by Daniel and Elizabeth in 1816. Here they raised eight children before moving in 1832 to a new, two storey home next door. Their second home is much grander, evidence of their hard work and resulting prosperity. Elizabeth must have been delighted with her beautiful new home after living for 16 years in the cabin. It became a hen house and storage shed.  

Daniel died in 1868, one year after the time in which the pioneer village is set. If he returned now the little stores, the peaceful mill pond and his 19th century neighbours going about their daily tasks might all look quite familiar.

I wonder what would he think if he stepped beyond its boundaries into 21st century Toronto?

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