Behind the Walls

Canada #38 Montréal

What was behind those high white walls on Rue Saint-Catherine? With no signs to indicate what was inside and more people entering than leaving, we were curious to find out what the walls were hiding.

A few steps inside revealed a diverse display of art works in a unique minimalist setting. Galerie Blanc is an outdoor exhibition space, free and accessible all year round and open both day and night. The exhibition we saw included traditional paintings and sculpture, pop art and intriguing digital designs.

By day, the collection was wonderful. When we returned after dark the illuminated artwork glowed with an added vibrancy.

The characters in the old masters looked ready to walk out of their settings and the modern geometric patterns had an almost kaleidoscopic feel.

The detail in some works demanded close attention while others were better viewed from a distance.

On a warm summer evening and with the gallery open to the night sky we lingered inside the walls. Like the other visitors, we wanted to take our time at this wonderful exhibition.

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Seeing Double

Canada #37 Montréal

As we walked through the centre of Montréal on our first afternoon, we met a small green creature with a very broad smile. He was everywhere, on flags and banners, street corners and pedestals. Who was this cute little guy?

We’d arrived in Montréal in time for the last weekend of the annual Just for laughs Festival and our new green friend was Victor, the festival mascot.

We wandered through the Quartier des spectacles where comedians, acrobats, magicians and musicians, surrounded by appreciative audiences, caught our attention.

Later we joined the crowd on Rue St Catherine for the 21st annual Twin Parade. The theme of the parade was A Voyage through Space and we were soon seeing double, with pairs of aliens, astronauts and outer space creatures filling the street.

The parade wasn’t limited to twins. Triplets and even quadruplets were there, and age was no barrier as little ones joined much older participants, all wearing elaborate space age costumes.

With this as our introduction to Montréal, we knew we were going to have a lot of fun.

More Than a Battlefield

Canada #36 Québec

On 13 September 1759, two opposing armies met on the grassy plains above the St Lawrence River in a battle which lasted less than an hour. The area known as the Plains of Abraham was named after Abraham Martin, a fisherman and river pilot who had farmed the land a century before. French troops, under the command of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, were overwhelmed by British Army and Royal Navy forces, led by General James Wolfe. Five days later, the city of Québec surrendered to Britain.

More than 250 years later, the Plains of Abraham National Battlefields Park is a place of peace, remembrance and contemplation. Markers commemorating the battle are placed throughout the gardens, detailing important moments and the people who took part.

After overnight showers the morning air is cool and damp and raindrops hang heavy on flowers in the gardens.

It’s a quiet weekday morning and the only creatures we meet are hungry squirrels foraging for breakfast…

and these quirky musical penguins.

Water plays in the centennial fountain, constructed in 1967 to celebrate 100 years since the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick united to form one independent nation.

Beyond the manicured lawns and neatly kept gardens, the grass is longer and the path, now just a narrow dirt track, leads to the top of Cap Diamant. We come to a Martello tower, strategically placed high above the St Lawrence River. Once a defensive fort housing a garrison of soldiers, the tower is now a small museum.

Following the path along the edge of the ridge, we arrive at Terrasse Pierre Dugua-De Mons. From this elevated vantage point, we admire again the wide expanse of Dufferin Terrace, the elegance of Château Frontenac and the St Lawrence River, silvery under the overcast sky.

Later, on our way home, we come across memorials to the two leaders of that long ago battle on the Plains of Abraham. Both died after being wounded by musket balls; General Wolfe not long after the battle began and the Marquis de Montcalm the following day.

They may have been on opposing sides in 1759 but today they are equally remembered for the roles they played in Québec’s colourful history.

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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.

 

Meeting Place

Canada #33 Wendake

Huron-Wendat people, traditional owners of the territory they call Nionwentsïo, have lived on the banks of the Akiawenrahk River for centuries. Also known as the Saint-Charles River, it teems with brook trout, eel and Atlantic salmon; in the Wyandot language of the First Nations people the river’s name means trout.

The river flows through the Huron-Wendat reserve of Wendake, home to more than 1,000 residents. But it’s not only the people who gather on the tree-lined banks of the river. The rushing water, cascading in a series of rapids and waterfalls known as Kabir Kouba or Silver Serpent, divides two ancient geological zones which meet here.

From the viewing platform above the river both formations are clearly visible. On the far side of the river above the falls is the Canadian Shield. The granite gneiss, formed more than one billion years ago, is hard and impervious to the erosive force of the water. Below the falls the sedimentary limestone of the Saint Lawrence Lowland, laid down 455 million years ago, has been worn away by the water, relentlessly carving deep gullies and polishing the riverbank’s stony surface.

With abundant animal and plant life and the beauty of the river, it’s easy to see why Huron-Wendat people made this area their home.

A Different View

Canada #32 Montmorency Falls 

The splendour of Montmorency Falls can be seen from many vantage points, each one crowded with visitors to the highest waterfall in Québec.

A wide suspension bridge over the Montmorency River passes above the water just where it tumbles over the cliff edge. From the bridge, a panoramic vista extends beyond the river’s junction with the Saint Lawrence River to downtown Québec City 12 kilometres away.

Platforms and staircases on both sides look out over the 84 metre high falls. To the right, the viewing decks are enveloped by dense forest while, on the left, 487 steps lead down the steep gravelled slope to the base of the falls.

At the bottom of the staircase is another platform where a cloud of mist envelopes everything. Raincoats and ponchos are no barrier to the power of the water.

A path at the bottom of the staircase goes along the river bank to a footbridge which leads to the visitor centre. Inside the centre is the lower terminal for the Funitel, an aerial tram rising above the river and forest-covered slopes to Montmorency Manor.

For those with a sense of adventure, a ride on a 300 metre zipline goes closest of all to the cascading water.

We find two more ways to view the Montmorency River and, unlike the crowded viewing platforms and staircases, we share them with just a few other people.

From the side of the suspension bridge an unmarked path leads upstream through the forest, taking us away from the falls.

The path ends where Avenue Royale crosses over the river; the calm water flowing under the bridge gives no indication of what lies a little further downstream.

Later, near the visitor centre, we spy another path beyond the train tracks. This one, lined by water meadows filled with wildflowers, takes us to the opposite side of the river and almost to the base of the falls.

A fallen log makes the perfect picnic seat and we linger after our lunch is eaten. We have the best view of Montmorency Falls – almost to ourselves.

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