1990 – Our Vacation in Quebec by Carol Rist

Carol Rist

August 3, 1990

We really enjoyed our vacation in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick two years ago, so this year we decided to visit a different part of Canada. To say that Quebec is different from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is an understatement. The only thing that was the same was the currency. Even the flag was different. We saw some Canadian flags, but for the most part the flags that were flying were Quebec provincial flags, with blue fleur de lis on a white background. The most prominently displayed T-shirt in the souvenir shops was one with a frog proclaiming (in French, of course), “Froggie, and proud to be one.” The separatist movement is indeed alive and well in Quebec. For me it was a real pleasure to be in a place where no one wanted to speak English. I got a chance to use the French which had been lying dormant in my brain for some thirty years. But the fact that it is illegal in Quebec to post public signs in English was a bit of a nuisance to Karsten,

Our first stop was Quebec City, a charming old town. When we arrived it was 10 PM and yet the downtown was one big traffic jam for both pedestrians and motorists. After finally getting into our hotel we found that a summer festival was going on, and one of the outdoor concert sites was across from our hotel. We loved wandering around the old city, visiting the fort and walking all over the Plains of Abraham where the British under Wolfe beat the French under Montcalme. Watching the changing of the guard at the fort is amusing. Here you have Red Coats with beaverskin hats proudly performing age-old British military ceremonies. But in order to be a member of this Royal Regiment, your mother must be a French Canadian, and all orders are given in French.

Our next stop after Quebec City was the little town of Bale-Saint-Paul, but on our way there we visited the Ile d’0rleans, a large island in the St. Lawrence. Most of the milk, eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in Quebec City come from there. All of the old farm houses were beautifully kept. In fact, that is something that impressed us about Quebec. In the villages and in the countryside, property is well maintained and you don’t see junk sitting around. It was strawberry season on the Ile d’Orleans, and we bought a four quart basket of strawberries which made our Florida strawberries seem pretty tasteless. Most of the farmers were offering U-PIC fields, except that the signs had to be in French. There were all sorts of ways to say U-PIC in French, all of which took four or five long words. Too bad they have their no signs in English rule.

The Bed and Breakfast place where we stayed in Bale-Saint-Paul looks out over the Saint Lawrence. From the picture window in our room we could see the local marina with its half dozen pleasure boats, and the wharf, which is no longer used for commercial shipping but was once the city’s main source of supply. We were fascinated by the tides. It was a surprise to find ourselves so far inland with substantial tides. We were obviously still at sea level. The marina was inaccessible except at high tide. Karsten was disappointed to find that the only birds on the mud flats at low tide were gulls. He intends to find out why there were’t more shore birds, and hopes that that answer isn’t pollution.

Bale-Saint-Paul is in a region called Charlevoix, which is very popular with artists because it is so picturesque. We visited Charlevoix by car, by boat, by bicycle and by foot. One boat trip was in a breathtaking canyon on the Malbaie River in the “Pare regional des Hautes-Gorges,” All of our fellow tourists were French Canadians. In fact, Charlevoix has a lot of tourists, but as far as we could see, they were all Quebecers. Our other boat trip was a whale watch where the Saguenay and Saint Lawrence rivers meet. We had hoped to see some large whales, but got to see several Minke whales. A Minke looks like a stretch dolphin with the mouth of a humpback. Karsten enjoyed the whale watch so much that we went back to the mouth of the Saguenay another day and stood up on the cliffs overlooking the water. That time we saw not only Minke whales, but also many beleuga whales. The beleuga is white and on that calm, clear day it was easy to see then not only when they surfaced for air, but also as they cruised along just under the surface.

By bicycle we rode all the way around the Ile au Coudres, an island we could see from our B&B. The most interesting spot on the island was a place where a water mill and a windmill have been restored. To actually watch a water mill grind grain is impressive. Karsten was especially impressed to think of his ancestors who ran the mill in Schleswig-Holstein. He hadn’t realized that a miller had to be an engineer and a mechanic. By foot we went on a hike with a naturalist in the Parc des Grands Jardins and learned what “taiga” is. (Look that up in your Funk and Wagnals! – and no, it is not how Dad pronounces that big, striped cat in the jungle,) Then we climbed the Mont du lac des Cygnes (Swan Lake Mountain) on a well maintained trail and were rewarded with a view of the picturesque countryside all the way back to the Saint Lawrence. The guidebooks rave about the food in Charlevoix, and for the most part, we agree. Our most memorable meal was in Pointe-au-Pic, a place where William Howard Taft and other wealthy Americans built summer homes around the turn of the century. The restaurant where we ate was formerly the home of wealthy Americans and is now an inn. It is perched high above the Saint Lawrence and the view is superb. The food was equally superb. The bad news is that the food there, as in all of Canada, was very expensive.

We had to cross the Saint Lawrence by ferry in order to go visit Netta Rist Patry and her family. They live in a charming old farmhouse outside Montmagny. Patrice, Netta’s husband, is rebuilding the interior and is doing a beautiful job. Netta and Patrice have three daughters who are 7, 5 and 3. Since Netta and Patrice speak good English, we spoke English with them. The children speak only French, so I did most of the communicating with them. Andy, you must go see them. You would get along very well with Patrice and Netta. They do a lot of cross-country skiing in the winter time and would love to have you join them. The only rainy days we had during the two weeks we spent in Quebec were the two days we spent at Netta’s house. We spent most of the time in the house, talking, but did venture out to see their vegetable garden and their chickens. It got chilly during those rainy days, but otherwise the weather was warm and sunny. I even got sunburned because it never occurred to me to take sun screen to Canada.

We decided to visit a national park on our way back to Montreal. Pare National de la Mauricie is on land which was logged excessively during the last century. But today the forest is coming back. We spent a pleasant afternoon canoeing on a mountain lake and learned a lot about the logging industry. The St. Maurice River, which borders the park, is still used to float logs down to the sawmill. I was surprised to see a river full of floating logs. But we were told that in a few years all logs will be moved by truck. They say it is for environmental reasons, but I think the pleasure boaters are pushing hard to eliminate a real impediment to speeding around on the river.

Our last day in Quebec was spent in Montreal, which is much bigger, more cosmopolitan and less quaint than Quebec City. We heard a lot of English spoken in Montreal, whereas we heard very little English spoken on the street in Quebec. On Saturday afternoon we wandered around the botanic gardens. The parking lot was jammed with white stretch limes, black stretch limes, and white Rolls Royces. Every couple that got married that day had come to the gardens to have their wedding pictures taken. Everywhere you looked there were couples and wedding parties having their pictures taken in some picturesque spot. It must have been 85 degrees. If I were in the business of renting tuxes for weddings, I would frown on the custom of going to the botanic gardens for pictures. I was so taken with the idea of having wedding pictures taken at that lovely spot that I have decided that Andy should marry Caroline in July. Andy wasn’t the only one we thought about as we strolled around in the botanic gardens. Everytime we looked up in the sky we saw the tower that rises above the Olympic Stadium, which is across the street from the gardens. The tower reminded us that the Pirates had just completed a series in Montreal and had slipped into second place. We knew that Carl was not so happy about the Pirates’ visit to Montreal.

We’ve had a lot of catching up to do this week. On Tuesday I worked as a hearing officer again – and once again it was all people who didn’t want to pay their fines for false burglar alarms. Just about the time Karsten gets caught up on yard work and business, it will be time for him to fly to Germany. I think he is getting pretty excited about seeing his old classmates.

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