Both Kirk and I know what it feels like to be a foreigner in an unfamiliar place. But other then some beachy trips to Mexico they barely remember, our kids haven’t had many
opportunities to experience travelling…like, real travelling. Where everything feels exciting simply
because it is different.
As the signs switched to predominantly French when we crossed the border, I hoped that going into a place as unique as Québec would fuel their wanderlust the same way it did for me back in ’94.
I feel like Québec remains a bit of a mystery to us prairie folks. We mostly just feel frustrated over words like ‘transfer payments’ and the wave of Bloc Québecois seats in parliament that feel irrelevant to us, but I really don’t hear much else about the province. And we of course worried that we would not be well received with our clunky van and virtually non-existent French skills.
First stop was Montréal, where we headed straight to a bike rental shop to get fitted with bikes to tour the city and avoid the same traffic woes we had with the CN tower parking nightmare in Toronto. It was hot out and our time was limited because the rental place closed at 6, but we made a nice loop along the Lachine Canal to the St. Lawrence, stopping to watch people surfing on the rapids of the river. Who
knew urban surfing was a thing?
We strolled towards Old Montreal, finding poutine and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches to check that off the list, and then wandered past Notre-Dame Basillica. As we stood in the square in front of the cathedral, I watched the faces of my children to see if they were in awe of the depth of history and richness of story that old buildings hold, like Kirk and I were when we backpacked around Europe, hunting down big old cathedrals as we went.
Their pained faces said they were more hot and tired then architecturally inspired.
Ok Montreal, what else do you have to show us?
The sun set and the air cooled and we stumbled into the heart of Old Montreal where I could actually hear Katie gasp at the beauty of the moment.
Narrow cobblestone streets, lights and flowers strung overhead between ancient buildings, live music drifting through the air and people milling about with big smiles and summer dresses. The kind of feeling you wish you could capture in a bottle to pour out in front of you everywhere you went to make every street sing with the same beauty. It was a scene right out of a perfect Parisienne summer night, topped off with some decadent treats and shopping in adorable stores, practicing our French.
I’ll never forget the look on Levi’s face when he worked up the courage to try out ‘Merci Beaucoup’ with a vendor and they responded back and he understood. I want to expand horizons for my children to extend far beyond our comfortable life in Edmonton, and am
saddened we haven’t done that with a second language in our home. So far, none of them are excited about learning French; they blame boring French teachers for that, but I also wonder if we should have put more effort into encouraging a second language. Google translate will have to do I guess.
The next morning, I snuck out of Vannesa and set out for a run across Montreal to what the internet
claimed was the best bagel shop in town. I don’t normally like road running on busy city streets, but it sure is a great way to experience a city. My route took me past some beautiful old buildings, quaint neighbourhoods and McGill university before arriving at Fairmont Bagel where my family was waiting for me with a pretty tasty post run breakfast.
Onward to Québec City where we aimed straight to the heart and found parking below the Plains of Abraham. Canadian history came to life for the kids as we took a tour to see the recently discovered remains of the governors castle. Hearing names like Jacques Cartier, Samuel De Champlain, Wolfe and Montcalm instigated long explanations (mostly from Tegan) about the history lessons she remembered from school.
The hot day turned angry and exploded into a wicked summer storm while we were wandering through Chateau Frontenac, sending swarms of tourists running into the lobby for cover and sent us pushing against them to get out into the storm. Cause that is where memories are made. We got soaked, but we also got abandoned streets and were rewarded with a stunning double rainbow between historical buildings on the oh so adorable Rue Du Petit Champlain.
Good thing we aren’t made of sugar and melt in the rain. Although with the amount of ice cream we have been eating so far, we must be getting close to 100% sugar.
Upon the recommendation of our tour guide from the castle, we stopped in the fading light to see Montmorency Falls, and to see it lit up like Niagara was. And then of course we had to race up the 478 stairs to get back to the top.
Feeling the effects of too many cities, we were ready to explore the Gaspé Peninsula, a place neither of us had been, nor did we know much about, so we took our sweet time stopping at tide pools, lighthouses and a Fromagerie for some to-die-for cheese and still-hot-from-the-oven bread.
After a long day of driving, we stopped for the night at a beautiful campground at Forillon National Park and had enough time to get in some serious vert on a hike up to a watchtower for a sweeping view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Between the stairs the night before, and racing Levi up the steep sections, Levi was feeling
that burn in his calves for a couple days.
At the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, is an adorable touristy town called Percé, that is cute by its own
right, but it made famous thanks to Percé Rock and the nearby Île Bonaventure.
We weren’t as well prepared as we thought we were, and lucked out by catching the last boat for the day with only ten minutes to spare. It also meant that our time on the island was limited because they shut down the longer trails early in the day to make sure everyone gets on the last boat out of there. Much to Katie’s dismay, that meant we just had to hike fast if we wanted to see the whole island! Île Bonaventure used to by occupied by a few hearty families that survived by fishing and gardening as best they could. The
island has been abandoned since the 70’s but is now home to 150 000 squawking Common Gannets, covering the cliffs with their piles of poop for nests. Stinky. But pretty impressive to see that many birds (and their babies!) up close.
We got to snoop through the empty houses on the island, before heading back while a pair of harbour dolphins jumped near the boat.
That calls for another ice cream cone to celebrate such a great day, right? Maple dip, in case you were wondering.
Overall, we were so pleasantly surprised by our time in Québec. Sometimes, western Canadian
sentiment towards Québec is omission at best, or disparaging at worst. However, every single encounter we had with Québecois folks was positive. Not one person seemed bothered by our limited French skills and dilapidated Alberta van. Many even went out of their way to show us kindness and make us feel welcome.
I’d like to go back. Not just because there is a 100 mile race on the Gaspé Peninsula I have now added to my bucket list, but because it still feels like a vast province with a lot more to explore. Do you ever look at map, at all the empty space up north and wonder what is up there?
Ok, maybe I’m the only one.
And Kirk. He asks those kind of questions too. I guess that makes us a pretty good team doesn’t it? That will be a trip with an upgraded version of Vannessa and no kids in tow, sometime way in the hopefully not too distant future.