An invitation to a family wedding in Canada, mid-September, provided not only a welcome opportunity to catch up with dear relatives but a new adventure too including a chance to re-discover Montreal, a city we’d last visited more than thirty years ago, shortly after it had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics and, before that, Expo 67, the world trade fair. I was happy to see the futuristic architecture of those days had remained intact; from the innovative, award-winning, concrete apartment blocks:
to the exhibition stands:including the olympic stadium (now Montreal’s state run casino)
Spread over a series of islands in the St Lawrence river, an impressive skyline has risen up in our absence and today, from a distance, downtown Montreal looks much like any other prosperous north American city:
where old classical buildings stand dwarfed by the tall new shiny glass and steel tower blocks:
and monuments stand loyal to the memory of a once glorious British colonial past:
But that’s where any similarity ends. For Montreal is very much a french city and a continental influence is apparent on every corner, not only in the spoken word and on every street sign but in its cultural heritage
and seat of learning; McGill university and nowhere is it more strongly apparent than in the old quarter of the city (despite Lord Nelson presiding over all)
where the old stone buildings, cobbled streets and horse-drawn fiacres:
serve as a reminder of the days when pioneer explorer, Jacques Cartier, landed upon these shores and established Montreal as an important trading post and port.
Many of the colourful old warehouses, paper mills and grain stores of bygone days remain, some as is but many now converted into slick city loft apartments:
Today, Montreal enjoys a broad cultural mix and this is reflected in the wide variety of food, from all around the globe, that is readily available.The famous Atwater market
offers the traditional Canadian fare of fresh lobsters:
fresh produce including pumpkins of every size and description:
delicious french cheeses, chocolates and patisserie:
Canada’s famous ‘Ice wine’
and of course EVERYTHING maple, from butter and fudge to cookies and syrup:
We also enjoyed food with an international flavour. Fresh sushi:
salt beef sandwiches:
and a Montreal speciality ‘Poutine’ (french fries with gravy and melted cheese!)
After days of pure indulgence, a fabulous wedding
(and yes, I wore a hat!)
and after seeing the lovely young couple off on their Italian honeymoon,
together, with our wonderful hosts, we planned to venture further afield and explore some more of the Quebec Province from the pretty countryside setting of the town of Hudson, on the banks of the Lake of Two Mountains, where the wedding reception had been held.
Hudson, nestling among the trees has both old farmhouses and traditional rustic barns
interspersed with picturesque homes and brightly painted wooden holiday cottages:
It is technically a suburb of Montreal – a popular weekend escape for city dwellers. We’d stayed overnight at the quaint ‘Willow Inn’:
a comfortable and peaceful waterside retreat complete with wrap-around veranda
and far reaching views across the lake:
As this old church shows, there is definitely more of an english influence here.
From Hudson, our Quebec adventure began as we crossed over the lake to the town of Oka
and visited a popular apple farm where ‘pick your own’ was the order of the day:
Horse-drawn carts led us through the apple and plum orchards and the farm shop offered all kinds of fresh produce
Next day, we travelled further north, alongside the St Lawrence river to Old Quebec city, entering the walled fortress through the ancient stone gate:
to find Frontenac Castle standing tall and proud:
a fortress situated high above the the river and the maze of colourful cobbled streets of the old town below:
where there was much evidence of Quebec’s indigenous, ‘First Nation’, inhabitants; Mi’kmaq and Iroquoians and, from further north, the Inuit tribes.
and those who fought the battle for independence from the Crown After a delicious al fresco lunch, basking in glorious sunshine and entertained by a variety of colourful street performers:
it was time to head north yet again, once more following the river.
We visited the Montmorency Falls (taller than Niagra!):
and found the end of the rainbowon our way to the quaint artist colony of Baie St Paul, where we spent the afternoon visiting the many art galleries filled with traditional and contemporary art by some of Canada’s leading painters past and present.
We stopped for the night at the picturesque town of La MalBaie, arriving at the beautiful ‘Auberge les Falaises’ inn just before sundown
A spectacular sunset was seen from our room with a glorious view: Next morning we set off bright and early for our final destination, the Sanguenay Marine park, excited at the prospect of some serious whale-spotting. We journeyed on up through the wild terrain of lakes and pine forests
and remote farmsteads
before, finally, reaching the end of the road (literally!) we made the crossing over the Fjord du Saguenay to Baie St. Catherine and the tiny village of Tadoussec.
Sadly, the boats that had left at dawn’s first light were forced to return back early, due to the sudden high winds and choppy seas further north and, much to our dismay, we were informed all further whale-spotting expeditions that day, were cancelled.
We made up for our disappointment with a visit to the local whale museum instead,
That afternoon we retraced our steps back across the fjord and headed back to St. Simeon, in time to catch the ferry across the St Lawrence to Riviere du Loup on the eastern shore, where we would join the motorway than would eventually lead us home to Montreal.
As luck would have it, no sooner had we embarked on the 1 & 12 hour crossing, when a huge whale rose up majestically through the waves alongside us – but disappeared back into the icy depths before I could get to my camera. Our journey had not been wasted after all!
With such a busy week there was little time for sketching but I have more than enough inspiration to begin a whole new series of paintings – and I did treat myself to a beautiful water colour print of Montreal:
a souvenir of a beautiful, colourful country, steeped in history and natural beauty and its wonderfully diverse, hospitable people – not least our wonderful Canadian cousins:
Alain & Maureen who, gave us such wonderful memories to treasure for many years to come…….Merci Beaucoup! A Bientot!
and, until the next time….Au Revoir Quebec!