Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home Again!

One long drive from Quebec City back home. Left around 10:30 a.m. – arrived home 7:30 p.m. Nothing exciting happened along the way. Weather was good; traffic so so. Its great to be home – and it feels as if we have never been away. So good to be close to Alanna again. So good to sleep in our own bed!!

Monday, July 21, 2008


It was a grey morning when we left Tadoussac about 9:30 a.m. The ferry across the fjiord was about 2 minutes from the hotel and the ride across took about 15 minutes. The first part of the journey was pretty regular, but once we hit the towns of Saint Irenee, Les Eboulements, and Baie Saint Paul , the scenery changed to beautiful mountains dropping right down to the shores of the St. Lawrence. We are confused by the road signs. Many of them are simply pictures trying to explain what to do, or what not to do! Our problem is that we can figure out what they are meaning! Some you realize after what they mean, but others, have still got us guessing! On our way into Quebec City we stopped at St. Anne de Beaupre where over a million people a year make a pilgrimage to seek meaning in their lives and are searching for God. Unfortunately, we found this so commercialized it quite took away the meaning of the pilgrimage. We recalled being there in the early 1970s and the storries of the pilgrims were so powerful that we don’t remember any of the commercialization we saw today. The stories we read and heard about were of many miracles of curing the sick and disabled. As you enter, the front wall in the Basilica is covered with crutches. Today, the pilgrims’ stories were not obvious to us and instead there were loud speakers going outside advertising a play that the students were putting on about something I can’t remember now. There were tons, and tons of people. Opposite the Basilica was a trailer park and there were thousands of trailers no doubt containing people who had come to see the Basilica. In addition, there is a pilgrims’ inn opposite the Basilica. Anyway, all this apart, the inside of the Basilica is just stunning. The pictures in the roof, the stain glass windows, and “La Grande Relique de sainte Anne” were all quite beautiful. I think there is a fine line between being a “tourist” and a “traveller”. G.K. Chesterton in the Newfoundland/Labrador 2008 Traveller’s Guide says it well: “The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” In other words: “…tourists know what they are looking for long before they know what is really here. An experience that is knowable and containable and packagable. But these are mere parts of the puzzle. A traveller, on the other hand, seeks the truth of a place, the essence that can only be appreciated by seeing the puzzle as a whole.” I like to think I am a traveller.

Our next stop was the Montmorency Falls, where we climbed the 487 steps to the top then walked across the swing bridge going over falls which drop 272 ft (83 meter) to the river below. They are 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls. The first bridge was opened in April, 1836 but tragically collapsed 5 days later on April 30, 1836. (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E01E7DA133DE034BC4953DFB366838D649FDE ) This new bridge opened in 1992 so was not there the last time we went to the Falls. It’s always breathtaking to see and hear the roar of the tons of water thundering over the falls – and of course getting soaked by the spray is just part of the experience!

We arrived in Quebec City around 4.00 p.m. I had not printed the instructions to the hotel and all I had was that the hotel we were staying in was called “Quebec Cultural Hotel” and it was on Grande Allee, the main street. After making one sweep of the Grande Allee just past the end of the Plains of Abraham, we stopped to try and call up my confirmation email but the address was in an attachment on their website and I was unable to connect to an unsecured wireless network. So, we decided to check in one of the other hotels and drove back to one we had spotted. The two receptionists were very helpful. They checked the web, and Canada 411 for the hotel. They had never heard of it and couldn’t find any reference to it. I was beginning to feel maybe I had been caught by a sham web site. I gave the girls the URL for the confirmation and they connected to it and to their surprise found that my reservation was for the hotel I was in – but it was called the Relais Charles-Alexandre. Anyway, I think the girl at Easy booking got the name wrong. Thank goodness it was correct on the attachment. But how about that for coincidence?

We walked down the Grand Allee to the Chateau Frontenac via part of the Plains of Abraham and the Quebec City Armory of the Voltigeurs, the oldest French-Canadian infantry regiment. To our surprise we found that the top floor of the Armory had burned apparently some time at the beginning of April. We hadn’t heard anything about it. It must have been a huge fire. We understand though that they got most of the museum items out. Now they have to decide what to do with the building which was originally built in 1887 (http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=426829). It is an incredible shame to lose something of such historical significance.

There are tons of tourists here. The streets are full of them. Mainly French interestingly enough. After the quiet of Newfoundland, this is quite refreshing, even although it is all very commercialized. We walked down into the lower area of the old town. It has been restored beautifully and despite all the tons of people, and the restaurants, and little boutiques, its so much fun and quite beautiful. Do you know that Quebec City is the only fortified North American city north of Mexico? (trivia supplied by Ray!)

Our hotel is really neat and I would strongly recommend it to anyone coming to Quebec city. The house was built at the beginning of the 1900s and has recently been renovated. You eat breakfast to the sound of the most delicate classical music, and the walls throughout are art gallery’s displaying the works of recognized artists.

So ……. tomorrow we will head for home, and that will be good.

PS – I was delighted to hear from Ben and Randy whom we met along the way on the journey to Labrador. Ben – if you read this – send me a comment with your email address. I check all comments before they are published on the blog, so it will be kept confidential. We would love to keep in touch with you and exchange stories on the trip one day.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tadoussac, Quebec

It was another beautifully sunny morning when we woke, and we were excited to get out and about in Tadoussac. Tadoussac is a small, pretty, village on the banks of the St. Lawrence. It is the site of the first trading post in Canada and has been a tourist resort for over 150 years. In fact the village celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2000. The majestic “Hotel Tadoussac” built in 1866 was the original “red-roofed” hotel in Canada. In the morning we walked around Pointe de l’Islet. It was a slow relaxed walk just enjoying the beauty around us. The bay at Tadoussac is one of the world’s 30 prettiest bays, and it is at the pointe that the St. Lawrence meets the Saguenay River – i.e. salt water meets fresh water. Sitting on the rocks at the Point we could see both the Bay and the estuary of the Saguenay River – the fjiord that runs about 100 plus km into the interior of Quebec. There was lots of activity. We watched sail boats, ferries joining highway 138 from the east side to the west side of the fjiord, bulk carriers carrying goods up the fjiord, zodiac boats, kayaks, and cruise ships on whale watching trips, speed boats just going out there, and of course lots of seals, whales, and belugas. It was fascinating to just sit there. Tadoussac is all about the whales, but somehow it just doesn’t sit right with me to take a zodiac, or a cruise out to watch them. There are regulations in place that the boats are supposed to follow. I think it’s a minimum of 400 m for belugas, blue whales and other endangered species; 1 nautical mile from any boat in observation; 400 m from an animal when you are the sole observation boat1 km from the whales. It’s hard to tell what distance the boats were from the marine animals, but in some cases it certainly didn’t seem like a kilometre. The belugas are so beautiful, actually they all are! You never get your fill, and just want to sit there all day waiting for the next glimpse. We dragged ourselves away and had lunch on the patio in a great restaurant, then we set off on a hike up to the sand dunes about 4.5 km from the centre of town. The dunes were amazing; quite high, and we wished we had “sand boards” with us to have fun sliding down them. In all, we must have walked about 15 km by the end of the day, but it was a good day and the exercise felt good. Then we had dinner in the Café Boheme on the rue des Pionniers. This was a neat, busy, little French café with a simple menu and salad! I never knew salad could taste so good! After dinner we had a short stroll back to the Gite and collapsed in bed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Baie-Comeau to Tadoussac, North Shore Quebec

After checking out that the camera was still taking pictures despite our inability to upload the pictures to the computer, or use the LCD monitor, we left Baie Comeau on a warm and sunny morning. The drive to Tadoussac was along Route 138 along the side of the St. Laurent River. It was pretty flat and not too interesting, but as we drew closer to Tadoussac the towns became a little perkier and more French looking, particularly Portneuf-Sur-Mer, Longue Rive/Sault-au-Mouton and Escoumins.

We visted the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park at Cap Bon-Desir – and picked up some information about the lighthouses and other warning signals used on the St. Laurent. It was interesting to contrast the Newfoundland “outport” scene, with life along the St. Lawrence river. This is also a whale watching site and the rocks were strewn with people sitting and fanning the ocean with their eyes for whales. Despite all the people, there was a calming aura about this place, and you literally wanted to sit, and sit, and almost whisper your words of admiration to those with you. We saw some seals and also a couple of beluga whales in the distance. There was something on the news last night about a beluga butting a small boat, but I don’t know where it was. It seemed that this was uncommon, but my limited experience of belugas is that they are pretty friendly and curious. Anyway, if anyone knows any more about this, let us know.

The drive into Tadoussac was quite stunning. The last 20 km of the road became more mountainous and we came around one bend to find the road leading directly down to the edge of the fjord and thus we had arrived in Tadoussac. We are staying at a very French “gite” called “Maison Gauthier”. It is clean, and charming.

We have had a walk around and it seems a very pretty, setting. After all, it is said to be one of the world’s t0p 30 prettiest bays. But it’s noisy….and there are lots of people!! This is the most activity we have seen since we left Ontario on June 14! And, we have cell phone coverage now!!

As I said, our camera is busted so I cannot upload pictures. I will have to wait till I get home next week to do so – so keep checking – there should be some good ones!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Labrador City to Baie-Comeau

Today we hit the wilderness! Dirt road, few cars, nothing, nothing, nothing except miles, and miles, of trees. Despite this, the journey was quite interesting. During the first part, we passed the amazing iron ore mining sites at Fermont (iron mountain) owned by Quebec Cartier Mining Company which exploits iron ore deposits from Mont Wright. The site is enormous and it is amazing that something that has been created by man can still be so beautiful despite the economic usefulness of the iron ore. I suppose the slag that is deposited over the countryside is all natural in that it originally came out of the mine, but you have to wonder what we have done to the land it covers. Not sure about environmental problems related to open pit iron ore mining. One good thing I suppose, its miles from anywhere and its massiveness is not disturbing anyone – probably it has disturbed wild life though. Before we left Labrador City we tried to see the Iron Ore of Canada mine, or the Scully Mine at Wabush which is operated by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. , but unfortunately IOC was not able to come up with someone to take the tour as it is summer and lots of people are on holiday. There is a tour at 1:00 p.m. and we just didn’t have the time to wait until then.

This part of the road was interesting too; very windy, and many of the corners were 45 degree angles and steep 10 and 11 % hills. It was not as forested as other parts. At one part a large tractor trailer truck came baralleling past us just coming up to a corner; then we saw another tractor trailer truck coming baralleling down the hill on the other side of the corner; we knew they would meet on the corner; needless to say, we backed right off, and miraculously they both got their trucks around the corner without hitting each other. The dust was unbelievable; it was like going off the road into a snowbank in winter (guess that means I’ve there!!).

The railway line ran alongside the road and we must have crossed it many times as it zig zagged across the road. Also many wooden bridges, just like the ones we crossed in the Pantanal in Brazil. Parts of the road were very pretty and in particular one part which seemed as if we were winding our way across a plain of lakes joined by the road; and the ever present wild flowers along the side of the road and the caribou moss amongst the black spruce trees all added to the wilderness atmosphere.

We entered into Quebec shortly outside Labrador City. About half way down the Route 189 we saw the dam for Manic V and the huge sluices that take the water down to the plant below. Unfortunately we missed the tour by half an hour. Further along the route we came to Manic 3 and Manic 2. I tried taking some pictures at Manic 3 but started to get eaten alive by the human-hungry black flies and mosquitos and decided that Manic 3 and Manic 2 were not going to be my photographic moments. They are incredibly impressive. We certainly did a “resource Canada” road trip between Churchill Falls and Baie Comeau.

Another interesting comment: they marked the “parallels” at the side of the road, so we knew when we crossed the 51st parallel and the 50th parallel.

As we grew near to Baie Comeau, we felt the scenery started to get a little more like the Muskokas. More lushly forested hills and narrow paved windy roads. Then we hit civilization – or semi-civilization – our Rogers’ Cell phones still did not work! However, there were traffic lights to obey, and there was no stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture knowing that nothing would be coming along for another half an hour!! It was like arriving from the wilderness – which of course we had!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Churchill Falls

We are all used to taking elevators “up” to our offices, apartments, etc., but today we took an elevator “down” 91 stories into the Churchill Falls Hydro Electric Power Plant, the largest underground power station in the world. It was fascinating to see the underground tunnels, rooms, and hydro-generating equipment that have been built into the solid rock. The plant, the building of which started in 1967 and was completed in December 1971, in less than the estimated time, and under budget, generates up to 5,500 MW making it about the 6th largest hydro-electric power plant in the world http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001336.html. It was a great experience. Unfortunately, the pictures aren't that great, but I hope you get some feeling for the immense size of the underground tunnels.

After seeing the power plant we set out on Route 500 for Labrador City, with our satellite phone – about 238 km. The drive was similar to yesterday’s. We had some really heavy rain which was good because it doused the dust. On the way, we stopped to see the Churchill Falls (formerly known as the Hamilton Falls) on the Churchill River. We joined another group of 3 people to walk the 2 km up to the Falls mainly because I was very nervous about the possibility of encountering bears on the way! The Falls of course are practically dry, because the water has been diverted into the hydro electric power plant. None the less, they were still spectacular. Further along the route, we noticed a sign that said “Train Station” and turned off the deserted highway to find 3 people waiting for a train by the side of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway waiting for the train to Schefferville. By the look of the station, I think you probably had to wave the train down. After that it was solid driving to reach Labrador City where we arrived around 5:30 p.m.

Labrador City and Wabush have about 10,000 population in total. They are iron ore mining towns, open pit. We drove around, saw the various sites which basically included the ski area and lakes, and the Wabush Mine equipment yard. Exciting!!

So, tomorrow we leave Newfoundland and Labrador and head into Quebec for Baie Comeau – isn’t that Brian Mulrooney’s home town?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Route 500 - The Freedom Road - and the town of Churchill Falls

Four and a half hours on The Freedom Road in the middle of the wilderness. That was our journey from Goose Bay to Churchill Falls. Before leaving Goose Bay we picked up a satellite phone from the Hamilton Hotel for the journey. This is a phone that you can get free and it is programmed to dial 911 only. It is useful since there is no cell phone coverage between Goose Bay and Labrador City – not that our Rogers’ cell phone has worked since we left St. John’s. We thought it best to pick one up as I couldn’t imagine lying by the side of the road waiting for someone to come along if there was an accident and the car went off the road! Its called the “Freedom Road” because it has provided Labradorians with the freedom to travel to other centres in Labrador (mmmmm, where are they? – Churchill Falls, Labrador City and Wabush?) and other provinces by road as opposed to traveling by air or sea.

The road was a gravel road, which on the whole was not too bad. On the first part of the 294 km journey, maybe the first 50 km, there were road works which made it a little rougher, but the rest was OK. We could just imagine the people working with the “Stop/Slow” signs looking at us and thinking to themselves: “…and they think they are going to do this in a small car!” Everyone here drives a pick up truck! The road wound through the fir forested Mealy Mountains with huge drops on either side as we went over some of the gulleys. At one point the road workers were working on supporting the sides of one of these gulleys. We watched the dump truck reverse up to the edge, then unload. What a precarious job! If he had gone just a little too far it would have been a few hundred feet drop. The worst part was the dust. It was like a white out only with dirty mustard dust when we met a vehicle coming the other way. Fortunately, we only met about 10 or so. Nothing passed us and we passed nothing. We still had tons of rock, but in this area there is a deep top layer of sand. We were surprised to notice little cabins along the way. Some of them were obviously the road workers’ cabins, but others looked as if they might be for trappers, or fishers. They were always located just off the road. Also, running parallel to the road was the TLT for snowmobiles (Trans Labrador Trail). I think it will be easier to get around Labrador in winter and everyone has a snowmobile.

So what do we do in the car on such a journey? Well, we listened to music – the Beatles, Celine Dion, The Chieftans, some Newfie music, some Spanish music; we have discussed all the economic and social problems in the world; we have agonized over the current position of Mountain Springs; we have slept for short periods; we have analyzed and talked about what we are seeing and experiencing; and we have talked incessantly about our friends…. I am joking of course! But its amazing just how quickly the journey went. We are lucky, we get on very well together and always have lots to talk about – well almost always - So, I think that’s about it. Not much more. Ray and I decided after a conversation about the thickness of our finger nails that it was time to come home! But joking apart, it is so great to be here. Its easy to become isolated living in Toronto/Uxbridge. There are so many other communities and cultures in Canada that you can only experience when you take a trip like this. I think it’s true that Torontonians will relate better to people from other cities around the world than to many of the people in our own country.

We arrived in Churchill Falls around 2:15 p.m., checked into the Midway Travel Inn, and ate a belated lunch. Then we went out exploring. Churchill Falls is possibly the last known company town in Atlantic Canada, and it’s quite fascinating. Construction of the town started in 1967. Its residents operate one of the world’s largest underground hydroelectric plants. We hope to tour it tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

It took us about 15 minutes to drive around and get our bearings. We filled up the car at Stricklands, a gas station, garage and convenience store. We looked at the satellite reflector but couldn’t figure out a way up to it. Maybe tomorrow. The building the hotel is located in also houses: a restaurant, a supermarket, a department store, a library, a pool, a gym, an exercise room, a theatre, and a post office. Can you imagine. One stop shopping! Its really very cost effective when you think about it and seems to me to be a good model for small towns. Then we parked the car, braved the black flies and walked. We were walking up one street and heard some whistling – like a bird, but not quite. I asked Ray what he thought it was: “I think its two kids playing with each other and making whistling sounds to each other pretending they are birds; but I’m not sure where they are” said Ray. It was beginning to emabarrass me. I thought some kids were watching us and trying to fool us with their “bird songs”. Then I saw it. It was a parrot in a cage sitting outside one of the houses. My theory is that the parrot picked up the sounds of all the birds around and was repeating them as we passed!! We saw the church, and went down to the shore of Blueberry Lake. You have to be a little cautious because of the bears. They like to walk down the paths and are a common sight in town and at the garbage dump!

Anyway, we are off to dinner, then tomorrow we do the tour in the morning and drive to Labrador City in the afternoon. Note that if you have a copy of our schedule, we are one day off. We only spent one night in Goose Bay, not two. But we have booked 2 nights in Tadoussac.

A PS to yesterday’s blog: I discovered today that in November of 2000, the Sheshatshiu community, which we visited yesterday, along with Davis Inlet, asked the Federal government to help them with a local addiction crisis. Due to a number of factors, including economic factors and racism, alcoholism and gas sniffing were rampant in the community affecting children as young as five years old. I do not know what happened.