Eastern Canada & Quebec

Monday, 21 October 2013 15:30
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A mill in New BrunswickOnce more into the Great White North...


I left my nice campsite at Emerald Lake and started driving north to the border. The plan was to meet some old friends in Montreal for a bit, crash there for the night, and then move on to the east. I’d have stayed in Montreal a bit longer, but I’ve been up there quite a bit over the years and I was eager to see parts of Canada I hadn’t been to yet, so apologies to those who were hoping for a big part on Montreal—maybe next trip.

When you leave, everything is backwards

I hooked up with my friends at their office in Montreal, where work was wrapping up for the day. I’d worked with many of them on various Cirque du Soleil projects over the years, and it was great to catch up on things. It was also Dave’s birthday, which made things considerably more festive.

After carrot cake birthday shots (Kahlua, Bailey’s, and butterscotch schnapps—closest thing the bartender could get to a birthday cake on short notice), we all adjourned for the evening, and my other friend David and I went off for some good Thai food and to catch up on things. Afterward, I got to do some laundry at his house before turning in for the evening. He’s got a great place in the city in Montreal, and it was a really nice neighborhood to explore in the morning, but I was off in search of places I hadn’t been before, so I bid Montreal farewell and started heading northeast.

I stayed off the highways as usual, and Quebec proved to have some really cute little towns along the way. I was mostly following the St. Lawrence river toward the ocean, and there were a number of little French Canadian towns, almost all of which had the same layout—huge Catholic church somewhere near the middle, riverside fishing and boating businesses along the St. Lawrence, and a surrounding of cottages and small houses. In between was a combination of farmlands and wetlands, and I took the opportunity in the “farm” part of that to replace my Michigan Honeycrisp apples with a bag of Quebec Cortlands, which were just as tasty.

Some nice Quebec fall scenery Quite a few covered bridges up there One of the many big churches along the way

I arrived in Quebec City late in the afternoon and drove over to my hotel for the evening, which was just outside the city center. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, dating back to 1608. It’s strategically situated at a point where the St. Lawrence narrows, and was originally constructed as a walled city on a hill to provide defense from the native Indian tribes. The walls are still there, making it the only city in North America outside of Mexico that still has its fortification walls standing. The walls surround what’s now known as Old Town (“Vieux Quebec”), which is a now a very pretty area of shops, cobblestone streets, and restaurants.

Once I got checked into the hotel and got the car squared away, I walked down to Old Town to have a look around (and get some dinner.) As it was a Friday night, the Old Town area was blocked off to street traffic for the evening, making everything a walking mall. I walked from the far west side all through the area down to the waterfront where one of the Norwegian cruise ships was making a port of call, then back up the hill to a local tavern for a sandwich. There were kids playing soccer in the street, local art exhibits, lots of street food, and many sidewalk cafes. It was really very nice, and very welcoming—I highly recommend it if you want to get a bit of European flavor without flying all the way to Europe to get it.

The walls of Quebec City Sunset in downtown QC Old Town, Quebec City
Smile! More downtown Getting into downtown usually requires stairs, as the walled part is 100' higher than everything else
Night view of the Château Frontenac Art vendors in the streets at night A little flashier take on night lighting

After a good night’s sleep, I started back out across Quebec toward New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, one of the longest single day pushes of the trip. Canada is really huge—it’s kind of deceiving on the map, but there is a whole lot of Canada in Canada. The scenery was very nice, but a little unremarkable, mostly farmland punctuated with bits of forest and trees, all of which were showing off their fall colors. 

 A neat mill along the way The bridge out of QC. One of my favorite "taken from a moving car" shots so far  Another pretty church...church architecture was almost identical across the province 

This was now really getting into Acadian country. The Acadians were descendants of the original 17th century French colonists, and they lived (and still live) in what’s now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as some of Quebec and Maine. In an interesting historic footnote, the Acadians are also the reason that there’s French-speaking Cajuns down in Louisiana. The British took over that area of Canada in the early 1700s, and for the next 40+ years, the Acadians remained a thorn in the British side, until finally in 1755 they deported almost all of the Acadians down to British settlements along the eastern seaboard as well as several thousand back to France. The Acadians who were sent to France later went back to then-Spanish Louisiana on five Spanish-supplied ships in order to provide people there to farm and settle the land, which eventually resulted in the Cajun culture down there. It’s a pretty wild story when you get into the details. 

In any case, I went from French-only Quebec into bilingual New Brunswick, and stopped for the night in Bathurst, but mostly because that was about all the driving I could do for the day, not because there was anything particularly interesting in Bathurst. My goal was to make it up to the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, as all of my Canadian friends had insisted that it was a must-see drive in the fall, but first I was going to also check out Prince Edward Island.

The next day dawned sunny but a bit windy, but I put the top down anyway and headed northeast toward PEI. The drive over involved a really long bridge with one of the highest tolls I’ve ever seen for a bridge ($45!), but they only charged that on the way out. Prince Edward Island was also decked out in full fall regalia, but with a definitely more nautical twist to it. It was very much all about the seafood and the lobster, and boats, traps, marinas, and other evidence of this focus was everywhere. I had lined up an actual B&B through Airbnb in Charlottetown, which was a lovely little village right on the water. In case you readers out there are wondering, yes, Anne of Green Gables is huge there. There’s a whole store dedicated to her in downtown Charlottetown, and they put on a play about her there every year as well.

Anne's shop Local souvenirs Local lobster shop

I got my stuff situated in the room, and based on a suggestion from one of the locals, I walked downtown to a small hole-in-the-wall seafood place to sample some of the local lobster. It was pretty great—fresh, well prepared, cheap, and pretty unpretentious as far as lobster goes. I had a nice chat with the restaurant owner about the season and the tourists and his plans to go to Florida for the winter, after which I got some free clams to try out alongside the lobster (which were also pretty great.) 

Hanging a U-turn on the ferry Dinner! Some of the locals hanging out at the beach

I walked back to the B&B along the waterfront (and past Anne’s store), and then turned in for the night. There was breakfast the next morning (as I’d already done the “bed” part) where I got to meet my hosts and a few of the other guests, all of whom were extremely friendly and outgoing Canadians and who were very interested in hearing about my crazy road trip.

My plans for that day were to take the ferry from PEI across to New Brunswick (cutting a couple hours off of the route that would’ve taken me back over that long bridge), then head up to the beginning of the east side of the Cabot Trail and camp for the night. The weather wasn’t all that great, kind of overcast and windy, but it wasn’t actively raining, which was good. The ferry was fun as usual, although they didn’t let you get away with avoiding the bridge charge—they just tacked it onto the ferry fare. Still, it was a nice crossing, and I got back on the road and headed into Nova Scotia and up toward Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where there looked to be some decent camping.

The drive stayed pretty gray, and the wind definitely picked up a bit as I got farther out in Nova Scotia. Toward the end of the day, I stopped in Cheticamp for yet more lobster (when in Rome, you know), which was just south of the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, it took a while for dinner, so by the time I got done and up to the camping area, it was almost completely dark.

More tourist traps Sunset near Cheticamp

The campsite turned out to be in a pretty cool location, right on the edge of short cliff down to the ocean with a great view. On the minus side, the somewhat windy day had turned into sustained gale force winds, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40mph. I was pretty committed to camping at this point though, so I parked the car in a spot where it could be a bit of a windbreak, and somehow got the tent set up without it blowing away. I got in and attempted to settle in for the night, but it was really moving around quite a bit, with the wind being occasionally strong enough to bend the tentpoles inside out and whack me in the face with the inside of the tent. After a bit more of this, it occurred to me that I was basically trying to sleep inside of a kite that was perched on the edge of a cliff in very high winds, so I got up and tied the whole thing off to the car so it wouldn’t go anywhere if the stakes pulled out.

Miraculously, both the tent and I survived the night. All of the stakes stayed in, the tentpoles weren’t permanently bent, and I never needed the extra tethers back to the car. This, I suppose, is why one buys a good quality tent if one is going beyond just casual use. It was pretty impressive. However, I had gotten practically no sleep due to the noise and motion and occasional whacks in the face, but I packed it all up first thing in the AM and got a nice early start on the Cabot Trail.

Stars over the Cabot Trail. Andromeda is in the upper right. Windy campsite. The tent sides aren't supposed to be concave like that... It was a pretty morning on the beach, though

Sadly, the weather was still pretty overcast, so I didn’t get to appreciate the full fall beauty of the trail, but it was pretty great just the same. Beautiful meadows and mountain passes, great views of the ocean and the cliffs, cute little towns along the way, and lots of great fall color. I did the whole loop in the morning with many stops along the way for pictures and short hikes, then headed up to Bay St. Lawrence to what would be the most north-easterly point in the trip and took some pictures with a few local seagulls. 

Some fall foliage at sunrise More fall foliage on a cloudy day The east side of the Cabot Trail
A colorful Cabot valley Retired Some of the rugged coastline along the trail
My most northeasterly point. On the way home from here on out. Distance to home as the crow flies, assuming the crow packs a lunch. Some of the local fleet

My destination for that evening was Halifax, where I had an Airbnb stay lined up, and that was a pretty good haul down from the tip of Nova Scotia, so I got going. The plan was to spend the night in Halifax, then drive around the Bay of Fundy to Saint Andrews, and from there head back into the US along the Maine coast. 

Halfway between the equator and the pole at the 45th parallel The worlds largest lobster (sculpture) Sunset near St. Andrews

The drive down to Halifax was fairly uneventful, mostly consisting of alternating farm and coastline, but without anything too momentous. I didn’t stray too far off the path though, as I wanted to get into Halifax before dark so I wasn’t wandering around in the night looking for an obscure room in a little home someplace. Turned out that I ended up wandering around in the night looking for an obscure room in a little home anyway, but it wasn’t all that bad. My host(ess) was unfortunately away for the evening so we never got to meet face to face, but she was extremely helpful with text messages and photos, and had left me a key under a watering can outside her door. I found my way to the house, which turned out to be a nice little early 1900s walk-up, found the key under the watering can, and went up to the room where there was a cozy little bunk bed and some helpful directions both for getting around her place and for finding local sights and resources, including a hand-drawn map of the area. It was the better Airbnb experiences to date, even without a host.

I took in some dinner at a local place around the corner that she’d recommended, watched a little hockey with the locals, then went back to the bunk and went to bed. Tomorrow’s trip was another long drive, so I wanted to get up early to get out of Halifax before any real traffic developed, and I did.

On the pier in St. Andrews Professional traps this time, not tourist traps Three things from 1967 here: Me, the car, and the bridge

The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world, where every day the difference between high tide and low tide can be over 40 feet in some areas. This was definitely something I wanted to see for myself, so I mapped out a few key spots to check out, including Hopewell Rocks, an area where the tides have created some neat erosion patterns on the rocks along the shore. I stopped at a few little beaches and estuaries along the way, and saw plenty of evidence of those crazy tides, as well as a lot of seabirds and other wildlife. My timing was a little off for the tides though, as I was going to get to the cool areas somewhere in mid-tide, which wouldn’t be all that interesting. Also, I’d missed the timing to see the tidal bore wave come up past Moncton. 

Sunset, St. Andrews St. Andrews waterfront More St. Andrews sunset action
A Great Blue Heron doing a little fishing at low tide Hydrophobic bird Tide going out
Low tides put the lobster boats close to the shore A couple heron watching the boats come in It's a pretty narrow channel

I re-shuffled my plans a bit so I’d be able to see all that stuff, although it added on about five hours of driving. Rather than stopping at all those places, I drove all the way around the bay and down to St. Andrews (a really cute little seaside village near the Maine border), where I had a room reserved for the night. I stayed there that evening, then left around noon the next day and headed back to Moncton to catch the tidal bore at 2:30pm. After that, I was able to drive over to Hopewell Rocks and see the extent of the full high tide that afternoon, then I drove down to Fundy Provincial Park and camped that night. Low tide was scheduled to occur around 10:30 the following morning, so after a nice night under the pines, I drove back up to Hopewell Rocks and was able to walk all around on the ocean floor at full low tide. It was pretty wild seeing just how far the water had receded—the ocean was now really far away from where the shoreline was just the previous afternoon. I also stopped at a nearby lobster fishing port and saw that the boats that were fully floated the day before were now sitting on stands, completely out of the water.

Hopewell Rocks, low tide More Hopewell Rocks Low tide coastline
A good example of tidal erosion Peephole Tidal bore heading up the river in Moncton

High tide at Hopewell Rocks ...and low tide
Hopewell Rocks stairs, high tide ...and low tide
Lobster fleet, high tide ...and low tide. Check out the boat stands.
More lobster fleet, high tide ...and low tide

After my tidal sightseeing, it was finally time to end my Canadian adventures for this trip and go back into the US. I crossed the border (uneventfully) in Maine just as the sun was setting, and started my trip down the US east coast.

Next entry: New England (except for Vermont, which we already hit)


#1 laceytrynn 2013-10-22 11:33
I love the European feel of Quebec, would love to check that out someday... and the whole tide thing was pretty wild!
#2 chickline1 2013-10-22 14:39
Caroline and I have our "we" time in Portland Maine every year. I don't exactly know your plans, and don't know exactly where you are as I write this...but, if you can, visit Portland, it is an outstanding city to see. In addition, if you have the time, we have visited the Wyeth Center for Farnsworth art, and was truly engaged in the history. I am counting down the days until you hit Jersey, and will have to compete with your mom for "Scott" time. :lol:
#3 Zippy67roadster 2013-10-23 07:36
Been following your posts since you left town. Great trip. Sorry to hear about the trans though. I love the pictures, you gotta teach me how to use my T3i as I know it can take pictures like that in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. Love the pic with the bridge and your car!!
#4 admin 2013-10-28 20:22
Hi Chris--unfortun ately, I missed Portland, as I headed inland after Bar Harbor instead of hugging the coast. I really need to get these posts out in more timely manner so I can get tips before I get further...

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