Montreal and Quebec, a slice of France
in North America. (August 2015)


Quebec's Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

It was another long day’s drive to Montreal, mainly on freeways, but even there, the traffic was frustratingly congested.

The speed limit in Canada is 100kph, but everyone drives much faster than that. Many of the secondary roads are also capable of higher speeds than the limits allow.

The signs on the side of the freeway indicate the fines if you speed. They start at 20kph above the speed limit, which seems rather lenient.

The Canadians drive more like the French than Americans, which is understandable, yet disconcerting, if you have just crossed the border.

Another big difference between Canada and the USA is the tipping regime. In the US you are over serviced and under pressure to tip. In Canada the service staff are payed a decent wage and don’t need 18%+ as a tip.

The entire experience is much more congenial.

A strange thing happened while we were in French speaking Montreal.

I have a T-Shirt with, “I used to be indecisive but now I’m not quite sure” on the front. I wore it throughout the US and never received a comment. Over two days I had three people openly laugh at it.

I can’t explain why.

It is even more interesting when you consider that Montreal has been a mono lingual, French speaking society since 1977 and 300,000 English speaking citizens left between 1980 and 1995.

I was so amused by the reaction to my T-Shirt that I wore a different one the next day. This one had, “Oh no, not déjá vu again” The reaction was similar with people laughing out loud and making comments.

At least this T-Shirt was bi-lingual.

Apart from the Westminster parliamentary system, the Queen and plastic money, it appears we also have a sense of humor in common with the Canadians.

As with the Mourning Ceremony of Aman Hussein in Iran and the 75th Anniversary of the Sturges Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, USA, we again fell into the middle of an important event. This was Montreal’s Gay Pride Parade or Défilé de la fierté gai. It was originally started, in 1979, as a symbol of solidarity with the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York.

After spending an hour watching the weird, wonderful and strangely bizarre spectacle of the Gay Pride march, we headed off to explore the other parts of Montreal.

The city was incorporated in 1832 but the first European inhabitants were French explorers and trappers around 1611.

We walked past the Christ Church Cathedral, consecrated in 1867 and the Sun Life Building, which was opened in 1914. It was then on to the Basilica Marie-René-Du-Monde Cathedral, a minor basilica that was consecrated in 1894.

Next was the Place d’ Armes with the Notre-Dame Basilica and the two delightful Marc A J Fortier sculptures of ‘The English Pug and the French Poodle’

Erected in 2013 these sculptures seem to be a comment on the French/English dispute that bubbles beneath the surface of Canadian society.

Also in the Place d’ Armes is the statue of Paul Chomedey Maisonneuve. Built in 1895 it commemorates the founding of Montréal in 1642.

On our second full day in Montreal we headed out to tame the Metro.

Panhandling was as popular in Canada as anywhere.

There was one woman standing on a Metro platform pleading for money to buy a bus fare home. In the time we were there she had raised enough cash to purchase a first class airline ticket to New York.

The Biosphère at Parc Jean-Drapeau is a museum dedicated to the environment. It’s housed in the  former United States pavilion, originally used for the 1967 World Fair Expo and designed by Buckminster Fuller.

The original geodesic dome was covered by a transparent acrylic bubble but was destroyed by fire in 1976. Now all that remains is the steel truss frame.

Inside the dome was a 360° Eco presentation and an exhibition of diverted waste called, ‘O.N.E. Outfits from a New Era’ This showcased costumes, created from waste, by local Canadian artists and designers.

It was a relatively easy 2.5 hours drive from Montreal to Quebec. But before we left we drove to the top of Mount Royal, the mountain that gives Montreal its name. We were there to get a better view of the city.

Unfortunately the trees got the best vista as they completely blocked our view.

We had a coffee break at Le Trois-Riviéres, which is the half way point.

Quebec City celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008 and is the oldest French speaking city in North America.

And it shows.

It was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, an explorer and diplomat, and contains the only remaining fortified city walls north of Mexico.

We took the bus into the city but had no idea where to get off. Quebec City is built in the European style, with winding narrow streets and history at every turn.

There are quaint old pubs, restaurants and the town hall or Hotel de Ville. Originally home to the Jesuit Barracks in the 1730s it was inaugurated as the town hall in 1896.

There are many other elegant buildings in the city, such at The Price Building (1930) and the Hotel Clarendon (1858) but one literally stands above them all. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac dominates the city skyline.

It was built in 1893 for the Canadian Pacific Railway and designed by the American architect Bruce Price.

It is regarded as one of the most photographed hotels in the world.

I would certainly agree with this, as it’s almost impossible to take a snap of Quebec City without the hotel being in the shot.

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