Welcome to Québec
After departing Riding Mountain National Park, we pushed hard to make up some of the extra time that we'd spent in the far North and in Calgary. With a little over two weeks left in the trip, we crossed Ontario, more than 3,000km in just two days of hard driving. It was exhausting, but we were both looking forward to visiting Quebec again and the ultimate destination of our journey, Cape Spear Newfoundland, which was never far from our minds. Along the way, the trip had become more than a vacation. It had become a mission of sorts and we were nearing our goal.
We followed the Trans-Canada highway all the way east, passing once again through Ottawa where we crossed into Quebec at Gatineau, the same place we'd visited briefly during our Ottawa excursion with Bryan and Mark.
"Hey you look awfully tired, we should stop for the night and head to Montreal tomorrow," Josh said with a look of concern on his face.
"I suppose that wouldn't be such a bad idea," I replied. "We're a little ahead of schedule now since we already saw the Museum of Civilization when we were here for the medals."
"Le Musée Canadien de la Civilisation <The Canadian Museum of Civilization>," Josh corrected in proper French.
"Easy for you to say," I chuckled. "I still can't get over how well you speak French."
"I just kind of find it natural. It was easy to pick it up," Josh said thoughtfully. "I always do well in French class at school and sometimes I watch the French TV channels and that helps too. I don't get to use it all that often though, so I'm really enjoying this."
"I read somewhere that there are about 7.7 million people in Quebec and 80% of them speak French. Add to that number, those who live in other provinces who speak French, and Canada has the largest French speaking population outside France."
"I heard that some people in Quebec want to separate from Canada and be an independent country. How come?" Josh asked seriously.
"I don't know all that much about it kiddo, but from what I understand, it isn't because they don't like the rest of Canada or English Canadians, it's because some people feel that's the best way to protect their language and culture."
"Most people don't want to separate though do they?"
"I don't think so. I think most who would like to separate would accept formal recognition of the status of the Quebecois as a nation within Canada along with strong protections of their language and culture as an alternative."
"So why don't we do that?" Josh asked.
I could see that the wheels were turning in his head again and I smiled to myself. "Well, I guess it would take a leader with real courage of convictions to make that happen Josh. It would have to be more than just words. It would have to be concrete actions and sometimes it can be tough balancing the needs and desires of people all over a massive country like this one. The population of Quebec have already voted on two referendums about separation, but the people voted against it.... both times."
"I don't see why it's so difficult; it's obvious that Quebec is a very unique part of Canada. What would be so hard about recognizing that? Do you know that Quebec City is the oldest city in North America? It's pretty much where Canada got started. I can't wait to see it. The old part of the city actually has a wall around it like a fort."
"I've been there before and I loved it even though I couldn't speak French. It's surprising that Quebec became a city before any settlement in the United States. If you like history, you'll love Quebec City." I replied.
"I can't wait," Josh said and looked at his watch. "I'm getting kind of hungry. How about we get something to eat?"
"I could go for that. Besides, Brutus could use some exercise," At the mention of his name, Brutus began to wag his tail. It made a comical thumping sound against the backseat window causing Josh and I both to burst out laughing.
"He certainly knows his own name," Josh chuckled. "Smart dog."
"He's getting pretty big too," I replied. "Give him another six months and he'll be pretty well full grown."
"I'll bet he'll still think he's a little puppy," Josh replied.
"Think he's a puppy? I think he believes that he's a person!" We both laughed as Brutus sat on the back seat and cocked his head from side to side as he listened to us.
"Let's try that place," Josh said and pointed to a restaurant coming up on our right. The sign read, "La Cage aux Sports".
"That looks like an interesting place," I replied and pulled into the driveway. Before we went into the restaurant, Josh took Brutus for a brief run in a grassy field just beyond the parking lot. I leaned against the tailgate of the Jeep and smiled as I watched the carefree play of a boy and his dog.
After we put Brutus back into the Jeep with the windows rolled partially down, we headed into the restaurant. I wasn't familiar with the restaurant chain, but it appeared to be a sports bar/restaurant. As soon as we walked in the door and looked around, my suspicions were confirmed. The walls were covered with sports memorabilia, mostly hockey jerseys, hockey sticks, team logos and photos of players. There was even a kayak, a sailboard, a football goal, some mountain bikes and above all dream, an old formula one in a corner!! There was multiple big screen TVs throughout the dining area and the place had a distinctly fun and relaxed feel to it.
"Bienvenue à la Cage aux Sports, <Welcome to La Cage aux Sports,>" the hostess said as she gathered two menus and prepared to show us to our seats. "Une table pour deux? <Table for two?>"
"Oui, s'il-vous-plaît, <Yes please,>" Josh replied in effortless French.
"This place is really neat," Josh said as we followed the hostess to our seats.
"I know, they have some neat stuff on the walls," I replied.
"Here you go," the Hostess said in English. "Are you guys from Ontario?" She asked.
"Oui, nous demeurons à Toronto, <Yes, we live in Toronto,>" Josh replied. "Nous traversons le pays d'un bout à l'autre en auto <We're driving right across the country.>" It amazed me how Josh could switch from French to English and back without any hesitation. I thought, even as a young teenager, he could get a job as a translator.
"Vous parlez un excellent français, <You speak French so very well,>" The hostess replied.
" Merci, <Thanks,>" Josh said with a smile. " <Par contre, mon père ne parle pas beaucoup français. <My Dad doesn't speak much French though.>"
"C'est correct, votre prononciation française est quand meme très bonne, vous n'avez à peu près pas d'accent. Désirez-vous quelque chose à boire? <That's ok, your French pronunciation is quite very good. You hardly have any accent. Would you like something to drink?>"
"Oui, s'il-vous-plaît. Je prendrais un Coke, <Yes please. I'd like a Coke,>" Josh said.
"What can I get for you?" The hostess asked me in perfect English.
"I could go for a large Coke, please," I replied.
"Very good," the hostess replied and then stopped for a second. She looked at Josh and said, "On dirait que vos visage sont familier? <It looks like your face are familiar?>"
"On était à Ottawa il y a quelques semaines et nous avons passé aux nouvelles. Peut-être vous nous avez vu à ce moment-là, <We were in Ottawa a few weeks ago and we been on the news. Maybe you saw us then,>" Josh replied.
I had no idea what they were saying, but it only took a second before the hostess's face lit up with a familiar look of recognition. "Naughty Josh!" She said with a laugh. Then I had a good idea of what they were talking about.
"Oui, c'est moi Josh, mais je ne suis pas réellement un petit diable, <Yes, I'm Josh, but I'm not really naughty,>" Josh replied with a smile. "Mon père s'appelle Tom. <My Dad's name is Tom.>"
"Tu es le p'tit gars qui a dit ses quatre vérités au Premier Ministre à la télévision! Vous deux et un autre garcon avez reçu des médailles pour avoir sauvé une femme durant un vol de banque, c'est ça? <You're the young boy who gave the Prime Minister heck on TV! You two and another boy got medals for saving a woman from a bank robber, right?>"
"C'est nous, Mark demeure à Calgary avec son frère, <That's us, Mark's living in Calgary with his brother,>" Josh said with a smile.
"Je suis Chantal, et c'est un réel honneur de vous rencontrer tous les deux. <I'm Chantal, and it's really an honour to meet both of you,>" the hostess said before she went away to get our drinks.
"Joshy, you never cease to amaze me. You're speaking French like it comes completely natural to you and all I can do is pick up a couple of words here and there. I was just thinking the way you switch from one language to the other is amazing."
Josh blushed a little. "It's not that big a deal... actually it's come easy for me," he replied. "Maybe... it's because I want to be able to speak both of our languages."
"It is a big deal bud. Most people can't speak two languages, certainly not as well as you do and certainly not without a lot more than just a few years of French lessons in school." He really did amaze me. Until we went on this trip, I had no idea that he was basically fluent in French.
A few minutes later, Chantal returned with our Cokes, now with an older man following her.
"Bonjour messieurs, soyez les bienvenus à la Cage aux Sports. Je m'appelle Benoît et je suis gérant ici. Chantal m'a informé que nous avions de véritables héros ici ce soir. Je me demande si nous pourrions prendre votre photo et la suspendre au mur? <Hello gentleman, welcome to La Cage aux Sports. My name is Benoît and I'm the manager here. Chantal told me that we have some authentic heroes here tonight. I wonder if we could take your photo and hang it on our wall?>"
"Merci Benoît, <Thank you Benoît,>" Josh said and extended his hand. "Nous serions enchanté que vous nous preniez en photo. <We'd be delighted to have you take our picture.>" Then in English, Josh explained, "Dad, he wants to take our picture to hang on the wall."
I offered my hand to Benoît. "I'm Tom," I said.
"Welcome Tom. I have a small gift for both of you in recognition of your visit," he said in his French-accented-English, and then handed us each a warm-up type of jacket with the Cage aux Sports logo on it.
Josh and I slipped on the jackets and then posed for a picture for Benoît.
"Josh, je voulais te dire que j'ai entendu ce que tu a dit au Premier Ministre et tu étais dans le vrai. J'ai un fils que ma femme, Élise, et moi avons adopté lorsqu'il avait ton âge. Nous l'avons trouvé à Montréal vivant dans la rue. Ses parents l'avaient abusé et jeté en dehors de la maison. Il a survécu comme prostitué juvenile quand Élise et moi l'avons remarqué et finalement sorti de la rue. <Josh, I wanted to tell you that I heard what you said to the Prime Minister and you're right. I have a son who my wife, Elise, and I adopted when he was your age. We actually found him living on the streets in Montreal. His parents had abused him and kicked him out of the house. He had been living as an underage prostitute when Elise and I spotted him and finally took him out from the street.>"
"Je suis heureux qu'il ait pu trouver quelqu'un qui pouvait le protéger. <I'm glad that he found someone who cared,>" Josh replied.
"Éric a 21 ans maintenant et il fait sa medicine. J'haïs l'idée de ce qu'il aurait pu devenir si nous n'étions pas arrivé à temps. <Eric is 21 now and going to medical school. I hate to think what could have happened had we not come along,>" Benoît said.
"C'est remarquable, <That's amazing,>" Josh replied.
"Merci <Thank-you,>" Benoît said. "My apologies Tom. Josh speaks such good French that I almost forgot that you speak only English."
"That's ok. I wish I could speak French as well as you speak English," I replied.
"Well please order whatever you like and it's my treat," Benoît said.
"Oh you don't have to do that," I replied. "You've been very kind already."
"No, I insist." Benoît replied. "What would you like?"
I looked at the menu and thanked my lucky stars that one side was in English and the other in French. "It all looks so good, what would you recommend?"
"Well, you have to try the poutine!"
"That sounds good..... what is it?" Josh asked.
"It's pretty simple. It's French fries with cheese curds and hot gravy poured over them," Benoît replied.
"That does sound good," Josh replied. "I'll try that with a hamburger and a glass of milk."
"Are you sure you want both the poutine and the hamburger?" Benoît asked.
"Hmm, yeah? Why?" Josh replied.
"Because, the poutine is a very rich meal and the plates are pretty big too. I'm not sure for you but, from my experience, normally you or your dad would be barely able to only finish the poutine plate" laughed Benoît.
"Ohh… Okay then. So only a poutine and a glass of milk!" Josh said happily.
"Same for me," I replied.
While Benoît and Chantal went to get our order, Josh told me the story of how Benoît and Élise rescued their son Éric from the streets of Montreal. The story saddened me.
"Josh, you know, I used to think that things like that could only happen in other parts of the world. But here we are in Canada.... so I guess as the population gets bigger in the larger cities, it's here as well. Bryan was lucky... he was old enough to look after himself."
"Yeah, but it could have been Mark. Thank God we were able to save him." Josh said quietly.
"Hey there bud, sometimes happiness comes in odd packages." I said smiling as I thought of the changes in Mark's personality.
Josh took a deep sigh, then smiled as he looked down at the tabletop. "Yeah," he said thoughtfully, nodding his head, "even Shelley." Then he looked up at me with a big grin.
"Still there?" I asked as I reached across the table and tapped his temple gently.
"You betcha!" He said laughing. "She's got the spirit Dad."
"The spirit?" I questioned.
"Yeah Dad.... like you. I see her.... kinda feel her beside me. Like 'Askuwheteau'.... like you..... the quiet, always watching hero."
I smiled as I remembered the ceremony that took place at Camp Tonawonka at the beginning of our trip.
"You really want it to happen my 'Annawan'.... our leader of men?" I asked smiling at the thought that he too remembered the ceremony.
He quietly nodded his head in thought. "Maybe I'm..... just wishing it for her. I know she's stronger than the cancer.... I just hope she knows it too. Shelly's definitely one of my heroes.... just like you, Bryan, and Mark. Dad, it's like the four of you make me think that I have to just go for what I think is right.... even though none of you have said it."
"Son, we've never had to say it because you've always had it within you," I tapped my temple and my heart. "All that Bryan, Mark, Shelley, and I have done, is to give you the opportunity to express what you feel.... and you do it so well.... so naturally with us and all the people we meet. It's really all part of your charm and I hope it always will be."
I thought that after a somber dissertation like that, Josh would have something to add, but Josh being Josh - no. He slowly raised his eyes from the tabletop and stared in my eyes. His look of seriousness changed into a grin that filled his face. Then he winked. His grin was contagious and we started laughing as we looked at each other.
Finally he said, "Thanks Dad!"
A few minutes later, Chantal returned with our order. The poutine was indeed as good as it sounded.
"Oh man, this is good stuff," Josh groaned. "I can almost feel my arteries hardening, but I can't stop eating this stuff."
"Same here. We'd better find a motel for the night soon after we finish this. I'll be out like a light."
"You should be. You've been driving a lot lately."
"I know. I just wanted to get us caught up and see the sights in the eastern part of the country."
"What about Ontario? We haven't done much there."
"I know. I figured that we'd do some touristy things once we get home. Maybe head down to Niagara Falls see the Royal Ontario Museum, the Science Centre, that sort of thing."
"Cool. I was reading in one of the Quebec tourist brochures that there's a planetarium in Montreal. Can we stop by there?"
"Sure, that sounds like a good idea. I haven't been to a planetarium in years. We'll have to visit the Olympic Stadium too. It looks pretty futuristic."
After we finished our meals and thanked Chantal and Benoît once again, we left and headed south east, in the general direction of Montreal and stopped at the first motel that we found that welcomed pets.
We checked into the motel and settled in for the night. Brutus was just about as tired as Josh and me. The little dog curled up on top of the pillows of one of the beds and fell fast asleep.
I stretched out on the same bed as Brutus and the puppy shifted over to lie against my side. His tail wagged very slightly, but contentedly as I gently stroked his head.
"It's hard to believe that we only have a couple of weeks left before we get home," Josh said as he flicked on the TV and joined me next to Brutus. "It's been an amazing trip."
"It really has. Not many people get to see some of the things we've seen. I never imagined that I'd get to see the actual north pole of the most northern point of land in North America"
"Neither did I," Josh said thoughtfully as he flipped through the channels. "Check this out," he exclaimed.
I looked at the TV and saw that he had found an old Three Stooges re-run that had been dubbed into French. Somehow the dubbing added to the comedy. "It's almost funnier that way," I chuckled.
"I know. It's kind of like watching one of those kung-fu movies where the actor's mouth movements and the dialog don't match up," Josh laughed.
After watching the stooges for a few minutes, I began to feel drowsy. "Bud, I think I'm going to have a bit of a nap," I said. It was too early to go to bed, but not too late that a short nap was out of the question.
"You should sleep," Josh said. "I think I'm going to go to the mall next door and check it out."
"Sure bud. Make sure you've got your cell phone with you. If you have any trouble just call."
Josh reached over and gave me a big hug, patted Brutus on the head and then headed out the door of the motel room.
"It's just you and me for a while eh Brutus?" I said to Brutus who had sat up to watch Josh leave. He looked at me and cocked his head from side to side as I spoke to him. I had read somewhere that adult dogs were similar to three-year-old children in terms of their mental level and could learn 500 or 600 words. Dogs were also known to be very in tune with human emotions. Although Brutus as still a young puppy, I could see the wheels turning behind his big brown puppy eyes and I almost swore that he could understand me.
Brutus plopped his head down on my stomach as I switched off the television. I was asleep in minutes.
There was only the glimpse of a dream form in my mind. I saw an older Josh in a formal gothic style setting. Smiling, he said, "Mr. Speaker, out of the mouth of babes...." Then it faded.
I didn't sleep for very long, but it turned into a deep and restful sleep that left me refreshed by the time Josh returned to the room and gently shook my shoulder. "Wake up Dad," he said softly.
I opened my eyes and smiled at him, remembering the snippet of a dream, wishing that I could remember more of it. "Hey Josh. How was the mall?" I asked.
"It was pretty cool," he replied. "I bought a few things for Mom and the twins."
"That's nice," I replied. "How long was I out?"
"I've been gone for almost two hours. You were pretty tired so you probably fell asleep as soon as I left."
"I did. I barely turned off the stooges and I was out."
"I bought something for you too," Josh said and placed a box on my chest.
"You didn't have to do that Joshy," I said and I picked up the small box. It was surprisingly hefty considering its small size.
"I know, but I wanted to," he replied. "Open it."
I sat up and carefully opened the box. Inside was a beautiful aviator type watch with a stainless steel band.
"It's a Citizen Blue Angels Titanium aviator watch," Josh said. "Do you like it?"
"Joshy...." My heart felt like it was in my throat. "I love it but you shouldn't have. That's a lot of money."
"It didn't cost that much and you needed a new watch after you gave yours to Mark," Josh replied. "I talked to the man at the jewellery store in the mall and told him how much I could afford to spend and asked him what he recommended."
"I love it bud. Thank you," I said sincerely. I reached out and pulled him against me and hugged him tightly. After a moment, I kissed his forehead and released him.
"I guessed at the size and the jeweller adjusted the band for me. He said to come back and get it adjusted if it doesn't fit right. He also said it has something called an eco-drive and it never needs batteries. It charges up when you move your arm and it can hold a charge that will last as much as four years."
I slipped the watch onto my wrist and it fit perfectly. "This is really wonderful Josh. Thank you."
"You're welcome," he replied. "I had to do something. You kept looking at your bare wrist to find out the time!"
We both had a good laugh about that. "So when we get back in a few weeks, we'll have to get you signed up for flying lessons," I said.
"I can't wait. I love flying with you and I can't wait to learn how to fly a plane myself."
"You did really well when I took you up. I bet you'll be soloing really soon. Once you turn 14, you can solo if you've met the requirements. If you start soon, you'll be soloing this winter."
"That fast? That would be amazing. What about Mark? He'd love to learn to fly too. He said he wants to be a fighter pilot."
"I know. I think he'd make a great pilot too. I talked to Bryan about it and we'll make sure that he gets registered at a local flying school too. Bryan might go for it too."
"He's getting a little more adventuresome in his old age," Josh chuckled.
"Old age? He's only two years older than me," I protested.
"That's pretty old," Josh teased and just like that we ended up in a play wrestling match.
After I let Josh pin me, he lay on top of my chest and looked down at me. "What are we going to do tonight?"
"How about a nice quiet night, maybe watch some movies and then tomorrow we'll head into Montreal to see the sights and grab lunch at Schwartz's Deli. We can head to the Planetarium tomorrow night. On the way there in the morning, we can head over to Laval and check out the Cosmodôme where they have Space Camp."
"Sounds like fun," Josh replied as he rested his chin on my chest. "Mark would love to see that."
"I know he would. We'll have to come back here sometime with him and Bryan."
"Mark actually has a signed photo of Chris Hadfield on his wall."
"Chris Hadfield the astronaut?" I was amazed.
"Yeah, Mark said he was at the West Edmonton Mall as part of some special event and he waited in line and got an autographed photo. He said that he talked to him and he told him that he got his start in air cadets and went on to become a fighter pilot before he became an astronaut."
"That's amazing," I replied.
"I think it got Mark thinking even more seriously about joining air cadets and becoming a fighter pilot," Josh said thoughtfully.
"You think he might want to become an astronaut?"
"I think so. I think he'd be good at it too. He's smart and he's in really good shape," Josh replied.
"He certainly is. I know he could do it if he puts his mind to it."
"What do you want to do when you finish university?" Josh asked.
"I'm not too sure. I definitely want to get into the software business, but I'd kind of like to run my own software company rather than just write code for someone else."
"Maybe you and Bryan could go into business together," Josh observed.
"Yeah that's a real possibility. What about you, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I'm not really sure. Whatever I become, I want to make a difference somehow. I want to change the world," Josh said with a smile.
"That's a pretty tall order," I replied. "I'll bet that if anyone can change the world, it's you. What sort of things do you want to change?"
"Lots of things. I watch the news and I get depressed. We've driven most of the way across Canada and seen a lot of wonderful things, but people in other parts of the world are busy fighting and killing each other and doing all kinds of rotten stuff. I'd kind of like to do something to help the rest of the world be more like us."
"That's very noble of you bud," I said and wrapped my arms around him. "Let's see what's on TV."
We watched TV for a couple of hours and after taking Brutus out for a short walk, we both hit the showers and went to bed. We had a big day ahead of us in the morning.
The next morning we were up bright and early and hit the road shortly after dawn. We stopped for breakfast at a quaint little restaurant called "Cora Déjeuner" that serves only breakfast. The food was wonderful and was just like home cooked if not better.
"Man, I never thought I'd have a better breakfast that what we had at Humpty's out west," Josh groaned after he finished cleaning his plate and then finished off the last bit of my eggs and sausage. "This was amazing."
"Tell me about it," I said. "I can hardly get up."
"They should open some of these places in Ontario. I'll bet they'd do well. I know we'd eat there," Josh said.
We left Cora's and headed straight for Laval. Laval is located just northeast of Montreal. Like Montreal, it is located on an Island. After touring the Cosmodôme, we'd have a relatively short drive into Montreal.
Josh made the Quebec leg of the trip most pleasurable. He was an excellent co-pilot, always interpreting the signs while we were on the road and at the various places we stopped, whether it was something as simple as a menu or a lengthily information plaque at some tourist site.
We arrived at the Cosmodôme just shortly after it opened and we were the first visitors through the gate. Space Camp was in full operation and the place was filled with kids in Astronaut overalls. We watched through a large window as the Space Camp kids ran a simulated space shuttle mission using a full size mock-up of a space shuttle cockpit and payload bay. It even featured a working robot arm.
From there we headed into the Space Science Centre. The Space Science Centre is like Disneyland for anyone with an interest is space and space exploration. It's divided into a number of zones with each zone extensively covering a different topic. The "Conquest of Space" zone contained massive models and mock-ups of various rockets and spacecraft along with extensive photos from manned space missions. They even have a chunk of moon rock brought back by the Apollo astronauts.
"This place is really cool. It's like a space playground," Josh observed as we made our way through a full size model of several of the pressurized modules of the International Space Station.
"The twins would love it here," I replied with a grin.
"Isn't the Canadian Space Agency located in Montreal?" Josh asked.
"It's in Saint-Hubert. Pretty close to Montreal. I saw something about that in a brochure the other day. I wish we had time to visit. It would probably be a neat place to see."
"That's something we can do another time when Bryan and Mark's with us," Josh said.
After we finished touring the Cosmodôme, we got back into the Jeep and headed into Montreal. Montreal is one of the most amazing cities that I had ever visited. It's the second largest city in Canada and, among native French speakers; it is the second largest French speaking city in the world. Only Paris has more native French speakers than Montreal. Among all French speaking citizens, it is the fourth largest French speaking city in the world. It is a truly modern city with a first rate transit system, plenty of attractions and lots of culture.
"All those office towers remind me a lot of Toronto," Josh said as we reached the outskirts of the city.
"In a way it does. For a long time, this was Canada's largest city. Toronto's population only passed it in the 1970s."
Our first stop in Montreal was the top of Mount Royal. Mount Royal is located just north of Downtown Montreal. Compared to the Rockies, it's more of a large hill than a mountain, but the view from the top is quite spectacular.
"It says here that the first European to scale to the top of the mountain was Jacques Cartier himself in 1535," Josh said thoughtfully as he read from a guide book. "That means this is a pretty old city."
"It is. However, Quebec City is even older. In fact Quebec City was the first city ever founded anywhere in North America. It's almost 400 years old."
"Wow. There's a lot of history here. This guidebook says that Montreal has a European flavour. I think that's what they mean by that."
"I think so too kiddo."
At the very top of the mountain is the Mount Royal Cross. The original cross was placed there in 1643 by Paul Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, the French military officer who founded Montreal. In 1924 the original cross was replaced by the current illuminated cross by the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. The current cross stands 103 feet tall and owned by the City of Montreal. Since 1992, it has been illuminated by LED lights which allow the colour of the lights to be changed without having to swap the bulbs.
We walked over to the Chalet du Mont Royal which is also located at the top of the mountain and we were able to capture a spectacular panoramic image of the city.
"Can you imagine what this view looks like at night?" I said.
"It must be amazing," Josh replied. "We should come back and check it out around dusk before we head to the planetarium."
"Sounds like a good idea to me."
As we walked around the top of the mountain, we came across a group of students who were improvising some rhythm with congas an djembes. There were a lot of people watching them playing. We learned that it was a kind of tradition for a lot of people unknown to each other, to came here to play percussion, just for fun. While we were listening to the groove they were playing, I found out that music was an amazing medium to be able to gather a lot of people from different culture and make them feel the same wave, like if time had stopped and there was no war, no problem, no complication. Leaving the crowd around the drummers, we encountered a lot of other people. Many stopped to pet Brutus and to compliment us about him. As always, Josh effortlessly interacted with people in both English and French. Even up there at the top of Montreal, people recognized him from the Ottawa excursion. That whole incident had almost taken on a life of its own.
We left Mount Royal and headed over to the Montreal Olympic Stadium. Our plan was to tour the stadium and then head into Old Montreal and tour the historic Place D'Armes area. Place D'Armes was to be one of the highlights of our trip. It is a truly spectacular and historic district within Montreal.
The Montreal Olympic Stadium was the main venue of the 1976 Summer Olympics. It is a truly futuristic looking domed stadium with a 175 foot tower that is used to retract a portion of the roof. The stadium seats about 58,000 people and host Montreal's Expos baseball games as well as many other sports events such as Gray Cup football games, and a lot of shows like Monster Trucks, RV shows. The stadium is nicknamed "The Big 'O'" for the O-shaped fixed portion of the roof.
"This place looks like a flying saucer," Josh said.
"It really does. It's pretty spectacular."
"I thought the Toronto Skydome was the first domed stadium with a retractable roof," Josh observed.
"It wasn't the first one with a retractable roof.... it was just the first one with a solid, hard-surface retractable roof. The retractable part of the roof of this stadium is some sort of material."
We spent an hour touring the stadium and we thoroughly enjoyed it. In many ways, it reminded me of Skydome, but it has a very unique look to it.
After we left the stadium, we headed downtown to the World Famous Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Deli on Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Downtown Montreal. We drove right into very slow rush hour traffic, but it was worth it. After all the walking we'd done, we were both more than a little hungry and we were looking forward to the world renowned Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches at Schwartz's.
"You know, I've noticed something," Josh said thoughtfully.
"What's that bud?" I asked as I carefully navigated Montreal traffic.
"It's amazing how bilingual people are here in Montreal. Montrealers are way better than the rest of us when it comes to being able to speak both languages."
"You're better than most people in that regard, Josh." I said proudly.
"I guess, but it's like English Canada doesn't care that we have two official languages. I wish more people could speak both languages though. It would probably be good for the country. You know, if people can speak to each other in their own language it would be nice."
"I agree. I wish I could speak better French."
"I can help you with that," Josh said. "I talked to a nice lady at the Chapters store at that mall where I got your watch. She suggested that you get some CDs by a man named Michel Thomas. He was a language genius who taught all kinds of people to speak other languages really quick."
"That sounds good," I replied.
"I would've bought it for you, but they didn't have any in stock. Maybe we can try another store while we're downtown."
"Good idea," I replied.
With all the traffic we went through and after trying to get a parking spot, we arrived at Schwartz's, the lunchtime rush had abated somewhat. We left Brutus in the Jeep with some cold water and with the windows down a crack and we headed into the world famous deli. The wait was about fifteen minutes, but it would have been worth it to wait for an hour. The sandwiches that we walked out of there with were piled high with the most delicious smoked meat that either of us had ever eaten. The bread was fresh and wonderful and the garnishes were bursting with flavour. Even the big Kosher pickle seemed to taste better than any either of us had ever eaten before.
"I've never been filled up by a sandwich before," Josh groaned. "That was so good."
"I know. I'll probably never enjoy another smoked meat sandwich from the grocery store again!"
When we arrived at Place D'Armes, it was like we had driven through some sort of teleporter and been sent to Paris. Surrounded by a modern glass-towered city, Place D'Armes was a blast from the past. Place D'Armes is the second largest public square in Montreal. It was originally called Place de la Fabrique when it was first developed in 1693. It was renamed Place D'Armes in 1721 when it was used to stage various military events.
The centre of the square features a towering statue of Paul Chomedey and is surrounded by historic buildings including Notre-Dame Basilica and Montreal's first high rise building, the head office of the Bank of Montreal built in 1859.
We spent a couple of hours just walking around Place D'Armes and the surrounding Area. Brutus was on his best behavior and was loving the attention that he received wherever he went. I knew that it was important to properly socialize puppies and Brutus was certainly getting a lot of good socialization on this trip. He was meeting literally hundreds of new people and he was friendly with all of them.
At one point, I had to comment, "You know Josh, between you and your French speaking abilities and all the people that Brutus is meeting, I wouldn't be surprized if he turned into a bilingual dog."
"Now wouldn't that be something. Let's see." With Brutus at the end of his lead, Josh called, " Brutus, viens! <Come here Brutus.>" Naturally Brutus came right away at the sound of his name. " Brutus, couché. <Brutus, lie down.>" With the hand motion, and although the command was in French, Brutus obeyed as if he'd been spoken to in English. Josh then commanded without any hand command, "Brutus, roule. <Brutus, roll over.>" This was a command that Brutus was used to in English, but this time he looked at Josh cocking his head to one side. Josh repeated the French command. "Roule! <Roll! >." Brutus rolled over, then looked at us with the same quizical look. "Good boy Brutus," Josh exclaimed as he gave him a treat and a light scrubbing around his neck.
Although we were both amused by Brutus' actions, I did have to comment, "We have to be careful Josh, for the most part he's going to be in English speaking Canada and we don't want to expect too much from him. Maybe his mind can only accept so many commands and he won't be able to remember as many if he has to remember the same command in two languages."
"Yeah, you're right Dad," Josh agreed. "It's better not to confuse him, but it's cool how quick he picks up on commands. He's really smart."
I looked around the square and asked, "What do you think Joshy, want to take a horse-drawn tour or do you want to head to the motel and get some rest?"
"A horse drawn tour would be cool, but I think we need some rest."
"Yeah, I think so too. We have a late night ahead of us at the planetarium."
We walked back to the Jeep and headed to our motel to get settled in. All three of us, Brutus included, were pretty tired and needed a rest. On our way to our room, we grabbed a couple of cans of Coke from a pop machine in the lobby.
We dropped our bags and then we flopped down on one of the beds with our Cokes in hand and turned on the TV.
"We did a lot of walking today," I said as Josh surfed the channels.
"Yeah, my legs are killing me," Josh replied.
"Turn around and roll over," I suggested to Josh. When he did, I began to massage the muscles in the backs of his legs for him. "Feel better?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's nice," he replied. "I'll do your neck and shoulders next."
"Thanks bud," I replied.
We eventually found the movie "Deep Impact" playing on one of the English movie channels and decided to watch it.
"Could that really happen?" Josh from behind me as he began to work his magic on my tired and tense shoulder and neck muscles.
"Yeah, it could," I replied. "I did a science fair project on comet and asteroid impacts when I was in high school."
"Really? Is it as bad as it sounds?"
"My project or impacts?" I grinned.
"You doofus. I meant the actual impact. I'm sure your project was really good. Everything you do seems to be really good."
"Thanks Josh. In fact the impact of a comet would be devastating. Worse than all the world's nuclear weapons going off at once."
"That's not good," Josh replied.
"No it's not good at all. A few years ago astronomers caught pieces of a comet slamming into Jupiter. It made fireballs bigger than the Earth itself."
"Why is it so powerful? It's just a rock right?"
"With a comet, it's mostly ice actually. Like a big dirty snow ball. Its power is in its energy. Imagine a big dirty ball of ice a few kilometres from end to end moving at more than 300,000 kilometres per hour. It would pass through the atmosphere in a matter of seconds and slam into the ground like a massive hammer. The air, water and rock around it would be vaporized and the soil and rock thrown into the air would be molten. Anyone in line of sight would be vaporized in a flash."
Josh shuddered and then leaned against my back. "That's depressing," Josh said.
"It is if you let it be. In reality such impacts are very rare. They do happen. It has happened before and it will happen again, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon. Astronomers are watching the skies and trying to identify all the comets and asteroids that could hit Earth. So far they haven't found any that pose a real threat."
"That's good to know," Josh replied as he resumed massaging my neck. "Hey Dad, I just realized something," Josh said excitedly. "You haven't had very many headaches since we started this trip."
"Come to think of it, you're right," I replied. "Just that time at West Edmonton Mall."
"That means you're getting better right?"
"I think so, hope so," I replied and smiled as he wrapped his arms around me.
"I'm glad. I love you so much that it hurts me when you get one of those headaches," Josh said.
"I know bud. I love you too."
We finished watching "Deep Impact" and then we ordered some dinner from the room service menu. I had spaghetti with meatballs and Josh had a hot chicken sandwich. The food was quite good and filling. We fed Brutus a bowl of his puppy kibble and he happily munched away as we ate.
After dinner we left Brutus in the room with a fresh bowel of water and some of his chew toys and headed out for our night time activities. Our first stop was a return to Mount Royal. Using the video camera, we shot a spectacular dusk panorama of Downtown Montreal. The view at that time of day was even more breathtaking than the view during the daytime.
From there, we headed to the Planetarium. We parked the Jeep and headed in with about ten minutes to spare before the evening show started. We sat down on side-by-side reclining chairs and waited for the show to begin.
"Have you ever been to a planetarium before?" I asked Josh.
"Never," he replied.
"You'll really like this. It's amazing."
Just before the show started, the lights went out. The darkness was inky and near total. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. When the show started, we were both riveted to the domed ceiling. The show began with the big bang and described the formation of the universe. Above our heads we watched stars and galaxies form and spread out into the vastness of space. We watched the formation and the movement of planets, and black holes devouring nearby stars. We witnessed blinding supernova explosions of dying stars and we watched the comet that killed off the dinosaurs slamming into the earth.
By the time it was over, Josh and I were in awe of the vastness and beauty of the universe that surrounds us.
"That was absolutely awesome," Josh said as we made our way to the lobby and the gift shop. "Now I know what you meant when you said that a comet or asteroid could do a real number on the earth if it ever landed here."
"That WAS awesome! It was far better than the last planetarium I went too. Probably much newer technology."
"It was like we were really there watching the sun form and then watching the planets form around it. It looked so real."
As we drove back to the motel, all we could talk about was the planetarium show.
"You know what amazed me is how big the universe is. I mean our solar system is tiny in the big picture. They said that if we were to make a scale model of the solar system where the Earth was as big as a golf ball, Pluto would be the size of a BB and would be placed more than 2 km away from the Earth! And that's tiny compared to the rest of the universe," Josh said excitedly. "Now I know why it took those satellites so long to get to Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto."
"It interesting when you think about time and space. When we look up at the stars in the sky, we're looking into the past. They're so far away that the light we're seeing from them is from years or even centuries ago. Even the messages from those Voyager satellites take a long time to get back to Earth. Before long, they'll be at the edge of our solar system and it took almost thirty years for them to get there."
"I never really understood what a light-year was before tonight," Josh said. "I can't even imagine a distance that far."
When we returned to the motel, Josh walked Brutus and then we both turned in for the night and we were asleep almost immediately with Brutus sprawled between us.
The next morning, we checked out of the motel and took a brief tour through the port of Montreal before continuing our easterly course towards our next destination, Quebec City.
So far, Quebec had been a cultural and historic paradise and we knew that Quebec City would be that and more. Quebec City was the oldest city in North America and it's the only walled city on the continent. It contains some of the most important historic sites in Canada including the Plains of Abraham.
The drive from Montreal to Quebec City took us on a scenic three-hour route along the south shore of the mighty Saint Lawrence River. The Saint Lawrence had always been important to settlements along its banks but with the completion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, the Saint Lawrence River had become a major shipping route; shipping goods and raw materials out of the very heart of the North American continent.
Quebec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel De Champlain. The name of the city comes from the Algonquin word 'kebec' which means narrow rivers. Approaching the city, it quickly becomes apparent that this is an old, historic city. There is no towering skyline of skyscrapers, if not just some tall building like the Complexe G or Le Concorde. It is located in the Saint Lawrence River Valley on the north bank of the mighty river. The city skyline is dominated by the enormous and historic Chateau Frontenac Hotel. Even more than Montreal, the city has a definite historic feel to it and a noticeable European flavour.
Our first stop in Quebec City was the National Assembly. The Quebec National Assembly is a beautiful structure that was built in 1886 to replace the original that had been destroyed by fire three years earlier. The facade of the building features a pantheon representing important events and people in the history of Quebec.
As we did in all of the provinces that we had visited, we enjoyed a walking tour of the historic building. The guide was a very nice bilingual woman who truly seemed to appreciate Josh's near fluent skills in the French language. I watched and smiled proudly as he almost effortlessly conversed with her and with other members of the tour group. It was truly amazing to listen to Josh converse in French. It was a skill that I wished that I had and until this trip, I had no idea that Josh had accomplished my wish.
We took extensive photographs and shot lots of video footage in and around the National Assembly building and enjoyed the beauty and majesty of the place.
When we departed from the National Assembly, we headed down to the lower part of the city and the Plains of Abraham in Battlefields Park. Located just outside the walls of the city, the Plains of Abraham was the site of one of the most important battles in Canadian history. It was on this site that control of the northern part of the continent was decided.
With Brutus in tow, we stepped out onto the lush green and gently rolling land of the Plains of Abraham.
"I'm getting that historic feeling again," Josh said.
"Yeah, me too. Battlefields always seem to do that to me," I replied.
On September 13, 1759, British forces under the command of General James Wolfe had scaled the cliffs and surprised the French army under the command of General Montcalm. The ensuing battle led to Britain winning control of all of North America from France.
"We learned about this place in history class," Josh said. "Both the British and French generals were killed in the battle."
"That's right. It was a horrific battle that changed the course of Canada's history," I replied.
"How come if the British won, everyone still speaks French?" Josh asked.
"It's because the British had the good sense not to try to force their ways upon the people who lived here. In fact, when the British North America Act was drawn up creating Canada as a country, French language rights were guaranteed for all time, even though some English people over the years tried to assimilate French people, sometimes with a law and even with brute force. Quebecers were enough strong and stubborn to withstand the intimidation over all those years."
"That's a good thing. I think it's nice that we have two languages and we recognize that we have two founding countries and two distinct cultures in Canada."
"That's true Josh. There aren't a lot of other places in the world where you'll see an arrangement like this. Some people in far smaller countries can't keep themselves from killing each other over languages and ethnic background. We live in peace here and have done so for a long time."
We walked along the historic battlefield and eventually came to a large tree. Embedded in the base of the tree was a large cannon ball. "Check this out," I said.
"Holy cow! That's been there all this time?" Josh exclaimed.
"It certainly looks that way," I said.
"I wonder who fired it?"
"I don't know."
When we finished exploring the battlefield, we put Brutus in the Jeep and headed over to the Citadelle of Quebec. The Citadelle is the home of the storied Royal 22nd Regiment (The Vandoos) and it is also an official residence of the Governor General of Canada who traditionally lives there for several weeks every year. It's an active military installation as well as an historic site and museum.
The initial fortifications were constructed in 1701 by the French army and the newer star-shaped fortifications were constructed by the British army between 1820 and 1831. The main gate is an imposing grey brick structure with an arched gate surrounded by stone pillars. The Quebec National Assembly is easily visible from the grounds of the Citadelle. During WWII, important allied conferences were held there in 1942 and 1943.
We spent the whole afternoon touring the Citadelle museum and we watched members of the Royal 22nd Regiment perform the changing of the guard. The Vandoos wear the traditional scarlet tunics and black bearskin hats of the grenadier guards and they drilled with absolute precision.
The Royal 22nd Regiment is the most famous Francophone unit in the Canadian military. They have a proud history of service to Canada going back to the First World War. It is also the largest infantry regiment in the Canadian Armed Forces. During WWII, the regiment served with distinction in Italy, the Netherlands and northern Germany.
With daylight fading, we headed to our motel for the night. We had been so occupied with sightseeing at the Plains of Abraham and the Citadelle that we had skipped lunch. We were both ready for a large dinner and then a good night's sleep.
Rather than relying on room service, we stopped at a local Pizzeria called "La Piazetta" not far from the motel.
"Bonjour messieurs, une table pour deux ce soir? <Good evening gentlemen, table for two this evening?>" the greeter said as we walked in.
"Oui, s'il-vous-plaît. <Yes please,>" Josh replied in French.
"Est-ce votre première visite ici? <Is this your first time here?>" she asked.
"Oui, nous venons d'Ontario, de Toronto, pour être exact. Nous traversons toutes les provinces du Canada. <Yes, we're from Ontario, Toronto to be exact. We're driving through every province in Canada,>" Josh replied.
"Wow, Ou avez-vous appris à parler français aussi bien? <Wow. Where did you learn to speak French so well?>" the surprised greeter asked.
"À l'école et en regardant la television. <In school and from watching TV,>" Josh replied.
"C'est fantastique. Comment trouvez-vous la ville de Québec jusqu'à present? <That's fantastic. How do you like Quebec City so far?>" she asked.
"Nous adorons cet endroit. <We love it,>" Josh replied enthusiastically. "Il y a tant d'histoire ici… C'est fascinant. <There's so much history here.... it's amazing.>"
"Oui, c'est vrai. Amusez-vous bien. Désirez-vous quelque-chose à boire? <Yes there is. Enjoy your stay. Would you like something to drink?">
"Oui, j'aimerais un verre de lait. <Yes, I'd like a glass of milk please.> What would you like Dad?"
"I'd like a Coke please," I said with a smile. I hadn't understood much of what had transpired between Josh and the woman.
"Very good sir," she replied with very good English.
We ended up ordering a large pizza that turned out to be fantastic. It made the stuff ordered from places like Pizza Hut seem like cardboard with sauce and cheese thrown onto it. Neither of us had any room for dessert so we paid the bill and headed to our motel for the night.
We were stretched out on the motel beds watching TV and Brutus was sleeping on his side next to Josh. He was sound asleep, but his legs started kicking as if he was running.
"Look at Brutus," I chuckled. "I think he's dreaming that he's running."
"Do dogs dream?" Josh asked.
"I think so. I think all intelligent beings dream."
"I wonder what dogs dream about?"
"I'm not sure. Probably the same sorts of things that we dream about. The people we know and love, the places we've been and the things we've seen," I replied thoughtfully.
"Do dogs go to heaven when they die?" Josh asked.
"I don't know much about theology Josh, but I like to think so. Some people question whether dogs have real emotions or whether they just appear to have them. I believe that dogs do have emotions and they do love their people. I also believe that any being capable of love must have a soul and that souls go to heaven when their bodies die. I guess I'd like to think that dogs do go to heaven."
"Me too," Josh said. "How long do dogs live?"
"It depends on the breed. 12... 15 years seems to be the most common range."
"That's not very long," Josh replied.
"Not to humans it isn't. Some of us will live more than 100 years."
"Some dogs will live longer than 12 or 15 years too right?"
"Yes, some will.... usually the smaller breeds and I think the ones that are cared for and loved the most will live the longest."
"I want Brutus to live for a long time," Josh replied.
"Me too," I said.
"Dad, what would it be like to adopt a child?" Josh asked out of the blue. I really wondered where this question was coming from, or more important, where it was going to lead.
"Josh, the best answer I can give you for that is another question. Would it be any different than the day we adopted each other.... me as your dad, you as my son?"
"Maybe.... but...." he hesitated.
"Son, you're a young teenager with a lot of wonderful years in front of you before you should even think about getting married and having a family. Why are you asking?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Not sure, but I was just thinking about Benoît and Élise's son, Éric. The way Benoît told it, they didn't have to think about it. It was just the right thing to do and they did it. Now Éric's going to be a doctor. It's almost like a fairy tale.... you know.... and they lived happily ever after."
"Ahhh.... and you and Shelley?" I thought aloud as I surmised his thoughts. I was really suppressing a giggle at the innocence of his thought process.
"Yeah... well, what if she can't have children after going through all that cancer and the treatments?" His voice was almost sad.
"Joshy you have to believe me when I say that I know you will be an excellent father for any children. I know you will love them whether you adopt them or they're a result of natural birth between you and your wife. Like I said, I know you have what it takes to be a good dad." I touched his temple and the area over his heart.
He smiled as he nodded his head. "Shelley would make a good mother.... I just know she would."
"Yes Son," I agreed. "I'm sure she would." From the back of my mind came the thought, 'Wait until Susan hears about this!'
"What about you and Bryan?" he asked. "Do you think that the two of you would ever adopt a child?"
My mouth fell open with that question. "Josh! Bryan and I have our hands full right now with you and Mark. We... we haven't even discussed anything like that."
"Yeah, but Mark and I are growing up and well, you should be thinking about it. You two aren't getting any younger ya know." He said with a giggle.
"Oh yeah... always with the old man digs aren't ya," I laughed as I tackled him to the bed and tickled him mercilessly until he pleaded uncle with a full bladder.
As we dozed off that night, I realized that behind the innocence that Josh portrayed most times, there was a surprising maturity that would always make him a special person to this world.
The next morning, after a long and restful sleep, we checked out of our motel and headed to our final Quebec City destination, the Montmorency Falls. The Montmorency Falls are located at the mouth of the Montmorency River where it drops over a cliff into the Saint Lawrence River. The falls are the highest waterfalls in Quebec and they are actually 30 meters taller than the Niagara Falls.
We took a cable car to the top of the falls and then walked along a suspension bridge over the falls themselves and marvelled at the scene below us. Not only did it provide an excellent bird's eye view of the falls, but it also afforded a spectacular view of Quebec City itself, the Orlean Island, and the city of Lévis across the river.
After we finished exploring the falls, we climbed back into the Jeep with Brutus and resumed our travels. From the falls, we headed took a scenic route northeast on a route that took us past the Saguenay Fjord. The Fjord is truly a wonder of nature. More than 1 billion years ago, retreating glaciers had cut deeply into the Canadian Shield. Creating a geological formation that is unlike just about any other in North America. We crossed the Fjord at Baie Ste-Catherine.
We continued our scenic drive through the village of Tadoussac where we ate at a local roadside snack-bar. We ate some French fries with burgers and sodas, enough to fill us up to the brim. Tadoussac is the oldest village in Canada and it was founded in the year 1600. Like many of the other sites we'd seen in Quebec, Tadoussac was rich in history. Tadoussac was the site of the first fur trading post in Canada and it was there that in 1600 the first pages of European history in North America were written.
From Tadoussac, we pushed on to Baie-Comeau and we were able to take the last ferry that crossed the Saint Lawrence River between Baie-Comeau and Matane.
"Hey Dad, this brochure says we might see some Whales in the river, can we check it out?"
"Really? Sure, that sounds like fun. Why don't we grab a bite to eat and then we can find a spot to drive down to the river's edge and watch. We can dig out the binoculars and see if we can spot any."
"Cool!" Josh replied.
It was getting late and after a six-hour long drive and a one-hour ferry ride, we were starving. Matane was a pretty small but welcoming village, so we quickly found a little bakery that sold fresh deli sandwiches as well as some sweat baked treats and then headed down to a small park on the edge of the river. Brutus was just as happy as we were to get a chance to stretch and exercise our legs.
We set Brutus up with a bowl of his puppy kibble and then we sat down to eat our lunch. I used my binoculars while Josh continued to read through a Quebec tourism brochure.
"Holy crap!" Josh said suddenly.
"What?" I asked.
"Check this out," he replied and handed me the brochure pointing to a photo of what appeared to be an unusual looking ring of water. The photo was obviously taken from very high altitude.
"What is it?"
"It's called the Manicougan Reservoir. It's an asteroid impact crater! It says here that an asteroid approximately 5 km slammed into the earth and created the 100 km wide crater."
"That's unbelievable," I replied and looked more closely at the photo.
"The brochure says that it's the fifth largest impact crater in the world and it's believed to be 214 million years old. Apparently it was about 12 million years too early to have caused something called the 'Triassic-Jurassic extinction event'."
"I think that was one of the big extinction events that eventually wiped out the dinosaurs. Even so, I bet it wiped out a whole lot of dinosaurs."
"I wouldn't want to be around when something like that happened," Josh chuckled nervously.
"Same here. Where is it?"
"It's up north, near the Labrador border. Too bad it's too far for us to get to. I'd love to see it."
"Me too. I guess we'll have to add that to the list of things to do with Bryan and Mark. I wish we had more time to spend in Quebec. We spent so much time in the west that we're having to hurry through the rest of the country."
"I know. It's easier for us to come back to Quebec and the east than it would be to go back to the North Pole though."
"That's true. We'll definitely come back. I'd love to go to the 'Just For Laughs' Festival in Montreal."
"What's that all about?"
"It's a comedy festival, the biggest of that kind in the whole world. You know that TV show where they do the pranks on people on the street? That's the people who do Just For Laughs."
"That show is hilarious!"
I went back to scanning the river for Whales. After an hour we hadn't seen anything and we were about to give up when Josh spotted something.
"What's that over there?" He asked and pointed off to the right.
I trained the binoculars to where he was pointing and sure enough there was a pod of about five beluga whales swimming up river. "There's about six of them Josh, check it out," I said and handed him the binoculars.
"That's so cool," Josh said as he focused in on the beautiful creatures.
While Josh watched the whales, I grabbed the video camera and zoomed in as far as I could trying to get them on tape. Luckily they were moving towards us and I was able to get them quite clearly on tape.
After the excitement of seeing the whales, we tried to spot a motel but they were none to be found in such a small place. Instead, we found out a very nice bed and breakfast located into a Quebec's typical rural house. Brutus was even welcomed. As soon as we got in there, we found the place very well decorated like if it was from another era, with warm wood accent, cracking wood floor, and rocking chairs. The lady who owned the place wanted us to stay with her in her lounge for the evening. We both accepted her offer. Her name was Marie-Jeanne. We played some cards games and chatted a lot, Marie-Jeanne trying as best as possible to talk to us in English, me trying some sentences in French, and Josh going from one to another language and translating sometimes for us. My son was very amazing. After a couple of yawns, we excused ourselves and after a quick shower, settled in our bedroom for the night.
The next morning, we woke up with a kind of wonderful odour of a grandma's breakfast. Marie-Jeanne had prepared us a quite big and savoury meal. We ate a vegetable omelette, with some country-style sausage, bacon, cheese and a full glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. After we emptied our plate, we paid our compliments to our hostess and finally packed our belongings in the Jeep. After a big hug for each of us, even Brutus who was petted, Marie-Jeanne gave us all the road driving cautions, just like a good mother, and she took note of our address to be able to get in touch sometime. As we drove down the alley from the house, we saw her waving goodbye.
We drove slowly all the morning and afternoon through the end of the beautiful Matapedia valley of rural Quebec and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery of the Gaspé Peninsula. The scenery was reminiscent of what you would see in small town Ontario in late summer. One of the most spectacular sights was the Rocher Percé or Percé Rock.
Percé Rock is a rock formation in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence located just off the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. It is one of the most spectacular natural arches in the world. In fact, it used to be two arches until the larger of the two collapsed in 1845. During low tide, you can actually walk out to the rock. The rock itself and the area around it is a treasure-trove of fossils. The rock along with nearby Bonaventure Island forms Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé and it is one of Quebec's best known and tourist destinations.
After admiring and thoroughly photographing Percé Rock, we pressed on and by dinner time that evening we'd reached the New Brunswick border. It was the beginning of the final leg of our cross country tour. Four provinces remained to be visited; New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, with barely ten days left in our journey. In less than a week, we'd complete our eastward journey at Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America.
Then we'd need to make a bee-line back home for Toronto, hopefully in time to take the twins on a promised fishing trip on Labour Day weekend and still allow us some time to get ready to head back to school.