Six imaginative tours with the alumni of the University of California, Berkeley, take you from Atlantic to Pacific and from the U.S. border to the Arctic, exploring Newfoundland and the Canadian Maritimes, the unique Province of Quebec, the frozen north of Hudson's Bay Company and the Land of the Midnight Sun along the Alaska Highway and the route of the Klondike. Visit Canada's superb cities, filled with welcoming people and attractive parks and museums. Enjoy the incomparable beauty of unfettered nature, and relive the drama of a nation of explorers and trappers and immigrants who slowly came to populate their enormous land.
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Traveling with Bears
Canada: "The World Next Door"
By Jack Dold
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2014 Jack Dold
All rights reserved.
CANADA—A MAGNIFICENT LAND
* * *
If ever there was a tour that properly summed up a place it is this one. The title says it all. For years we did a couple of fairly standard itineraries in Canada, one in the east which I called "The Great Cities of Canada" and one in the west called generically "The Canadian Rockies." I think it was the hotels we used that made me join the two into one majestic adventure. Across Canada one finds the finest string of hotels, in my opinion, in the world. I knew them as the Canadian Pacific Hotels, the C.P., the old, impressive railroad houses that welcomed a weary traveler on the Canadian Pacific rail system. The original hotels on the Canadian Pacific were almost matched by the railroad's great competitor, Grand Trunk (later the Canadian National), that also developed a series of hotels along their line, including the Jasper Park Lodge, the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa and the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal. These were added to the C.P. chain in the 1980s. In 1999, Canadian Pacific added to the chain with the purchase of the Fairmont Hotels. Two years later, their core properties all took on the Fairmont name, while their lesser properties were moved to their Delta Hotel chain. We did three of these tours for Cal Alumni between 1991 and 2001. On the first two, the hotels were still called Canadian Pacific, but by the last, the names had all been changed to Fairmont. I have always preferred the Canadian Pacific name because I believe it is a proud one and should be retained. But from the marketing standpoint, it is undeniably better to use Fairmont.
Most modern travelers encounter these upscale hotels one at a time, but in the old days, the train traveler found them in every major city, a short walk from the station. I used Le Chateau Frontenac from the first time I ever saw Québec City. How could you stay anywhere else? The same applies to the Empress in Victoria. The place simply dominates the scene, making every other place look like a motel. Gradually I expanded my repertoire of C.P. Hotels to other places until I eventually found them all. Since they are spread from Québec to Victoria, (actually St. John's, Newfoundland to Victoria), why not write a tour that would use them all?
I phoned Jack Rayfield, the U.S. sales representative in Los Angeles for C.P. Hotels.
"Jack, if I write a tour using almost all of your hotels, will you get me a deal?"
"What do you mean 'almost all'?" he asked skeptically.
"Chateau Frontenac, Queen Elizabeth, Chateau Laurier, Royal York, Jasper Park Lodge, Chateau Lake Louise, Banff Springs, Hotel Vancouver, Empress."
"Good God! That's one tour?"
"I'm going to call it, 'Canada—A Magnificent Land.' We'll use VIA Rail in the middle."
"I'll get back to you."
Jack, one of an army of sales people who promoted Canada in those days, was back to me that afternoon, with low season rates at all of the hotels so long as I began the tour at the Frontenac before May 1. It was a deal I couldn't refuse. We ended up with a twenty-one day tour, nine nights on the east coast, nine on the west with two nights on the train across the Prairie Provinces. I will always believe it was the finest hotel parlay of any tour I ever wrote.
It wasn't easy getting to Québec from the West Coast. From San Francisco, we had to fly to Toronto or Montreal, and then on to Québec, often with a considerable layover. We didn't get to that great walled city until 9:00 at night or later, but when I think about it, Québec may even be more impressive after dark. The ride from Aéroport international Jean-Lesage de Québec is a journey from the modern to the old, from Canada to France. It crosses the district of Sainte-Foy, which contains many of the modern hotels and restaurants of the "new" city, places that serve the traveling public who arrive in the city via the Pierre Laporte Bridge from the Trans-Canada Highway. But shortly things begin to change. Boulevard Laurier runs past Laval University and rows of schools and rather elegant office buildings. The boulevard then morphs into Grande Allée, the entry into a French city. Here are stately old mansard-roofed buildings, once residences, now apartments or restaurants. Here are sidewalk cafés, huddled behind wrought-iron fences. Here are the first of the government buildings, the ancient barracks, the arsenal, and one of the Martello towers that guard the walled city. And finally appear the walls of old Québec, massive ramparts that surround the old city. Québec is the only fully walled city left in North America. Passing through Porte Saint-Louis, the road name changes again to become Rue Saint-Louis. Surely we have arrived in France!
At the end of Rue Saint-Louis the land drops off in a high escarpment into the St. Laurence River. The cliff is marked by a large statue of Samuel de Champlain. Towering over the scene is the imposing Le Chateau Frontenac, our home for the next two nights. If there is a better way to begin a tour, I have not found it.
We have always used the Frontenac. There are other deluxe hotels nearby—Le Concorde, the Hilton, the Auberge des Goveneurs, but there is only one Chateau Frontenac. I used to tell people that the only good thing about the other hotels is that you got a wonderful view of the Frontenac. However a decade ago, it was by no means simple to bring a group to the place, because quite frankly, the Chateau Frontenac was falling apart. I used to bring the group into the lobby, where they would be thrilled by the opulence. Then I would hand out the keys and run for cover. Every room was different, from those the size of a closet to others where you could play a soccer game. Usually I scheduled a group dinner the first night on a tour, but never in Québec. By morning, complaints would be considerably muted. Today, $20 million or so has eliminated the angst of checking in at Le Chateau Frontenac. Walls have been removed, making a decent-sized suite out of three former single rooms; the décor has been revitalized, but thankfully, not modernized. Lighting and plumbing have been brought into the twentieth century. The whole place, like its hotel sisters across Canada, is vibrant with energy and customers.
I still leave the first night free in Québec City. Along Rue St. Louis, just a block or two from the Chateau Frontenac, is a string of very fine restaurants—Au Parmesan, Continental, Café de Paris, La Caravelle. My favorite is Aux Ancien Canadiens. This is a city for strolling, and the first night's walk will also get you a very fine bowl of soupe á l'oignon graninee.
I have a trade secret about us tour managers. There are always one or two bars or restaurants in every city that we never tell our group about, because after ten or twelve hours a day with them, we sometimes need to escape, go somewhere where nobody can find us, if only for an hour or two. In Quebec City for me, that was La Biarritz.
I was on my way there when I got distracted by a new restaurant called La Saint Amour and I decided to give it a shot. I should have known by the name that this would be a mistake. Three people were leaving as I entered and they seemed contented enough. But their departure completely emptied the place and I was escorted to the back, past a score of unused tables, the waiter disclaiming that there would be a couple of more reservations joining me. I had already formed a dozen reservations by the time I sat down.
First, there was no aroma to the place, at least no attractive culinary wafts of enticement. To me that is the initial requirement for a good restaurant—delicious odors of garlic or coffee or savory spices.
Then, the room was far too bright. A good restaurant should never be flood-lit, nor should it be eerily dark. "Saint Love" was noon-lit and in the glare, I could see that very little care was being taken to the furniture and décor. Chairs were askew; tablecloths were slightly awry; tables were sitting at odd angles. Though not dirty or unkempt, it was just not cared for by someone with an organized mind. It didn't make you comfortable.
There was no music. In fact there was no sound at all. Devoid of customers, there was no murmur of conversation, no reasons for pans rattling, no street noise through the closed doors. My ears had nothing to do. And they joined my nose in inactivity, hardly alleviated by my eyes which were hurting in the incandescent glare.
Then came the menu. Perhaps a nice glass of St. Emillon or Chateauneuf-du-Pape would help. Wrong! The choice was between a Chilean cabernet, a Mondavi-Woodbridge merlot or an Aussie shiraz. Saint Amour was rapidly falling as I glanced at the a la carte menu which was certainly going to cost me $60 minimum, U.S.!
There are all sorts of ways to leave a restaurant.
"I left my credit cards in the hotel."
"I don't like to eat alone. It's too expensive to dine without a companion."
"I was really craving Mexican food."
"I don't think I have enough time for a formal meal."
"You don't have French onion soup."
Yes, there are lots of ways to leave restaurant. I might have gotten a bit flustered as I stumbled toward the door, and I mumbled, "It's too bright in here. I can't smell the music."
I don't think the waiter understood my English as I scurried out, heading for the salvation of La Biarritz. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the familiar sign on Rue Sainte-Anne. But there was a sign on the door announcing that the place had gone out of business a week before.
Fortunately, I have a secondary escape in Québec—at the Bastille up on the hill, a neat little restaurant I discovered a few trips ago. I hurried up the hill and was relieved to see a light on at Chez Behuaud-a-la-Bastille.
Lucie Bechard took my coat as I entered, ushering me into a beautifully lit room filled with wonderful aromas of French cooking, with Edith Piaf murmuring some haunting French love song in the background.
"Would you like a glass of wine?"
"Is your chardonnay South African, Chilean or Canadian?" I asked tentatively.
"It's French, of course!" smiled Lucie.
"I'll have two."
The meal was wonderful. It cost me $60 (U.S.) and I ate alone, the night's only customer. But all of my senses joined me in the fine repast and, after all, what more can one expect?
Vince Resh is the perfect host for this tour. A prominent member of the Department of Environmental Science at U.C. Berkeley, Vince is an expert on the water systems of the world, and the myriad of issues that are bound up in that subject. Canada boasts 40 percent of the world's water. The nation is a bridge between Atlantic and Pacific, with rivers that flow to three oceans, and the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway that are shared with the U.S. Water is a constant theme throughout the itinerary. Not only that, but Vince is profoundly interested in all living creatures, and Canada is a natural treasure to be examined and explored. The walking, swimming, crawling, flying creature does not exist that is not a potential subject of one of Vince's over-the-road lectures. I have watched him get so excited about a damselfly or a land leech that everyone within earshot is entranced regardless of their natural instincts. Canada is the perfect laboratory for Vince Resh. He gave me a list of his proposed lectures, to be delivered while the motorcoach is moving down the highway, or anywhere where the people are gathered and looking around.
- How the St. Lawrence River and other Canadian rivers "work"
- Welcome to the Great Lakes! Here's how they formed
- What made Niagara Falls?
- The geology of the Canadian Shield
- How the lakes of the Rockies "work"
- The Fraser River—the greatest salmon river in the world
- The life history of the beaver
- Canadian and American "naturalist" art
* * *
Leona, from Contact Québec, is our guide today, a delightfully buoyant woman possessed of an easy-going, rather American style, phrased beautifully with a French accent. She is very proud of her city, rightfully so, especially on a sparkling early-spring day when the first vestiges of post-winter life are beginning to show as green buds in the gardens and red tips on the maple branches. We all met at the Place d'Arms, just outside of the Frontenac. By 9:00, most of our people have been out on the Promenade des Gouveneurs, the impressive wide boardwalk that covers the top of the escarpment giving visitors a grand view of the St. Lawrence, Lévis across the river, and the Isle d'Orleans to the east. Duferin Terrace rises above the promenade, with stairs leading up to the citadel and the Plains of Abraham.
Samuel de Champlain stands symbolically at the end of the boardwalk, next to a green kiosk which is the entrance to the Funiculaire, a cable car that takes tourists down the escarpment to the Place Royale below, where the city was first laid out. In the small habitable area between the river and the cliffs, is a rebuilt world of the seventeenth century, stone dwellings and warehouses, lovingly restored by the Canadian government, surrounding the church gem of Notre Dame des Victoires. What was a dilapidated slum ten years ago is now filled with boutiques, small restaurants, wine shops and upscale condos, lying in wait for the many cruise ships that dock nearby.
Leona's tour began at the Plains of Abraham. Anyone coming to Québec quickly learns of the "great battle" between the French and English on September 13, 1759, where both commanders, James Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcalm, died of wounds inflicted on the field.
While the battle itself may not be of heroic proportions, it resulted in Britain taking permanent control of French Canada in 1763, essentially making it her fourteenth North American colony. How strange that a decade and a half later, only Québec would remain loyal to London, while the Englishmen to the south all claimed their independence.
In 1791, Canada was divided into Lower Canada (Québec) and Upper Canada (Ontario), the latter attracting many English escapees from the lower colonies, while Lower Canada remained solidly French in culture.
Leaving the old city, the route then led across the St. Charles River to the north shore of the St. Lawrence and a region known as the Seigneurie.
Much of the land of the St. Lawrence Valley is laid out in French medieval fashion, with long narrow strips of farmland leading down to the river. In the seventeenth century the land was assigned to the seigneur, or lord, who distributed the rows to his tenants, habitants. This system remained through the British conquest, preserved by the Québec Act in 1774, and was finally abolished in 1854. Today the long rows can still be seen throughout the river region.
Also visible are the traditional French farmhouses with their sloping roofs and colorful paint, many built in stone. It is a lovely region, one meant for an afternoon ride.
The path eventually takes visitors to the impressive shrine of Sainte-Anne-du-Beaupre, the largest of several pilgrimage sites in Québec. The modern basilica, rebuilt between 1926 and 1946, is a marvel of stonework, its mosaics famous around the world.
Our last stop today is the impressive Montmorency Falls, "higher than Niagara." Today we are seeing it from above, with dinner at the Manor Montmorency, a fine meal offered in a completely restored old mansion, with walkways down to the top of the falls.
We completely filled our day!
It would be a shame to leave this lovely city without giving people a chance to explore on their own. It is only a three-hour drive to Montreal, so I gave the folks the whole morning to wander, shop and take in the attractions. Across the square from the hotel is an artists' alley, leading down to the Cathedral of Québec, and a host of modern stores. In the lower town, you can spend a morning just peeking into stone cellars and tiny shops nestled into nooks and crannies of the restored district..
In early afternoon we crossed the Laporte Bridge, the last one on the St. Lawrence before it widens on its way to the sea. Three hours later we arrived at Montreal, essentially entering a new world, from the ancient walls of Québec City to the modern skyscrapers and underground malls of Montreal. Our home for the next two days is the Canadian Pacifi c Queen Elizabeth Hotel, just an escalator and a tunnel from the main train station of the city. Originally a Canadian National hotel, the Queen Elizabeth is one of the more modern of the C.P. Hotels, built across from the Place Ville Marie, the fi rst of the projects that ultimately resulted in the incredible maze of Underground Montreal. We will explore parts of that subterranean city during our stay in Montreal.
Excerpted from Traveling with Bears by Jack Dold. Copyright © 2014 Jack Dold. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
"The World Next Door", ix,
Canada—A Magnificent Land, 1,
Canadian Maritimes, 89,
Québec Province, 147,
The Hudson's Bay Company, 201,
The Klondike, 257,