There's No Canada Like French Canada January 22, 2017 · 17 min. read
This is the third of five articles about trips to take across Canada. I was inspired to do this series after I was disappointed by what Canadian tours G Adventures offered on their website.
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.
Being three and three quarter centuries old, exploring the streets of Montréal can also be a treat. Known as the "City of A Thousand Steeples", this city is riddled with beautiful towering copper steeples, historic churches and incredible architecture. One of the best neighborhoods to explore in the city is Old Montréal, as it is full of winding cobblestone streets and towering grey brick buildings. While foot travel is easy enough through this area, there are horse-drawn wagon tours too! Regardless of how you explore Old Montréal, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to embrace this beautiful character neighborhood.
While there are literally hundreds of churches you can explore in Old Montréal, I highly recommend visiting Notre-Dame Basilica. This church is one of the most beautiful in the world. Decorated with brilliant blue glass and a hand carved wood interior, this church has become a backbone to the city. Notre-Dame Basilica is to Montréal, as Saint Paul's Cathedral is to London. This is where Justin Trudeau gave his father's eulogy in 2000, where Celine Dion married René Angélil in 1994 and where Angélil's memorial service was held in 2016.
This church also offers tours in both French and English. I'd recommend taking the tour, but for those who'd prefer to explore on their own, don't forget to visit the beautiful gold plated chapel at the back of the church, as it is often overlooked by visitors.
If you're looking for more modern architecture, you'll want to visit Habitat 67, Montréal Olympic Stadium or the remains of Expo 67 on St. Helen's Island. As the Expo occurred on Canada's 100th birthday, and this tour is to celebrate its 150th birthday, the remains of Expo 67 are the perfect place to revisit the celebrations that once rocked the nation.
St. Helen's Island is also home to La Ronde, Montréal's very own amusement park. I didn't visit the park while I was in the city, but I saw throngs of people visiting it and I could hear their screams from around the island. La Ronde has 40 rides in total, with 10 of them being rollercoasters and 3 of them being water rides. One of the scariest roller-coasters to conquer (so I've been told) is Le Monstre, the largest wooden rollercoaster in Canada.
Once you're done in Montréal, your next stop on the tour is Trois-Rivières, a city only two hours away. While small in size, this city makes up for it as being one of Canada's most prominent culture capitals.
I love nothing more than going on walking tours, so I was happy to discover Trois-Rivières has several tours to offer. One of their most popular is their year-round Heritage Trail walking tour, which ventures around the city's historic district. Some of their other tours explore the cities booming art scene and the "monumental staircase", which leads to where the city was first founded in 1634. If you want something a little darker, you can also take a tour of the Old Prison, which is often given by former inmates. Note that this tour isn't recommended for children under the age of 12.
(Also note, while Québec puts the age at 12, other provinces might put it a little higher, such as 16. Just use your own judgment before taking minors on this tour as it deals with adult material.)
Another spooky adventure you can take while visiting this city is a tour of "Boréalis – The Trail of the Forgotten". This UV illuminated tour takes you deep into the underground tunnels below the city where you are greeted by ghosts from a bygone era. Search for clues and historical facts written on the walls in fluorescent ink and watch them reveal the history of this former industrial site.
If you're ready to turn in for the night, the last place you'll want to visit is KiNipi Spa. With heated whirlpools, cool pools, saunas and massage rooms, this is the perfect place to rest your feet after a long day of exploring this beautiful city.
Some people say the best thing about Canada is that it has never seen the horrors of war, but those people must not have visited Québec City. At about 410 years old, Québec City is a fortress in itself, and guards the entrance of the St. Lawrence River. A living embodiment of New France – an empire that once stretched from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico – Québec City was the focal point of many military battles. While centuries have passed since the city was last under attack, the walls of the city are still lined with cannons forever pointed towards the river.
To better understand this city, you'll want to visit some of its oldest buildings. A treasure trove of history, Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec is one of the first places you'll want to visit. Here you can learn about the formation of the city from the churches point of view, their struggles, losses and the day cannonballs rained from the sky. You can see images of the city as it was after that day, with the church gutted to look like the ruins of a Scottish Abbey, and the rest of the city thrown into the chaos of war. While the city would rebuild under the new control of the British Empire, the legacy of what happened would forever be recorded in these papers.
Another location that ventures into the world of New France is the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux, an underground museum behind the towering Château Frontenac. While many arrived in the New World looking for new opportunities, they would soon discover that the same elites that ruled back home, ruled here too. This museum shows the early life of Québec City's finest by showcasing the remains of the official residence of the French Governor of New France and later the British Governor of Quebec, the Governor-General of British North America, and the Lieutenant-Governor of Lower Canada.
La Citadelle is an easy 20 minute walk south of the Château Frontenac, and offers a great opportunity to see the historic Old Québec neighborhood from afar. This is where the walls of the city end and the military fort begins – an active military fort, which real live cannons that point towards the water. The fort was an architectural masterpiece of its time. Built into the hill, it's invisible from the water and can defend the city from invading forces. This fort is the reason the city lasted under the British bombardment as long as it did. Nearly impenetrable, this fort is open for tours throughout the day, and offers a behind the scenes look at how military operations were done during the 19th Century. Tickets are valid for one day only, but that "day" doesn't technically end until the Changing of the Guard at 10:00 AM the following morning. This gives visitors the opportunity to see this daily ceremony at no extra cost.
La Citadelle proved to be an excellent deterrent against the British while they were at sea, but not so good when they arrived on shore. To the south of La Citadelle is the famous Plains of Abraham. It's here General Wolfe led the British army under the cloak of darkness to the backdoor of the fortress, and surprised the French, led by Marquis de Montcalm. The battle was over quickly – with some reports saying it took 30 minutes, while others saying it only took 15. Once the smoke cleared, both Wolf and de Montcalm were dead, and the gateway to New France had fallen.
Although the battle was over, pockets of chaos continued to burn throughout the city as the days passed. It was this swiftness that convinced Montreal's Mayor to instead peacefully hand the city to the British, instead of attempting to fight them.
It's easy to paint Québec City with a red brush of war, but the city has much more to offer than just a bloody history. The city is also full of museums, art galleries and walking tours. Overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of things to see and do here, I only took one walking tour while I was there – and it was a haunted walking tour. On this tour I learned about the neighborhood in the city that is haunted by demonic entities, the cursed Princess of Ireland, and Marie-Josephte Corriveau who was burned alive and hung in a cage after being declared a witch. Other stories involved heads decapitated on steaks, mad executioners and an American lumberer that was killed under the suspicion of being a spy.
Not far outside Québec City is the stunning Montmorency Falls. Higher than Niagara Falls, these falls are covered in walking trails, suspension bridges, stairs, zip lines and cable cars to help people explore them further. One of the most popular attractions when arriving at the falls is to walk up the 487 step staircase that winds the cliff, which allows visitors to feel the rock vibrate below them.
In the winter, these falls are often use for rock climbing, and sections of it are harvested for Québec City's famous Ice Hotel.
If you're looking for peace, quiet, tranquility and a little country life, the nearby Île d'Orléans is the perfect place to end your trip. Close enough to civilization for comfort, but far away enough for seclusion; this island recreates a typical French countryside. Here you can find scores of villages, farm yards, orchards and dozens of beaches. Ride a horse, take a dip in the water, relax at a museum or drink some homemade wine; Île d'Orléans is an escape from society you didn't know you needed.
When you're ready to call this tour to a close, venture back to Québec City and hop on a boat to Montréal. While afternoon cruises are more convenient, morning cruises allow visitors to see the Château Frontenac bathed in orange morning light. The cruise takes about 4 hours, so kick back, relax and watch the coastline of the mighty St. Lawrence, like millions have done over the centuries past.
Would you be interested in taking a tour like this? Is there anything you would add? Let me know in the comments below!
Don't forget to check out all the articles in this series!
- A Canadian Atlantic Adventure
- Five Historic Canadian Cities
- There's No Canada Like French Canada
- Saskatchewan Highlights
- Curious Klondike
Don't forget to pin it!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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