Monday, July 17, 2017

Oh, Canada

We had a few hours to fill before we left for Saguenay so we took the car into Wendake, the First Nations reservation of the Huron people in Quebec City. The reservation itself takes up about 3kmsq and is its own suburb within the city. Street names are in French and the indigenous language and are marked in a different colour. Only members of the First Nations and their families are permitted to live in Wendake. The government owns the land but the people own the houses and within the reservation no one pays tax. This includes visitors like us- when we bought fuel and coffee in Wendake, we did not pay the 15% that applies to purchases elsewhere in Quebec.

We visited a recreated tourist village and joined an English speaking tour. The young woman leading the tour was very informative and willing to answer questions and she provided an excellent overview of the Huron way of life in the past and in the present. It was interesting for us to contrast this with what we know of the Maori and Australian Aboriginal cultures. There are many similarities. Sadly for me, what resonated most was the similarity in the way our European ancestors decimated the population and destroyed so much of the indigenous culture with the introduction of disease, guns, religion and alcohol.

From Quebec City we drove out to the start of the Parc National, met up with Florence and drove north to her parents’ home in Chicoutimi, Saguenay. Over a delicious welcoming meal of roast moose, and with Flo as the translator, we soon found that we had many things in common.

Moose for dinner
On Friday our hosts had arranged an amazing day for us. We drove to one side of the Saguenay Fjord, stopping on the way at Nouvelle France, a movie set turned tourist attraction that showed the way of life of the First Nations and early European settlers on the river. On such a beautiful Summer’s day it was hard to imagine the area covered completely in the ice and snow of Winter, and then having pictured that, it was almost impossible to imagine how the original inhabitants and settlers might have survived it in their wooden huts and hide tents. Certainly the beaver skin clothing would have helped.
Novelle France
For lunch we had a picnic overlooking the fjord and to complete the picture postcard view, several tall sailing ships that are in town for the 150th celebrations, came sailing by on the river.

At dinner we had an even better view of the ships from a restaurant overlooking the harbour and then we went to the theatre to watch ‘Fabulouse’ a play about the origins and history of Saguenay. With a cast of more than 100, this was like an arena play but on a regular (albeit very large)stage. There were horses and cows and dogs and chickens! During the war sequence, commandos abseiled into the crowd from the ceiling and when the early settlers threw corn seeds on the ground, plants sprouted through the floorboards. There were cannons and fireworks and real water mixed with projections to create floods and rain and snowstorms. Even though it was all in French and we barely understood a word, it was epic! Adding to its greatness was the knowledge that the play has been running for 30 years with adaptations made each year and that all of the actors are volunteering amateurs, some of whom have appeared in every show and now share the stage with their children or grandchildren. At the end they raised the special Saguenay flag and everyone stood to applaud in an amazing show of community spirit. Fabulouse indeed!

On Saturday, another road trip, this time to the other side of Lac St Jean to the Zoo Sauvage where we had a behind the scenes, close up and personal tour of the zoo facilities. Zoo Sauvage is like a cross between Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Zoo set up but only with animals from the Boreal – upper North America and Arctic Circle. For the most part the animals are free range and you view them from a safari type vehicle. Within the first few metres we had our first sighting of an elk, his majestic antlers peeping through the trees. Then a brown bear ambled across the road in front of us, followed by several of his friends. Bison lolled around the waterhole and prairie dogs and marmots (which I have just learnt are woodchucks!) popped their heads up and down out of holes like a ‘whack a mole’ game. It was pretty cool.

On Sunday we all travelled to the family’s cottage by the shores of Lake St Germaine. This is actually a little slice of paradise and the most remarkable place to relax and wind down. There are only 22 houses around this lake so everyone feels like it is their own personal space. The water is pristine and surrounded by almost virgin forest. When Taine took the controls of the Seadoo, I thought he might explode with pleasure. As for me, I was content to sit and watch the changing face of the lake all day long. I didn’t even notice the absence of wifi! A magnificent dinner of salmon, followed by an early birthday cake for Taine and wine and firefly spotting around the firepit concluded a perfect day
Today we were woken by the loons and an unidentified bird that sounded like a mockingjay. It meant we were up early enough to watch the sun come up over the lake and to say goodbye to Florence as she headed back to uni. It was sad to say goodbye to Saguenay and the Bergerons but I am convinced we will be back one day.

Happy Canadian birthday Taine
We took the long way back toward Montreal by driving up to Tadoussac and wending our way through the pretty little towns that border the St Lawrence on its western side. Just out of Tadoussac we actually saw a wild bear crossing the road in front of us - the icing on our tourist cake. It was a long day of driving, made hazardous by a mighty storm that hit us just out of Quebec City so we were pretty glad to arrive at our hotel in Drummondville, a sort of nowhere city that will provide a rest break before another big travel day tomorrow.

Skipping stones at Tadoussac
Canada has been everything and more than we expected. I imagined lakes and forest but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine how vast the waterways would be or how dense the woods. It’s a truly beautiful country, full of courteous and welcoming people.

We’ve had the best time and I can’t wait to come back and see it again with its Winter coat on.

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