(prepare for long post—10 days of Canadian wow!) Oh, Canada! Yes, Canada counts toward our SeeMyAmerica tour! We were reminded by a museum guide, kindly but firmly, that we share continental America with the Canadians, which of course, we do.
We spent 10 fantastic days, entering at Windsor, Ontario and exiting at Woburn, Quebec. We stayed in three beautiful RV parks: Milton Heights near Toronto, Morrisburg along the St. Lawrence Seaway, and a KOA near Montreal. This was our first experience with a KOA and it was a lovely one with tree-lined streets and grassy medians between the sites.
Our border crossing couldn’t have been easier–there was no line at all even though we were at one of the busiest entry points (Detroit). The guard asked a few questions about us, our belongings, whether we have any weapons, the purpose of our trip, and then sent us on our way.
We passed through Windsor and the countryside opened up to miles and miles of green farmland like we had just seen in KY, OH, IN and MI. But there is the addition of giant, sleek windmills, and fields of Canadian geese–not just flocks, but fields and fields of them! You do NOT want to walk in those fields. 😉
We spent an awesome day and evening in Toronto, stopping on the way to visit a former colleague of Tom’s. She gave us a quick tour of the headquarters of the ACTIVE Network (the Florida Park Service uses their ReserveAmerica system for camping reservations). After a fabulous lunch with her at Moxie’s, we headed to downtown Toronto to tour the CN Tower. It was our only planned destination for the afternoon, which was good because we had a long, long wait for our turn to go up 147 stories in the glass elevator. But so worth it! Stunning 360o views from inside and outside observation areas, and a glass floor at the top where, if you dare, you stand and look beyond your toes straight down those 147 stories to the street! We dared, but only for a quick look, then back to solid ground, whew. You know how safe it is but it still takes your breath away!
From the Tower we walked a few short blocks to the waterfront to check out options for a boat tour of the harbor islands. As soon as we turned onto the waterfront street we saw the tall ship, Kajama, and our decision was made (Tom worked on a tall ship during college, under contract to the Boy Scouts of America in the Florida Keys, and I joined him as assistant cook for the final cruise to Long Island, NY—a magical three weeks)! We bought tickets for Kajama’s sunset cruise (of course), so we had time to stroll the waterfront and have dinner. The hour and a half sail and the colorful sunset were the perfect end to our day.
Nearby to our campground was great hiking at Hilton Falls Conservation Area. We took a picnic lunch to enjoy once we reached the waterfall a couple miles in. It was a very warm day, we should have gone earlier in the day, but I am really starting to enjoy this hiking thing, especially when there is a waterfall reward!
Our next stop was Montreal, but it’s a long drive so we broke it up with one overnight stop along the St. Lawrence Seaway. This whole area is so beautiful, we need more time! We’ll plan a future summer here, for sure. There’s a chain of islands with camping parks on every one, and sites right at the water’s edge with lots of shade trees, too.
We continued on to Montreal after a gourmet breakfast at Nautica Grill & Wine. What a charming spot, hidden in a local marina and truly gourmet food! They had peameal bacon on the menu, a Toronto staple that our Michigan cousin Jeff recommended we try. It’s a ham-cured pork loin crusted in cornmeal, and really good! We planned three days in the Montreal area, but again we could have easily filled three weeks. It was challenging to get in and around downtown due to massive bridge and highway construction. We were so glad we weren’t trying to maneuver the RV there!
It was even more challenging to narrow down the choices of what to see and do, but we had the best time at all of our choices! We spent time at Mount Royal Park including the Chalet with its spectacular views of the city, a short walk up to the Cross of the Mountain, and delicious lunch on the grounds (jambon & brie on French bread, naturally). Then we self-toured at St. Joseph’s Oratory. I think it’s about a million steps up from the parking lot, but so worth it for its beauty, rich history of its founder, St. Brother André, and more incredible views. Notre-Dame Basilica is also majestically ornate and beautiful, inside and out; we were able to get inside just as they were closing the gates for the day!
We strolled and ate lunch on Old Montreal’s Place Jacques-Cartier and felt like we were truly in France. The architecture, shops, artist kiosks, cafés, and oh, the flowers! We felt transported, both back in time and across the ocean! After lunch, we went to the Pointe à-Callière Museum of Archeology and History which was not only outstanding, but gave us the greatest serendipity–we met a distant cousin of Tom’s who works there! Back story–Tom’s mom has traced family genealogy centuries back to René Cuillerier, who immigrated to Montreal under contract as an indentured employee at the Hotel-Dieu Hospital in 1659. He was also involved in the construction of the first seminary there. While quarrying materials, he was taken into captivity by the Oneida tribe for a year and a half but was able to flee during a hunting trip. He made his way back to settle in Lachine, a borough of Montreal. He obtained a land grant of 45 acres, married and had 16 children! He was part of founding the St. Agnes de la Chine parish and became its first churchwarden.
So, at the museum, Tom inquired about René and the guide got wide-eyed and told us that one of his colleagues, Martine Cuillerier, was a descendant! He went to find her and we had the most delightful chat with her and took pictures, of course! She said she is 13th generation Cuillerier…she and Tom are definitely related–she had recently shaved her head for a fundraiser and Tom did the same thing when he was about her age–that spunk has to be in your blood, right?!
With our peaked interest in Cuillerier, we made our way to Lachine and toured St. Agnes church and its cemetery, hoping to find any Cuilleriers. But, alas, their church computer records and our walking search were inconclusive. Across the street is the museum of The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site, a very small but very informative history of the trade. That was a bonus to our visit to Lachine, and we enjoyed a picnic on their lovely grounds on the Lachine Canal.
Some random observations about our time in Canada: the metric system makes gas and grocery shopping somewhat challenging, especially trying to figure out how much a gallon of gas costs by litres and ordering at the deli in grams instead of pounds. Wasn’t the US supposed to switch to metric decades ago? Our dollar is stronger but the prices in Ontario were at least double on some items, comparable on others; Quebec was cheaper overall. You can’t buy any alcohol at the grocery store, you have to go to a separate government agency store. We bought beer at one with a catchy name, The Beer Store. 😉
The language barrier was tricky in Montreal, especially with some road signs and also in the outlying areas where not every cashier or restaurant server speaks English. But our combined years of French in school really did help us navigate, and we had fun with it!
My absolute favorite thing, next to meeting Martine Cuillerier, was the flowers, oh, the flowers EVERYWHERE! Even the gas stations and convenience stores have flowers. Flower baskets, boxes, urns, not to mention fields and gardens of every size–all full of glorious color and variety! So beautiful, so inspiring!
We wanted to eat at a Tim Horton’s before we left Canada, so we stopped in the small town of Lennoxville and a kind shopkeeper let us park on his front curb because there was no room for our rig anywhere else! Sometimes we can get into a place but the important factor is whether we can get back out! Lunch was great, very much like Panera’s, and good coffee, too, like Dunkin Donuts which we weren’t able to buy in Canadian grocery stores.
Our border crossing into Maine actually took a little longer, but still easy. There was no drive up booth and the guard wanted to talk to us outside the door of our RV—just the usual questions verifying who we are and where we’re going. He welcomed us to Maine and also wanted to know what SeeMyAmerica is all about. Of course we were delighted to tell him!