Québec City seems like a delightfully European-styled destination that is only a nine-hour drive from here. Montreal, officially Montréal, is even closer, only six hours or so. The old cities there are filled with beautiful stone buildings that speak of some five centuries of North American history, a unique culture that is a French-Canadian and English mix, lively street scenes and shops, museums, sports and scrumptious restaurant food.
I can attest to all that because I attended a press convention that was held in Canada this fall, and a friend and I drove there and back. By the way, the road trip is a scenic joy as we traveled along the Molly Stark Trail amid the Green Mountains through Vermont and back on the Adirondack Northway. The only way it could have been better is if the leaves had been turning. As it was, the trees were at their lushest, the highways were clear and the weather was perfect — in the 70s with low humidity and azure blue sky.
I was thrilled that the local residents could understand my French and even more so that I could understand theirs. I haven’t tried to speak French since I was last in Paris, a while ago. I discovered that the French Canadians speak more slowly than the Parisians generally, so communication of at least a rudimentary nature was mildly possible. I certainly understood how much they dislike President Trump, which they told us often enough after they discovered we were visiting Americans.
Quebec City, referred to that way to distinguish it from the larger Province of Quebec, is located both above and below cliffs that line the northern bank of the wide St. Lawrence River. The Upper Town, home of the now-famous Château Frontenac, was where the elite among the early French settlers lived, including the clergy and government officials. Merchants and craftsmen lived in the Lower Town along the river. The strategic location of the city permitted the French to repel both British and American invaders for more than a century and enabled trade to flourish among New France until Wolfe and de Montcalm fought on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and the British won. The Quebec Act of 1774 allowed the French to continue to speak French and to practice Catholicism, and by keeping the French satisfied probably kept them from joining the American Revolution. To this day, road signs are in French although children learn English from second grade on and are bilingual.
After a couple of days, we made the three-hour drive to Montreal and the location of the convention, still enjoying glorious weather. I keep marveling at the weather, knowing that of the original 28 men who accompanied Samuel de Champlain from France in 1608, 20 died from the harsh first winter.
The Island of Montreal was considered, in the early days of settlement in the mid-17th century, to be only an outpost for fur trading. Over the centuries, however, it has become one of the world’s largest primarily French-speaking cities after Paris and the second largest city in Canada — only Toronto is larger. The Port of Montreal is one of the world’s major inland ports, served by the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is a city of skyscrapers, festivals and considerable diversity, and it too has marvelous restaurants, along with the cultural and entertainment offerings one would expect. I only got a short tour of Old Montreal and some time in the art museum, where there was a good exhibit on Picasso and African art, because in Montreal I had to work. I enjoyed the meetings and learned some things there that our newspapers will be telling you about in subsequent issues, also on our website.
Our return on Sunday afternoon took us an hour to cross the border compared with fewer than three minutes on the way into Quebec on a weekday. We left our northern neighbor, however, with a strong urge to revisit soon.