It sure looks American.
I see all the familiar brands of home as I drive into Ottawa, Canada: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Shell Oil. But I know that I am in Canada, because the Canadian flag is flying from every pole. However, there is a distinct French flavor in both language and rhythm as I drive into Gatineau, just over the river from the Ottawa, the capital of Canada.
I am on a long road trip to explore the unique cities of our neighbor to the North. I will dive deep into the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island over the course of almost four weeks on the road. My original travel plans included stints on the Canadian railway, however I soon realized while planning the trip that the rail system wouldn’t take me all the places that I want to see without the added expense of rental cars and even the occasional use of a short flight.
Canada is indeed a huge country, and I finally decided that a long road trip by car would give me the most flexibility and coverage of the country. My ramblings over the Atlantic portion of the country will cover over 3,500 miles by the time I return home to Maryland. in addition, a road trip will allow me to take a cooler of sodas and snacks to enjoy in the car over the long miles! I crossed the border with minor problem or time, but it was a good thing that I remembered to bring my passport, which has been required for crossings only in recent years.
My entrance was made by driving north from Rochester, New York, so I passed through the border area touted as “Land of 1,000 islands.” This area is described as an archipelago with over 1,864 islands. Over the sides of the tall bridge between the countries I could glimpse small islands, some only the size of my car, covered in trees and no sign of habitation. Others seemed to have only one or two houses in sight although the largest islands apparently support small concaves of summer housing. I learned later that to be considered a valid island, there must be at least one square foot of land that is above water all year long, and there should be at least two trees. One of the largest islands has the ruins of a British fort built in 1779, and it is possible to take a boat trip around the islands. That will have to wait for a future trip, however, as my goal is to reach the capital City of Ottawa by late afternoon.
Although I have long hoped to take an extensive trip through Canada, 2017 became the year to put the plan in action when I learned that Canada is about to celebrate a milestone birthday. Next week will be Canada Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the Constitution Act, 1867 (then called the British North America Act, 1867), which united the three separate colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into a single Dominion within the British Empire called Canada. As a result, there are festivals and concerts planned during the month of July all over Canada, and the National Parks have free entrance for the year.
My first stop in Ottawa has exposed the true bi-lingual and bi-cultural nature of this area of Canada. All government signage and stores use both languages, and the average citizen learns both languages simultaneously growing up. The hotel has a clear French flavor, and although the city buildings have an English look, the French culture is everywhere. Last night I had dinner at a wonderful French restaurant call “Le Pied du Cochon” (which translates to “the foot of the pig”). My “Fillet de Boeuf” was covered with a wonderful sauce, and dessert was an ice cream and meringue fantasy dessert that only the French could create.
I am staying in the Ville de Gatineau, a city just over the Ottawa River which is actually in the province of Quebec but which is within sight of the more English Ottawa City. I am enjoying visiting with my “French Daughter,” a now (almost) thirty year old woman from France who came to America in 2004 as a young teen to spend a school year with me through an international student exchange program. I am really blessed to have maintained a relationship with her, and her great family, over the last fifteen years. Today she will show me the best of Gatineau, and I am looking forward to tasting more of the great French food products—starting with a chocolate croissant for breakfast!