Browsing "Quebec"
Jul 23, 2012 -

A Sunday in the Eastern Townships

Sunday, I’d promised my dad’s brother that I would go visit him at his trailer in East Bolton in the Eastern Townships. I took off around 8:30 and arrived around 9:30.

Uncle K has had a trailer in that campground for about 30 years. Until a few years ago, his trailer was from the ’60s but he has since upgraded to a trailer from the ’70s. The RV spot is large and he planted all the trees on it, so he saw them grow from saplings to the mature, shade-providing, trees they are today.

The campground is on Trousers Lake, so named because the general shape of the lake is a pair of pants. It’s a lake with an inlet and an outlet, so the water is cool, but clean. Motorboats haven’t been allowed in years, so the fishing is very good (bass and pike mostly).

Uncle K took me for a brief walk to see some of the sights and then we were joined by Uncle J (dad’s late sister’s husband) and his grand-daughter (my second cousin).

We piled into Uncle J’s tiny Nissan to go check out the site of the cottage my grand-father started to build in the ’60s and never finished because of his untimely death in an accident caused by a drunk driver.

The cottage was on Lake Gilbert. Today, you could drive to the site, but in the ’60s, you had to park on shore and pack everything over by boat. From shore, it was a 20KM walk round trip to get groceries.

The next stop was the Benedict Abbey (Abbaye Saint-Benoît), known for its beautiful grounds and superb cheeses. Had I not had several hours ahead before access to a fridge, I would have bought some treats at the large monastery store! Uncle J picked up a jar of caramel spread, something that was obviously a treat he gets whenever he’s in the area.

The abbey was founded in 1910

this is the older part of the abbey

the brickwork is gorgeous!

simple stained glass

floor mosaic

the left part of the abbey is ‘new’ from the 1980s

the little chapel

We drove around the countryside a little more after this, looking for, but failing to find, our family cemetery (I should have printed off the directions, but I can always go back later this summer; it’s not far). The Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’est) is one of the most scenic regions in Canada and very popular cottage country. You can run into politicians (eg. former Prime Minister Paul Martin) and movie stars (eg. Donald and Kiefer Sutherland) here.

We grabbed some goodies from a popular bakery for lunch, ate at the campground, and headed back to the Montérégie mid-afternoon. I was glad to have my iPod because I got caught in the expected Sunday afternoon traffic jam on the 10:

It started 3KM from the exit for Chambly and it took me almost a full hour to get home from that point. I could have walked home almost three times as quickly! I just cranked up the Cowboys Fringants and had fun watching the RVers run out of their rigs to use the bathroom and fix snacks!

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Jul 15, 2012 -

Chez Lien Vietnamese Restaurant, Saint-Constant

It was a spur of the moment invitation from old family friends and former bosses that brought us to a Chez Lien Vietnamese Restaurant in Saint-Constant, a place my mother had been to a few times and really enjoyed. Chez Lien is a chain, but she says that they have different owners and vary in quality. The one in Saint-Constant is the cleanest.

I’ll just make a parenthesis here to say that I started working for my bosses more than 20 years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long! I last worked for them 14 years ago. We are still close and I can’t believe their boys are all grown up and starting to have children of their own. It makes me feel about 10 years older than I am.

Anyway, back to Chez Lien. They have a basic but mostly authentic Vietnamese menu with some Thai and ‘Chinese’ items as well as a very opinionated server. My mother gets a kick out of him. Everyone else had a combination fish and seafood platter with soup. I went for one imperial roll and the lemongrass chicken sauté. I wanted rice but when the server told me he was bringing me vermicelli, I felt it best not to argue. My mother said that I would have heard about it for five minutes if I’d argued with him for wanting the wrong carb with my meal. That sounds unpleasant, but he was hilarious!

The hearty roll came with fish dipping sauce (a clear and sweet sauce made with fish but not tasting like it at all) and a nice salad with a yummy peanut dressing. My dinner was very late coming out; my companions were halfway finished with theirs when mine arrive. But it was worth the wait! I had a huge plate of perfectly sautéd veggies and nice pieces of chicken swimming in a thin and fragrant lemongrass sauce that had just a bit of kick to it. I threw the noodles in to absorb some of the yummy sauce. Mmm! I adore lemongrass!

Chez Lien serves a variety of fruits deep fried in a wonton wrapper as dessert. Only two of us opted for dessert. My mother chose banana and I chose apple. Dessert was a bit ho hum, needing a little cinnamon or nutmeg, but the sweet sesame sauce made it pretty special. The coffee was very good, albeit a little too close to tepid to really savour.

I really enjoyed our meal at Chez Lien, especially when compared to my last experience at a Vietnamese restaurant! If I were to go back there, I would most likely have the lemongrass chicken again. It was just too good to try something else!

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Jul 9, 2012 -

Fort Lennox, Saint-Paul-Île-Aux-Noix

My dad took my sister and me many times to Fort Lennox. Last time I was there was surely going on 20 years.

The brochure sums up this place much more eloquently than I ever could (great job, Parks Canada!):

Located on Île aux Noix, an island on the Richelieu River, Fort Lennox is one of the jewels of the Parks Canada network…. There is no bridge linking this fabulously destined island to the mainland, it can only be reached by boat. The crossing takes five minutes, which is just enough time to travel back a few centuries and tread the very earth that was fought over by the French, American and British.

Once you step across the drawbridge at Fort Lennox, you will discover one of the most authentic British fortifications in North America. The stone buildings and defensive structures are of exceptional beauty. They were built between 1819 and 1829 to protect the colony against an eventual American invasion by way of the Richelieu River.

Your guide will help you discover the amazing history of Île aux Noix as you walk in the footsteps of the soldiers and officers of Fort Lennox. Once inside the barracks, the guard room, the jail, and the officers’ quarters you will get a fascinating glimpse into the daily military life of days gone by.

To access the Fort, you park in the parking lot in St-Paul-Île-aux-Noix, pay at the information centre, and then take brief ferry ride to the island. Admission is $7.80 or about half that if you get across on in your own boat (the region is a haven for boaters).

There is a small canteen on site, but I opted to bring my own food. So by the time I did a detour to Napierville to get some, it was 11:00 when I bought my admission ticket. The ferry runs on the half hour, so I had just enough time to take a couple of pictures and then it was time to cross the river.

The pictures below will have more information, so I’ll just give some general insight into the fort and my day there. While the island is a really nice place to spend the day as a family, there really isn’t much to see in the fort in terms of museum exhibits. You can easily go to Fort Lennox for an hour, which is about how long I expected to be there. But if you go on the weekends, there are guided tours and reenactments, which really add to the experience. I wound up staying for almost five hours!

I started by exploring a little on my own then stopping for lunch in the very little shade the island offers. I did the last exhibit and was going to call it a day when I found the media room where I got sucked into some movies about a shameful part of Canadian history that I knew nothing about: the internment of Jewish refugees at Fort Lennox in the 1940s as prisoners of war. They were Germans who had fled to Britain and then been deported to Canada where there was no understanding of the distinction between Nazi sympathizers and Germans who opposed the regime.

It took a few years for the status of the Jews to change from prisoners to refugees and even longer for the Canadian government to allow the men to remain on Canadian soil. You see, Canada didn’t want any Jewish refugees during World War II. This is the same country that interned its Japanese citizens during the same conflict, but I digress.

The video presentation was very good and it was a shock to realise that the men talking were featured in the photographs of the island at the time. These men do not begrudge the initial rough treatment by Canadian authorities because they were provided with excellent schooling and eventually allowed to stay. Sure, Canada didn’t want Jews, but it came around. That sure beat being unwanted in their own country and being sent to a concentration camp. All is relative…

Anyway, by the time I finished the videos, the first guided tour was underway so I joined in at the powder magazine, a vaulted and sealed building set apart from the others where the black powder was stored. We continued past the officers’ quarters, the guard house, and the jail, where the tour ended.

It was then time to join a session about the uniforms worn at the fort in the 1830s. They were red and white with apple green accents to mark that they were the 24th regiment. The interpreter said the coats were red so that the soldiers would be visible and impressive, adding that the rifles of the day didn’t allow one to aim so, no, the red didn’t make the soldiers any more of a target.

After the uniform demonstration, we moved on to the impressive firearm demonstration. When that was done, a tour with a costumed interpreter started, so I thought to join in so as to see the section I’d missed on the first tour. As it turned out, there were so many visitors we were broken off into smaller groups who did the tour in a different order. I wound up starting again at the powder magazine and had to go through everything again to get to the general barracks.

This was no hardship since the costumed tour was entertaining and had extra information. Plus, I took the costumed tour in English since the group was much, much smaller than the French ones, so I got to hear the bulk of the information in both languages.

When the tour ended, I was beyond ready to get out of the sun, so I got an ice cream from the canteen and headed back to the dock to await the next ferry, pleased that the locale had lived up to nostalgic memories.

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