Getting our Shawinigan on

Shawinigan view

So this is where the “Little Guy” is from

Shawinigan, Trois Rivieres and Sherbrooke, the trifecta of the “real Quebec.” We were ready to dive in, to immerse ourselves in places where poutine is the national dish and English truly is a foreign language.

Okay, a wee bit of creative journalism there, the truth is that after leaving the Montreal area and its tangle of freeways we knew a quieter area was in order before heading to Quebec City. Two things led us to Shawinigan – it was sort of on the way to Quebec City and Trois Rivieres had no pull-through sites. I know what you’re thinking, you still haven’t learned to back that damn fifth wheel up… don’t judge.

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Quebec has a whole lot of electrical power going on, it’s not all maple syrup and poutine driving the economy folks

Shawinigan, one of those glorious French names that is fun to say, is the boyhood home of that funny-talking future prime minister. “The little guy from Shawinigan” was always meant to imply Jean Chretien’s rural roots, a millionaire with his boots on the ground.


Now your probably asking, where are all the gifts the other Prime Ministers got…..just saying if you get a gift from Brian Mulroney you know where it came from….

Did you know prime ministers get a lot of gifts? When the town decided to build a museum in his honor, Chretien donated hundreds of gifts he received during his tenure. It’s a crazy collection ranging from coins to tea sets to intricately carved ships. Like Christmas presents some of them are definitely in the knitted moose sweater category, others like the intricate mother of pearl sculptures are breathtaking. Apparently the only thing he kept was a rosary, blessed by Pope John Paul II. Even prime ministers need a heavenly high five.

Mr Chretien

Why thank you Ambassador for that incredibly creepy paper mache likeness of me and hey how about those miniature Klu Klux Klan guys

Shawinigans’ other attraction is electricity. Across from the campground a steel structure hundreds of feet high looms above the landscape like a poor man’s Eiffel Tower. It is the last remaining tower from the dam that provides electricity to the region. In one of those feats of engineering that make my head hurt, a tunnel was dug under the Shawinigan river, miles of power lines installed and these massive electrical towers taken down and shipped off to make widgets. The brave townspeople linked hands and stopped the evil government from removing the last tower.

Ahem, in reality an entrepreneur saw an opportunity to fleece, ahem, educate the public and built a museum and viewing tower overlooking the whole of Shawinigan. La Cite de l’Energie site also includes a revolving stage with a nightly show involving a sunken ship, a huge dragon, random skeletons and a weird little wooden town, oh ya and wooden pirate ships. Visiting is like being in a Tim Burton movie, I kept expecting Johnny Depp to show up.

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Canadian warships at the ready outside of the Cite de Electricity

Parc Melville is one of my favourite sites to date. It’s built on a peninsula with most sites backing onto the river. The back-in site (the horror, the horror) we were assigned came with the assurance it was tres grande and would be a piece of cake to park in. Apparently the English to French communication was garbled and our site request was interpreted as, “please give us a site where we have to back in between two trees that are six feet apart with no room to park the truck.”

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When the nightly show is over these become rustic tourist cabins for hobbits complete with golf carts

After narrowly turning around at the end of peninsula we found a site near the crafts building, easy to back in and no one else camped there. We found out the reason, each day troupes of kids would march in off a bus, head into the building lunch bags in hand to plot the downfall of the rest of Canada. It turns out, however, the site was large, shaded and private, and the munchkins were gone by 3 p.m.

Next…The Dude goes to the big house and Cirque de Soleil comes to town

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The sun sets on another day in Shawinigan

Saint Rene to the rescue?

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The Dude getting his barking squirrel on in happier times

A while back the Dame made light of my strategy to make my way through Quebec without speaking the language by “shouting Rene Levesque” in any situation I deem questionable.

It’s a technique I’ve developed over years of travel. When trying to communicate with someone when there are only two choices, those being English and the native tongue, you are essentially exchanging gibberish with a stranger. Who knows, the person may actually be spouting gibberish. The first rule of travel is to never knowingly put yourself in a dicey situation.. Talking gibberish with a stranger in a foreign land is dicey,

Now, those that know her are aware of the Dame’s propensity for exaggeration. The name needn’t be shouted, at least not at first, but should instead be delivered in a firm, clear, distinctive voice.

“Rene Levesque.”

Try it.

Nothing to it, right?

The best thing is my technique works anywhere. Merely go online and Google significant people in whatever country you’re travelling in: i.e. In Cuba say “Che Guevara”; in Russian it could be Nikita Kruschev, in Brazil simply “Pele.” This invariably stops the other person in their tracks. They stare at you inquisitively, often saying only a single word in reply. Here in Quebec they might say “Pardeau”, or some such gibberish. To which you reply “Rene Levesque” with slightly more urgency. On the third repetition the foreigner backs away smiling kindly and you are no longer talking gibberish with a stranger.

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Hey you can mess up our storefronts but make sure you don’t litter and remember kids to recycle!

Take the other day for instance. I awake with a dull pain in my lower back. Immediately thinking kidney stone, and remembering the sharp pain that is sure to follow, I inform the Dame a trip to the “urgences” department is in order. I sense things might not go well when a disembodied voice booms through the crowded waiting room calling “My Kale Mal-o-ney”, followed by a lot of gibberish.

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Out of province patients must bring their own linens to L’Hospital

In short order I find myself strapped to the floor in a wheel chair in a senior’s home bus in transit to another hospital. Shouting “Rene Levesque” only spurs the driver on to greater speed. After a lot of gibberish at this second location I am wheeled upstairs and shunted through a round machine and then pushed to a second room where a young French woman swabs my torso in jelly and begins moving a mouse over my body. I think she’s saying ultra sound but I can’t be sure.

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Welcome to Urgence, My Kale Maloney

After an hour or two of convalescing on a cot in the hospital hallway an English-speaking gastro arrives with a diagnosis. Pancreatitis, he says, before launching into an interrogation about my personal life. He wants to know how much I drink. It’s about this time I’m wishing he only spoke French. Who knew six or seven beer a day is hard on the pancreas?

In short order, I find myself sharing a hospital room with two French ladies of advanced years, one of whom yells something that sounds like “why” but could be “oui” at 30 second intervals. I am deprived a food by a sign saying “ajeune” on my bedside table and punctured with needles attached to not one but two intravenous bags.

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Deprived of food The Dude has ice cream hallucinations

Have you ever had to pee every half hour attached to a pole by a needle sticking into your vein? The final indignity is when Rene Levesque reappears in this report. What else do you say to a gorgeous Francophone nurse who is talking to you in gibberish while indicating with her hands that the instrument she is holding must be inserted in your bum. I don’t even have a working bum but how do you tell somebody that in gibberish.

This was clearly a questionable encounter and I responded with a rousing string of “Rene Leveque’s”. Instead of backing away the nurse pressed forward. For the moment a stand-off. I’ll leave it to your imagination on whether Monsieur Mal-o-ney eventually bent over.

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A Meanderer’s double double led to trouble trouble

Vive La Difference!

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It either means Welcome or pray your trailer isn’t higher than this sign

Travelling through Quebec is a lot of work. And by work I mean brain-work, constantly accessing that little-used part of the brain where high school French is kept. Thankfully, my hands and facial expressions are in full gear, compensating for my woeful lack of Francais. The Dude is even worse despite a francophone mother, when in doubt he shouts out Rene Levesque hoping to spark solidarity with Quebecers he meets.

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Competitive beer drinking at the campsite, in the USA it’s target practice

The trip-with-no-agenda landed us in Coteau du lac, a little town west of Montreal. Like all campgrounds within sniffing distance of a major tourist city, it advertises its proximity to the delights of Montreal. What it neglected to mention was the price of this proximity. The campground was so close to the freeway we could feel the rumble of the 18 wheelers passing by; our site was so close to our neighbours that when they sneezed we said bless you. The campground simulated a country feel with goats and chickens, which The Dog appreciated. Apparently proximity is a fluid term, I’m thinking 10 minutes away, they mean 45 minutes… c’est la vie.

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Beautiful cycling paths along the village of Coteau du lac

Quebec is a cyclist’s paradise. Coteau du lac is surrounded by 41 kilometers of trails, paved, marked and gently shaded by a tunnel of trees. It’s like bike nirvana, except for the crazy guy feeding and talking to baby skunks along the trail. This was our first experience with how seriously Quebecer’s take cycling. Au revoir cigarettes and pot bellies, bonjour spandex bike pants.

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The word Sapporo on the sign needs no translation, The Dude is sold

Dinner in Coteau du lac was a pantomime of pointing and mangled French and English between us and our server, a sweet girl who valiantly tried to help before calling over a colleague who had about five words of English more than her. All those French lessons online taken a year ago have vanished. The rapid-fire staccato of words wash over us, the pointing gets more frantic, the words louder. A lovely man one table over helps out. Two years on Vancouver Island have given him a good command of English and we chat gratefully with him and his wife. After they leave, a guy dining with his elderly mother pipes up, asking where we’re from in B.C. He’s from the Kootenays, visiting his elegant mother who lives in the town.

It’s like being in a foreign land and our expectations have been dialed down regarding bilingualism. The trick is to remember a few key phrases, like “hello, goodbye, thank you “and for the Dude, “where can I find the cold beer”.

Grocery shopping now takes longer with the label reading and translation factored in. Quebec has the bread and cheese thing perfected. Bread and cheese is like the crack of the food world. Baguettes and crusty rustic breads are everywhere, warm and fresh out of the oven; I am weak and succumb to their siren call.

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Poutine Planet, the McDonalds of Quebec, only better

Big Brother of the booze world has left the building here. B.C. take note, wine, beer and coolers are available in grocery stores and gas stations, and people are not running wild in the streets.

People who know me know I love to chat, in fact The Dude maintains I have a Master’s in small talk. So this Quebec thing is killing me. Those lovely conversations with people about everything and nothing aren’t happening here. I find myself searching for license plates from other provinces in the hopes of starting a “How you doing, what part of … are you from?” I have resorted to long conversations with The Dog about the high cost of laundry on the road and how little I miss TV.

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Y’all come back now, ya hear!!!

Next..Jail time inTrois Rivieres and A former prime minister’s hometown

A Capital Idea

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Unbeknownst to Henry the display spider had been switched for a real one

With Ottawa in the rear-view mirror it’s time to reflect on our visit, to discuss the highs and lows, to contemplate all the capital had to offer and to ask – what is it with all those Beaver Tails trucks?

Beaver tails

Damn your golden doughy goodness

The place is crawling with them. It’s bad enough our national animal is a buck-toothed rodent but why give visitors the idea that we eat their tails. Yuck!

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War, the ultimate buzz-kill

Ottawa’s comprehensive war museum is a must see for all ages. A huge complex divided into four sections–early wars, World War 1, World War 2 and the Cold War—it has plenty of big guns for those out there with little guns and interactive displays for the little kids and the little kids with facial hair.

The take-away is that humans are predatory and violent and we never learn. The second take-away is that women need to take over the world so the museum will never have the opportunity to add a 5th section.

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The Parliament Buildings seen from Gatineau, or as they call it, “that anglophone place”

Gatineau, the city formerly known as Hull, is across the river from Ottawa. Crossing the bridge into Quebec to visit the Museum of History in Gatineau (a massive strangely attractive, structure meant to reflect the architects’ interpretation of nature’s power) you immediately see “la difference.” No English/French equal billing here my friend. Signage is in French and you’ll be hard-pressed to find English translations, with the exception of government signage and tourist attractions. I am envious of the fluid bilingualism of the museum workers. My French resembles the mangled syntax of Pepe la Peu (cartoon reference, look it up)

The museum is a rambling affair, spacious walkways and massive windows overlook the Ottawa River and Parliament buildings. One river – two worlds.

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The Grand Hall of the history museum, seen from the Ottawa side, big enough to hold 100 foot totem poles or Donald Trump’s ego

The highlight for us was the special Terry Fox collection. Filled with artifacts from his aborted run across Canada, including the chase van that followed him, it was a treasure trove of memorabilia including a computerized collection of every letter, card and postcard of encouragement sent to him that can be accessed by town or name or school. A quick scan and we found a card written by The Dude’s nephew Darren Maloney to Terry all those years ago.

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A card for Terry so many years ago

Walking the streets of Ottawa is like a gigantic history lesson. Beautiful stone buildings hundreds of years old nestled next to a Subway store. Somehow it works. The renovation industry is booming here. Scaffolds abound as workers toil away keeping Canada’s image untarnished by the years. The problem with historic buildings, is that like an old house, they need constant repair. Of course my house repairs aren’t funded by tax dollars, but I digress.

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Even Canada Post is fancy schmanzy in the Nation’s Capital

Like to eat? Like to drink? Like to eat and drink? Ottawa has an amazing number of restaurants, pubs and casual eateries. A lot of them are themed, apparently every Irish or English person who ever moved to this region opened up a pub and stocked it with a staggering number of strangely named beers and deep-fried anything. (Now you know why we love it so much)

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Even the Scottish got in on the pub game though they added plaid skirts & haggis

A double-Decker bus tour of the city, like wearing socks to your knees, a Tilley hat and a fanny-pack, separates tourists from the Ottawa bureaucrats. The driver pointed out where the Prime Minister’s office was, in a historic baroque style building with windows facing out on the streets below, no fencing, and no armed guards. Just a beautiful old building on a corner.

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See this unassuming building with the small symbol of patriotism, that’s the big guy’s office

Dude’s addendum

Driving into Ottawa on Canada Day from our campsite off Bank Street in the village of Greely brings to a disturbed mind Joseph Conrad’s iconic novel Journey into the Heart of Darkness. A straight shot through the city’s development, Bank Street starts out like a drive through Surrey—car dealerships, strip malls, fast food places—before narrowing into a two-lane neighbourhood thoroughfare with the one- and two-storey brick buildings of the old downtown and finally ending at the Nation’s seat of power.

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Daisy put on her struttin’ shoes before heading out onto the mean streets of Ottawa’s political district

Unlike Conrad’s hero, immortalized on the silver screen by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, the intrepid traveler is rewarded not with headless corpses and a mad, bald Marlon Brando mumbling “The horror. The horror.” but instead with all the trappings of civilization and an immaculately coiffed Stephen Harper, hands clasped below the waste as if protecting his privates, stomach slightly distended beneath an ill-fitting suit, mumbling patriotic platitudes to the masses.

The horror. The horror.

The Horror

His plan for world domination almost complete, Mr. Harper watches the parade

A Canada Day for the ages

Canada Day Ottawa 030On this “no plan” trip we did have one plan, one date that we had to keep, to be in our Nation’s capital on Canada Day. It seemed right to spend the day surrounded by the parliament buildings that symbolize the freedom and absolute good luck we all have to live in the best country on earth.

It was a good decision.The torrential downpours were offset by smiling faces, weird Canadiana costumes, a melange of colours, creeds and a patriotic pup. Oh yeah, and the prime minister showed up.

Soldiers patrolled the building tops with high-powered binoculars, RCMP strolled through the crowd, polite and joking while they searched bags to enter the parliament grounds. At Ottawa’s first big public event since the murder of a soldier and attack on parliament it felt safe on the streets with tens of thousands of our fellow citizens and visitors from around the world.

Score one for democracy.

And when we walked past the tomb of the unknown soldier, where the murder took place, and the steps covered in little paper flags that people spontaneously placed, we felt proud and glad to wear that Maple Leaf.

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Sacrifice and duty remembered on Canada Day

3 hats

They told us the Stampede would have horses!

All colours group

Some wore pants, some wore short pants, some wore short shorts

Beautiful African lady

Enthralled by the beautiful Nubian princess, John forgets what he was going to say

Cape & Hat guy

Even my shoes have Maple Leafs on them

Caped crusader

Hey Mr. Harper, nice costume!

Condom head

Rejected by his own kind, Condom head man leaves the party

Marie Antoinette

Patriotic Marie Antoinette waves to the crowd

drenched Marie

Drenched Marie Antoinette comes out of the rain shouting “Let them drink beer!”

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Son, Google “Canada Day” selfies

Proud to be

Betty’s plans to use her festive Maple Leaf hat at Halloween again for her rooster costume

Red & White

Parliament decreed that all flowers will be red or white on Canada Day, tough luck for the local dandelions

Wages of sin on Canada Day

Former street performer “Don the fire eater” turns to fire and brimstone in his latest gig

Happy family

The Dames does a cameo with happy families  in the sea of red and white

White jack in the box

Jack on the box didn’t get the memo about the colour scheme

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The torrential downpour didn’t faze anyone

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The guy selling umbrellas did a brisk business

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Beaver fro’s firmly in place, the march begins

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Stephen Harper and family make an appearance before the plebes

Mr. Harper I presume

Harper orders the general to have all non-Conservatives removed from the grounds

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Bobby, pale from playing video games all day, emerges to celebrate Canada Day

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A cape worn proudly

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Father and son wear their patriotism

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Take another one, my eyes were closed

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Harold hopes the temporary hair colour will wash out

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The skies open up and the doors to the pub do as well

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Happy Hare Krishna Canada

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Street performers around every corner

Caped man again

The world saved once again, Captain Canada heads for home

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Oh Canada!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rain capes

Off and on rain meant garbage bags decorated with Maple Leafs were in high demand

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The Parliament hill stage was rocking all day

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A cocky Mimi struts her stuff up to Parliament Hill