Three Pistols and a Pearl


Things really are different in the east

I think about Willie Nelson whenever we leave a long-stay campsite. “On The Road Again” in his signature twangy nasal voice plays in my head and I am secretly glad to get going again. With Grey Ghost hitched up, The Dog perched on his pile of dog beds in the cab of the truck, The Dude chugs an energy drink and I fiddle with the GPS for our next stop.

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Having parked on the wrong side of the pier, John watches forlornly as Popeye’s boat sails away

Au Revoir Quebec City, it’s been a wild ride but we’ve got other roads to travel, like Jacques Cartier who discovered the St. Lawrence, we will meander along the river, minus the boats, scurvy, starvation and armed conflict parts of the journey.


Residents of town have shortened the name and are officially known as the “Po” people of Quebec

We embark on a side-trip to pick up a parcel from home. Our destination, the bustling metropolis of Pahenagamook, population 2,700, which loosely translated means “all the good town names were taken”.

A storm rolls in

Yet another thunderstorm follows the Meanderers, a sacrifice to the Gods may be in order

A torrential thunderstorm the night before flooded the main street of town and the road was clogged by trucks and workers. I don’t know if this is the norm or the “new norm” for weather, but we have experienced more wild thunderstorms in our brief stay in eastern Canada than my entire 20 plus years in B.C. I await the locusts which are apparently the next sign.

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A brief stop while cycling through Trois Pistoles to the St. Lawrence

Trois Pistoles–you know this town gotta’ have some serious gun-slinging history to it. A French settler, a buxom farmers’ daughter and the stable hand who loved her, type of story. Typical of our Canada and our gun laws, it was actually named for a goblet that cost three “pistoles” an old French coin. I prefer my version.

Our campsite is huge, there are bike trails nearby, the St. Lawrence lies below, a perfect place to spend a number of days, except, there is no room at the inn. Apparently Three Pistols is a Quebec hotspot. We see the attraction as we bike through town down the hill toward the ferry landing, where travelers can voyage across to the northern side of Quebec. The river is magnificent, so large that a tide twice a day uncovers the murky brown bottom where people forage for oysters and mussels. Or phlegm in a shell, as I like to refer to them.

We notice something strange as we venture east, a distinct lack of representation by other provinces. We are in a sea of La Belle Province Blue and White. Stops at gas stations and restaurants reveal that we are the only Anglophones. English speakers are non-existent. Where are our fellow adventurers, the hordes of sunburned, map-waving tourists snapping photos of each other?

The Dame & Pearl

Pearl a former high school wrestling champ, attempts to get The Dame in a headlock for taking so long to arrive

Just as we feel our tiny stock of French phrases is exhausted, we arrive at Metis Sur Mer and meet Pearl and Bob, finally and rather late it appears, as Pearl’s first words are “It took you long enough.”

Pearl is the feisty, gracious unofficial historian of all that is Metis Sur Mer and the surrounding area. She is mother to one of my dearest friends and has been awaiting our visit since our stop in Ottawa, which by my reckoning is one flat tire, a hospital stay, and five stops behind us.

I blame traffic.

After a cup of tea and some unbelievably good coconut lemon cupcakes (fresh from the church bazaar and made by one of her cousins, we are told) we are whisked out to Pearl and Bob’s car for a tour of the area.

Big Wind

There are dozens of these wind machines in the area, they are over 300 feet tall including the blades

Bob, Pearl’s 95-year-old partner, still golfs, drives like an Indy pro and has the energy and observation powers of a man thirty years younger.

Metis Sur Mer is a tiny historical town of 600 souls founded by Scottish settlers in the early 1800’s. It also had the distinction of having the only Anglophone school in this part of Quebec. Which seems weird given that we are in what appears to be the cottage country of Quebec. Maybe they smuggle in the students.

Old bridge

The Dude, Bob & Pearl contemplate the Pont Belanger covered bridge in use since 1925

Pearl, a walking, talking encyclopedia of fun facts, is apparently related to half the population of the area. She points out homes owned by The Birks and The Molsons. If you don’t know those names you have never owned jewellery or bought beer.
The area is a mix of craftsy cottages and richy-rich mansions surrounded by a rainbow of flowers and impossibly green foliage. It’s gardening on steroids out here.

Metis gardens & St. Lawrence

Just enjoy the view

Metis Gardens, the main tourist draw, is one of those stops The Dude fears. Hordes of tourists, kitschy displays, tacky presentations. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The garden is peaceful, verdant and divided into sections that allow for meandering aimlessly, at which we excel. The piece de resistance is the art garden, a wild puzzle of interactive displays that are reflective of the artist’s vision of nature. I’m certain in some cases, psychedelic drugs or shots of tequila were involved.

Mick in the garden

The Dude traumatized by a monkey-bars incident in his youth, refuses to come down from the Garden’s spiral display

Thanks Pearl and Bob, and can you get me that recipe for those cupcakes.

Next, Au Revoir and Bonjour?

The Dark Side of Quebec City

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Ahh festival time in Quebec City, the Rolling Stones are here, or as I call them “the musical crypt keepers”

Later, if asked about memories of Quebec City, I’ll probably say, “It was great except for…..”

Except for the drive to Quebec City from Sherbrooke, where 50 kilometers from our destination the driver of a semi waved frantically to indicate something was wrong with the Grey Ghost–a flat tire. CAA to the rescue. Between sign language, pointing, muttered French and English, it all worked and we were on the road again in an hour.

Entering Quebec City in the rain

Preparing for the weather is like playing roulette, you gotta go with the flow

Except for the weather, which ranged from scorching one day to full-on rain the next. The trailer awning, left out after a day of sun, filled with rain that night as a torrential downpour soaked the campsite. As The Dude poked with our floor mop attempting to drain off the water, a cracking sound occurred as the right arm broke under the weight of the water.

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Former banker Monsieur Morin explains to the Dude that duct tape and wire are the rookie RV’ers best friend

Monsieur Morin to the rescue. The ex-banker turned RV repairman spent the afternoon pulling and prying, whistling and occasionally shouting–“Yes.”–as he worked through the problem of reattaching the awning arm so it wouldn’t come loose during our travels, taking out the station wagon next to us.

Except for The Dude’s brief stay in L’Hospital, as blogged previously, which left The Dame with nothing to do but shop at the Laurier Mall across the street, a hardship she somehow endured.

Quebec city street

Canada’s own little piece of Europe

Now for the great part of Quebec City, and it is a great city. The campground had a shuttle service taking camera-wielding tourists into the city and dispersing them to other tour buses in town. Having experienced the freeway system surrounding Montreal, let’s just say that Quebec City’s is worse. It involves two bridges one apparently pre-war with such narrow lanes that you were constantly playing chicken with the car beside you.

Once you get to old Quebec, all is forgiven. Sure, there are plenty of tourist honey traps full of Fleur-de-lis t-shirts and moose bric-a-brac to take home with you. But the impressive part is the respect given to the heritage of the place. It is a living museum within the walls that surround it.

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The shopping district, no big box stores here

This is as close to Europe as you can get in Canada, minus the security pat-down and lack of leg room. Tiny epicuries line the narrow streets, alongside cafes with tables outside under over-sized awnings and musicians playing violins hustling for tourist coins. Massive bronze statues of French heroes we’ve never heard of abound, tourists with selfie-sticks race from one spot to another, confirming with their IPhones that the moment existed.

Carriage in front on Frontenac

Going old school in Quebec

We explore the city the first time on a double-decker tour bus, sweltering in the muggy heat. The second time is by foot, hoods pulled up over our heads against the sporadic rainfall. Walking through the old town over the uneven sidewalks, we have a hankering for crepes. Food cravings are weird, and constant in the Maloney household. When you are on a craving mission nothing but the object of your desire will do.

Object of our desire

The object of our desire is found

We crisscross the city looking for the elusive object of our desire. Plenty of restaurants offer Poisson, charcuterie, baguettes, crème glacee (I’ll let y’all google up those words) but after an hour of wandering and constant stops to admire a building or peer into a shop we find the Creperie at L’Hotel Chateau Frontenac.


The Chateau Frontenac or as we call it “the temple of all things we cannot afford”

The Chateau Frontenac is one of those hotels that make me wish I was wearing Chanel and carrying a little dog in my purse. Doormen guard the entrance and it has marble flooring and exotic wood paneling and an art gallery and a beautiful old bar where rich people casually toss off a glass of forty dollar brandy and discuss the problems of getting good help. The Dude and I, wearing scuffed Skechers and baseball caps, stand out like Paris Hilton at a church social.

Monty Falls

Montmorency Falls the lesser known but taller cousin of Niagara Falls

Another great thing is Montmorency Falls which, fun fact here, are the highest falls in North America at 275 feet. Aha you say, ‘wrong grasshopper’, Niagara has the highest. Non, monsieur, Quebec’s are higher but Ontario’s are bigger and thus more well known. See, size does matter.

The trip up to Monty

Riding up to the Falls, hoping Quebec’s tram record is better than their bridge record

Next… three guns and a reminder of home

Hmmm did somebody say Plan B

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A view of the Three er, Two Rivers that surround Trois Riviere

Using Shawinigan as our base camp (sort of like Everest climbers but without the mountain and fear) we set out to visit Trois Rivieres, our original destination where we were unceremoniously sent packing along with our request for a pull-through site. Even banishment sounds better in French.

Trois Rivieres is a perky city perched on the side of the St. Lawrence. It doesn’t actually have three rivers running through it, in fact the name has nothing to do with three rivers, I guess Trois sounded better than Deux, n’est pas?

apartment building in Trois Riviere

These type of apartments abound in Quebec, old school fire escapes

The city is through and through Francophone. Beautiful heritage buildings including monasteries, stone churches and government buildings are scattered through the historic downtown area and include inscribed plaques detailing the history of said building without a single word of English. It became a game of picking out the few French words we know to piece together what it was we were looking at.

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Our bilingual guide kindly points to the non-bucket washrooms during the Prison tour

Number one tourist attraction in Trois Rivieres is the jail. Not just any jail mind you but a jail dating back to 1822. In operation until 1986, it’s a fully-operational crowbar hotel with NO BATHROOMS. I kid you not, each cell had a slop bucket, or in the case of numerous inmates, a couple of slop buckets to do your business in. I don’t know about you but given those circumstances my colon wouldn’t work for a year.

The Dude in the Big House

The Dude is sentenced to the Big House for tourist infraction #3, wearing sunglasses indoors at all times

We booked the English-speaking tour for four o’clock, which it turns out was the only English-speaking tour. The museum has a tour holding room where we sat along with about ten other jail junkies waiting to visit the Big House. It became clear why there are no English translations anywhere. It turns out we were the Anglos on tour.
The cells and other areas are kept in their original state and reinforces the “I am never going to jail, ever” mantra I’ve subscribed to all my life (thanks Mom).

solitary cell

Yikes, this is definitely a step down from a room at the Four Seasons, note the lack of bucket. Ahem, wear shoes on this tour

Creepiest moment of the tour was the jail cellar and the solitary confinement cell, a room with a dirt floor and no lights, where inmates who misbehaved were kept, sometimes for days at a time. The guide shut off his flashlight and let us absorb the absolute quiet and darkness that the inmates were subjected to. No slop buckets here, the inmates had to do their business in a corner. I would have been crying for my mama after five minutes, The Dude in about three.

quaint historic house

Beautiful Heritage buildings are the norm in Trois Riviere, this one is slowly being devoured by the local foliage

Our plans to visit Quebec City next were delayed, our chosen campsite was full until after the weekend. This was our first experience with “no room at the Inn”. The siren call of summer brings with it the exodus of suburban familys leaving their comfortable homes and bathrooms for a visit to a campground, where they will eat tubular meat products, sit huddled around a roaring fire and shower in a public washroom where young children wander about peeing on the floor.

Plan B, assuming we had a Plan A, needed to be put into action. Bring out map, point finger at map — Sherbrooke here we come.

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This campsite bridge is one cracked 2’x4′ away from a lawsuit

Sherbrooke has that feeling of an old favourite toy. A little tattered around the edges, operates fine but it’s seen better days. The campground was massive, situated on a little island that had a bridge that resembled something your Uncle Henry slapped together on the weekend. It has the look of something that will be in the news sometime in the future “disaster at Quebec campsite as bridge collapses”.

2 creepy stilt walkers

Tall or short, clown-like performers will always be creepy to me

Summer is festival season; people love to get their groove on in the few warm months here. Driving through town, we notice barricades being set up and what looks like a stage and a number of establishments offering sustenance to weary travelers. Thanks goodness the menu has pictures of both liquid and food products and beer appears to be a universally understood word. Down the lane from our chosen establishment a large stage is being set up, along with a beer table.

It turns out we’ve arrived for one of the free Concerts de la Cite that occur throughout the summer with live music and elements of cirque du soleil thrown in. Above the street lithe acrobats frolic and hang from a wire crisscrossing the road. The wire appears to be attached to an apartment building window. Court jesters on stilts walk by. This must be what being on acid feels like.

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The bass player wards off an attack by an irate fan

We sit in an outdoor patio enjoying the live street show, watching crowds of Sherbrooke citizens, young, old, Gen X, Gen Y, hippy, yuppy, you name it, every clichéd generational group was represented, including a contingent of the Man-bun crowd with a respectable showing by the side-part guys. A duo sets up inside the patio and plays great renditions of classic 70’s rock and blues.

I think I’m liking this Plan B business.

acrobat at rest

Best view in the house

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

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