In 1878 Quebec City merchant Charles-Napoleon Robitaille was traveling upon the frozen Fjord-du-Saguenay when the ice broke. He along with his horse and sleigh were cast into the freezing waters. Charles prayed to the Virgin Mary that his life be spared. He survived, but as the horse was not a believer it perished (sorry, small joke!).

Charles soon became deathly ill from his experience in the freezing waters. He again prayed to the Virgin Mary, this time asking for 10 more years of life in order to raise his children and provide for his family. He again lived.

Charles vowed to create a monument to his two miracles. Thus he engaged the services of sculptor Louis Jobin. Using three huge white pine logs, Louis carved a statue of the Virgin Mary that was to stand nearly 30 feet tall.

While transporting the statue on the Fjord, it fell from the boat into the waters. Fortunately it floated. The three sections were towed 15km by rowboat to a location beneath the cliff of Cape Trinity where it was to be installed hundreds of feet above the Fjord.

The local 19th Century technology proved inadequate for the task, so 19th Century ingenuity was employed. The 6,000 pound statue was cut into 14 pieces and each piece was hoisted up the cliff where they were reassembled and covered with thin lead sheathing for protection from the elements. The Statue has stood overlooking the Fjord from the point of Cape Trinity since 1881. Tradition calls upon mariners who pass the Cape to slow their vessels and sound their horns in honor of the Virgin Mary and the memory of Charles-Napoleon Robitaille.

Reaching the statue by land is a moderately challenging 5 mile hike that involves a total assent of 1,500 feet. Allowing for some contemplation time along the way and at the top, the round trip takes about 3 hours. This trail is a part of the final section of the 215km pilgrimage walk that is presented in 14 sections from Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean to the Notre Dame du-Saguenay statue. Each section has a different spiritual theme.

Please enjoy these pictures of my experience upon the trail to the statue. Tomorrow we continue our journey northeast along the shores of the St. Lawrence.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It is a rare treat at my age (66) to be presented with the opportunity for a new experience. The pictures of Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata were an enticement to me that proved more compelling than Christine’s disapproval. Her concerns are understandable given her own fear of heights and the death of a good friend who fell this last May while hiking in Scotland.

A Via Ferrata is a technical mountain climb along an established path that features permanently installed climbing aids (often of iron or steel) such as cables, hand holds, iron rungs, ladders, and narrow beam bridges. Harnesses must be utilized as the Via Ferrata ascends and crosses sheer cliff faces, often hundreds of feet above the valley below.

Via Ferratas are popular in the Alps, and are less well know in North America. The modern incarnations have their roots in the 19th Century as these aids were permanently installed along popular climbing routes in the Alps. The First World War saw the construction of Ferratas in order to facilitate the movement of troops along perilous mountain paths. It is believed that there are now over 1,000 Ferrata routes in Europe.

Parc-du-Saguenay’s Via Ferrata likely ranks as one of intermediate difficulty. It features very steep cliff ascents, in one place beyond vertical, traverses with minimal hand and foot holds, short passages across 4 inch wide beams, and precipitous rock scrambles. All of this takes place hundreds of feet above the valley below. It requires a fair degree of upper body strength and a constitution immune from fear of heights.

Finally, the real gem of the experience is the crossing of the valley by a 1 foot wide, 300 foot long open sided cable bridge.

The expedition is limited to 8 participants and an experienced guide. There were 7 in my group. The route took a little over 3 hours to complete, including the 30 minute assessment and training portion.

A short near ground course provides the guide with teaching aids with which he demonstrates the use of the equipment. It also allows him to assess the abilities of the participants. Any person who does not appear capable of competence, lacks sufficient strength, or displays excessive fear, is denied further participation. Everyone qualified in my outing, but I confess that I was initially concerned that I might “wash out” because of my age and my pronounced hand tremors (a life-long genetic condition that has worsened with age) which can easily be misinterpreted as fear or Parkinson’s disease.

As it turned out my “test” went very well. Throughout most of the journey I and a young couple from Belgium and France were placed ahead of our guide, Sebastian. He later told me that he frequently has to reject a candidate out of concern that their fear or lack of ability present a danger to all participants within a group.

The entire experience was beyond my pre-departure comprehension. At times it took on the aspect of an out-of-body experience for me… clinging to the face of cliffs, climbing ladder rungs where my head and hands were further out than my feet, which sought to swing free beneath me. There was little fear, virtually no adrenaline, only exhilaration. In this I may have been alone among my fellow climbers. I was the only member taking pictures and often hung hands free by my harness to point and shoot my camera. As I write this I remain a bit mystified at my reactions. Perhaps they derive from my trust in the equipment and those who designed the route. However, I did find an internal voice cautioning me to always make sure that one carabiner was firmly in place before repositioning the other. My life depended upon that small detail.

One of the members of our group was a young lady from France who might be 5 feet tall but only if she stands on her toes. She was situated ahead of me with her boyfriend in the lead. As we crossed the cable bridge the arc of the safety cable took it beyond her reach. At 10 foot intervals we were required to unclip from the cable and then reclip past each of the attachment points. She was unable to do this until in unison I and her boyfriend reached up and hung our weight from the cable, pulling it down to within her reach.

Although I was the sole native English speaker, a comradeship of accomplishment developed within our group. The combination of the interpersonal experience along with the physical and emotional challenges created an incredibly memorable experience!

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Later in the day Christine and I traveled to place along the Fjord where a short hike rewarded us with some of the most astounding views of this incredible region.

Our entire day was spent enjoying an excursion upon the waters of the Saguenay fjord. We boarded a very large Zodiac-like vessel, departing from the dock at camp on the west side of the fjord. We traveled north about an hour at an estimated 20-25 knots and were treated to views of the magnificent cliffs and hills that glaciers had carved out over 10,000 years ago.

The fjord is fed by both a freshwater lake to the north, and tidal saltwater from the St. Lawrence to the south. The freshwater being lighter, in the central and southern reaches of the fjord it creates a freshwater layer that is approximately 50 feet deep. The saltwater remains below that layer, extending to the depths of the fjord which are up to 900 feet. A unique marine environment is presented that supports over 70 species of fresh and saltwater fish.

This is considered the ice fishing capital of the world. In the winter folks come from near and far with their mobile ice huts and assemble in 3 “villages” upon the ice. The locations depend upon the fish they seek, some dropping their lines deep for ocean varieties and others shallower for freshwater species. In all, over 1,200 ice trailers are arranged in grid fashion upon the ice.

Approximately 20 years ago the waters of the Saguenay became so polluted that pregnant women were cautioned not to consume the fish. Beluga whales, Peregrine Falcons, and many other species were threatened, including the rarely found Greenland Shark, the second largest carnivore shark after the Great White.

The imposition of environmental protection measures upon the municipalities and industries along the Saguenay have restored the waters and habitats, but it took 20 years for the pollutants to be “flushed”.

Our boat arrived at the picturesque village of Santa-Rose-du-Nord. We disembarked and enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the town.

We encountered a most unusual “Nature Museum”, founded and operated by a most unusual woman.

Approximately 50 years ago she began assembling an array of stuffed animals, samples of plants, molds, insects, and just about anything else that drew her fancy. The collection, which includes 2 stuffed Greenland Sharks, is contained in 6 rooms of her home. Ten dollars allowed us a tour and me permission to take 3 pictures. The experience was… odd.

Continuing our wandering we came upon a quaint little restaurant located in the lower portion of an equally quaint home. Maison-Mina is staffed by the incredibly charming Mina and her gregarious husband who does double duty as the town’s mayor. $16.50 each provided us with a fantastic 4 course lunch. Christine enjoyed a roast pork while I had a local favorite which is a version of “shepherds pie” made with salmon. Mina spoke no English so Christine reveled in the opportunity to recall her French. I got by with sign language and smiles. The entire experience was priceless.

We returned to camp later in the afternoon, in time to weather a brief evening rain shower, eat a light dinner, enjoy a campfire, and marvel at the clearing night sky. See if you can see the meteor that I captured with my camera!

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Tomorrow I hike to the Via Ferrate des Geants. It is a 300 foot long open cable footbridge that hangs hundreds of feet above the valley below. The bridge is accessed during a 4 hour hike that includes portions where one must proceed by clinging to a series of cliff faces. The bridge is crossed one person at a time. Christine has decided that she will pass on this activity. Below is a telephoto image of the bridge I took from upon the waters of the fjord and some additional pictures taken during the cruise of the fjord.

In the course of our travels we have often witnessed various forms of risk taking behaviors. Stunts on motorcycles rocketing down the road, aggressive driving in other forms, and folks dangling their feet over the edges of cliffs are just a few examples. Most of these risk takers are under 40 years old. Folks in my age group (post-60) tend to be a bit more cautious and circumspect of their mortality.

In the last 3 months 7 of my friends and professional colleagues have died. 5 from illness, one the victim of a tragic accident, and this last week one the victim of suicide.

It was not so many years ago that encountering death among friends and acquaintances was rare. These days I am becoming increasingly aware that the odds in the lottery of life are slowly shifting against me and in favor of “the house”. My Mother recently remarked that Christine and I are blessed to have so many friends both near and far (we agree!). In the same breath she sadly noted that all of her long time friends are “gone”. Two weeks ago we celebrated both my father-in-law’s 100th birthday and our newest grandchild’s first birthday. One of the few things that those bookends of life share in common is that while they are both loved, they have few friendships. Little Lennon is too young to have yet made friends in this life, while Bill has outlived most of his. Lennon and Bill are at opposite ends of the Bell Cure of Life and Death. In our 60’s, Christine and I are approaching the peak of the curve. At age 84 statistics say that a flip of the coin has the same odds as whether we will be alive or not.

None of this is morbid or depressing to me. It is reality and much of the reason that I so passionately pursue travel. A judge once remarked to me that “Lawyers don’t retire… they just die at their desks.” There is some truth to that, although I know a few who are the exceptions and I long ago determined to be among those who would retire.

To you who are closer to my age I offer, don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may find you are then unable to do. To you who are much younger I pray you will see your careers as a means to an end and not an end in itself. Have Fun, Do Good (as in both your best, and what is right), and Be Safe for the sake of those who love you. And finally to the few of you who silently despair of life each day, please share your secret with someone and be open to help.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a suicide magnet. In 2013 there were 46 who jumped to their death… in the preceding years it is estimated that over 1,600 have jumped with a 98% certainty that they would not survive. I read of a study where the author interviewed a number of those few who did survive. The thought that they uniformly held in common is that at the moment they let go of the bridge they regretted the decision.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. My friend Mark ended his life this last week. He was a brilliant scientist, a gifted athlete, and an incredibly caring and generous man. I count myself among the many who wonder why and wish that I could have intervened.

The Quebec City KOA provided us with a morning opportunity to do laundry before driving the 175 miles to Parc National Fjord-du-Saguenay. I shared the laundry facilities with Bob and Joyce, retirees from Valparaiso Indiana. They may be the last Americans that we see for a while as we proceed northeast into the more remote regions of Quebec.

“Urban camping” is decidedly behind us now. The drive ascended from near sea level into the wilderness hills of Parc National de la Jacques Cartier. The highway was sparsely traveled, wonderfully scenic, and abounded with warning signs cautioning of moose and other large mammals crossing the road.

3/4 of the way to our destination was the town of Chicoutimi and a Walmart. Entering the town we provisioned fresh vegetables at an upscale farm stand that displayed some of the most beautiful veggies we have ever seen. The fields that sourced the produce surrounded the stand. Prices were “special”, but then we are in an area where the weather can conspire against the farmer. $29 bought us 5 large tomatoes (this was $9 of the total), some potatoes, carrots, onions, and mini-cucumbers. Worth every penny, and as a bonus Christine managed her transaction in French. Walmart provided the rest of our shopping list. We found at the farm stand and at Walmart that English is less common in this region. When it is spoken it is decidedly a second language.

Leaving Chicoutimi we encountered our first sightings of the Saguenay River which will become the fjord as it approaches the St. Lawrence.

The Fjord-du-Saguenay is the largest fjord in the world to be found this far south. The cliffs in the park extend over 60 miles and are renowned as a nesting place for the endangered Peregrine Falcon. The waters are a habitat for Beluga Whales, and at the confluence of the St. Lawrence larger whale species may be encountered, including the endangered Blue Whale, known as the largest animal to have ever existed. Individuals have been recorded up to 100 feet in length and weighing 380,000 pounds!! We are virtually assured of seeing the smaller Beluga, and I am crossing my fingers to sight a Blue as we continue northeast along the St. Lawrence. We understand that we will also be approaching an area where night views of the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) are common.

We will be camping in the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay for at least 3 nights. The small but excellent campground provides electric and water hookups, a clean shower house, and most unexpected a washer and dryer. Our first night saw temps drop into the upper 40’s so a campfire was most welcome. The night sky was visible through gaps in the forest canopy and virtually exploded with stars. Tomorrow we have booked a day trip on a boat to explore the Fjord.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Quebec City was first settled by Jacques Cartier in 1535, but was abandoned the following year. It was again founded, this time by Samuel de Champlain, and became a permanent settlement in 1608. It is one of the oldest cities in North America. With it’s intact fortress and classic old European roots, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. A walk down any of the narrow winding streets will transport one back to France of an earlier time.

We made camp about 15 minutes from the ferry docks on the south side of the St. Lawrence. We left the car behind at the dock and $6.00 purchased both of us foot passenger round trip tickets to the old city.

This was our second visit to Quebec City. For us the charm has not worn off. By day it is a bustling tourist Mecca with shops ranging from inexpensive tourist kitch to high end (and high cost) haute couture. If one remains within the old city it is easy to forget that Quebec City is home to over 500,000 residents and it is the center of government for the Province of Quebec.

The side streets abound with small boutique hotels and restaurants. “5 star” accommodations and dining are center stage. Indeed, the skyline of Quebec City is dominated by the phenomenal edifice of the Hotel Chateau Frontenac. It resembles a fortress Castle by day, but at night it is nothing short of magical. It is considered the most photographed hotel in the world. Built in 1893, it has 600 guest rooms arrayed on 18 floors. The base rate for a room is $600 per night with the “Gold Experience” floors upping the ante to $950 per night.

We concluded our visit with dinner at Restaurant Saint Amour. A true gourmet experience. Christine enjoyed a combination Beef Wellington and Filet Mignon. I savored the house specialty of Fois Gras with accompaniments and a second plate consisting of smoked octopus served upon Risotto infused with its ink. Remarkable!!

The return trip across the St. Lawrence provided a mystical panorama of the stunning skyline.

Tomorrow we head to the fjords of Parc National du Saguenay. The promise is for incredible scenery, grand hiking, and whale watching.

Peace Everyone. Pete

We are heading northeast along the north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Montréal is about 2.5 hours from Ottawa, and Quebec City is about 2.5 hours beyond Montréal. Yesterday Ottawa, today Montréal… tomorrow Quebec City.

Founded in 1642 as a missionary colony, modern Montréal is a huge city situated upon an island. Nearly 2 million people live on the island with another 2 million residing in the immediate surrounding area. It is Canada’s second largest city after Toronto and the 8th largest city in North America. Montréal is supremely international with 80% of the population fluent in two languages and 20% fluent in three. It is connected to the world over, and as an example at least 18 flights each week depart Montréal for China.

It is one of the top university cities in the world with a university and college student population of over 200,000. Chief among the institutions of higher education is McGill University. McGill is ranked 1st among universities in Canada, and is perennially ranked in the top 30 in the world. Admission is competitive, but for those fortunate enough to make the cut the costs are remarkably reasonable. A student attending from the United States faces an annual cost for room, board, and tuition of less than $20,000 US, which is about 2/3 the cost of most US state universities.

Montréal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, known for the accomplishments of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and Decathlon champion Bruce Jenner. The stadium that was erected remains the most expensive ever built at 1.6 billion dollars. The 1976 Olympics are also noteworthy as the only Olympic Games where the host country did not win a gold medal.

Clearly this city deserves more than a single day, yet that is what we allocated to it. In order to take in the essence of the city we booked a “hop-on-hop-off” Grey Line Double Decker bus tour. The cost was about $50 US for each of us. A bus picked us up at camp and returned us there at the end of the day. Thus we avoided the rush hour stresses, parking stresses, and we were able to relax and take in a well executed tour of Montréal’s highlights. Nevertheless, the tour was much like viewing all of the offerings at a banquet, but being limited to a taste of just a few items. In our case those samples were the St. Joseph Oratoire Basilica and McGill University.

St. Joseph’s is the largest church in Canada, and boasts one of the largest domes in the world. It began as a small chapel where the saintly Brother André lived and worshiped.

He developed a reputation as a miraculous healer. Indeed, there are thousands of crutches hanging floor to ceiling near his crypt.

The thousands of pilgrims who sought him justified the construction of a larger and again still larger edifice. Brother André did not live to see the completion of “his” Basilica, but it has become a monument to his life and legacy.

At his request, after death his heart was removed and placed in a reliquary to protect the church.

Everything about the church is larger than life, including the remarkable carved Stations of the Cross, and towering wood carved images of Christ’s Disciples.

Today was the first day of the new school year at McGill. We visited the bookstore for a couple of wearable souvenirs and then wandered around campus.

It is amazing that such a bucolic setting exists within the heart of downtown Montréal and it is even more amazing how college students appear to be so young these day! We hold some hope that one or more of our grandchildren will consider McGill in their future.

Tomorrow Quebec City.

Peace Everyone. Pete

The hallmark of a good visit is that both host and guest have regret rather than relief that the visit has come to an end. We regret that we will be departing tomorrow, but we are confident that this will not be our last visit to this wonderful city nor the last time that we will share a piece of life with Tom and Nanci. There is more for us to see in Ottawa and someday we hope to share a piece of Kansas City with them.

Today opened without expectations and closed with sighs of contentment. Nanci and I took our bikes out and enjoyed 2 hours on Ottawa’s bicycle friendly streets and byways.

Upon our return the 4 of us decided to take in an afternoon soccer match, Canada’s world ranked women’s team vs. Brazils equally regarded women’s team.

It was an excellent match that opened with the playing of Brazil’s National Anthem followed by “Oh Canada”, the host country’s National Anthem. Spectators and players stood respectfully for both renditions.

The teams engaged in spirited play before over 16,000 fans. The match concluded with team Canada the victor in a 1-0 match.

We departed the stadium for a local bar/restaurant where there was live jazz, libations, and lively conversation that looked to future reunions for the four of us. Tom and Nanci plan to join us for a part of our England Narrowboat “adventure” planned or next April.

We leave tomorrow for Montreal, and as much as that historic city beckons to us, Ottawa will remain a highlight of this trip.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Tonight my post will be short on narrative and long on images.

We toured Ottawa’s “Mosaiculture Gatineau 2018” an outdoor garden spectacle that presents 45 larger than life sculptures formed from wire and metal underframes that support plants that are arranged to complete each art piece. The exhibit covers acres of ground and is accessed by walking a 1km long path. Over 5.5 Million plants from over 200 separate species are involved in the endeavor. Last year over a million visitors toured the exhibit, a number certain to be eclipsed this year.

Among the works was a 100 ton “tree” that presents 56 endangered species of birds in flora art.

A huge head of a woman who’s extended arms present a waterfall on her right and a calf on the left was the show’s favorite.

Other images include a Voyager,

Eskimo,

An array of various animals of the North,

A First People trapper,

And a particularly charming man planting a tree as art imitates life.

Other images are presented at the end of this post.

Another feature of Mosaiculture today were First Nation dances, one of which included audience participation (me and Nanci included).

Finally, the glory of the day was celebrated at Oree du bois Chelsea, a world class dining experience in the forests overlooking Ottawa. The leisurely dinner extended to nearly 3 hours with each minute being a savored memory!

More tomorrow, and of course…

Peace Everyone. Pete

Have I said how much we like Canada? I have fond recollections of visiting as a child with my parents, our small camping trailer in tow behind a 1958 Buick. I have fond recollections of tent camping in Canada with our children in the early 1980’s. Before we entered at Thunder Bay I tuned the radio to a French Canadian radio station and told the children that upon entering Canada we must drink Canadian water in order to “understand Canadian”. At the tourist information office we entered and I immediately shuffled them off to a drinking fountain. After they had each had some “Canadian water” we approached the information counter and I asked the young attendant if she would say something to our children. She asked, “What do you want me to say?!?” The children exclaimed in a virtual chorus, “Dad, WE UNDERSTAND CANADIANS!!!” (I only wish our President did)

In those days all that was necessary to cross between the United States and Canada was a driver’s license and a smile. Unfortunately, the current political climate has made it a bit more stressful for Americans to both leave and return to the United States from Canada. It should come as no surprise that treating a best friend with mistrust will engender a reciprocal response. It is the same with nations.

Canada shares the longest international border in the world with the US. We share language and culture… We share the same aspirations for democracy, freedom, and the preservation of human rights. We have fought side by side in two World Wars, Korea, and Iraq. Canada is our number one trading partner. Christine and I support our friendship with this good nation and its people.

On July 1, 2017 we were in Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory, for the National Canada Day Celebration. It was also the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. It was a memorable day for us as we witnessed ceremonies that celebrated not only Canada’s founding, but the heritage of the First Nation Peoples, the admission to citizenship of 55 people from over 15 different countries, and the expressions of inclusion for all Canadians regardless of prior national origin, religion, gender, race or sexual orientation.

We arrived today in Ottawa, this nation’s capital, where our friends Tom and Nanci are treating us to the hospitality of their home. We joined with them this evening for a spectacular multi-media presentation on Parliament Hill. In words (English and French) and laser images projected upon the Parliament building. A “Cliff Notes” recitation of Canada’s history played out to the delight of hundreds of spectators. As citizens of the United States Christine and I were proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Canadian friends as the strains of “Oh Canada” concluded the festivities.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Canada’s Eternal Flame.

The buildings that comprise Parliament Hill, the first being Parliament.

The offices of the Prime Minister.

Selected images from the multi-media presentation.