Feature image: Québec City Skyline
Copyright and credits: Ville de Québec
We set sail on board the Seabourn Quest from the port of Montreal on the St Lawrence River, Canada’s most important commercial waterway. This massive river was the route of earlier French and British explorers and the gateway to North America at the beginning of the 16th century. Seeing Montreal from the deck as we slowly sailed at dusk was a dreamlike experience. Montreal looked so pretty with twinkling lights from its historic and modern buildings and the autumn foliage dotting the landscape still visible in the soft glow of the setting sun.
Set in one of the most stunning locations in North America , high up on Cap Diamant cliffs (Cape Diamond) and overlooking the St Lawrence River, Québec is Canada’s oldest and safest major city. We had a full day to discover this pretty and historic town, so quintessentially French. Its 400-year history is rich and exciting, palpable in its language, culture and old buildings.
The Seabourn Quest docked in the Vieux-Port de Québec (Old Port) right next to the historic city. Québec city is small and compact, about 7 square kilometres and therefore easy to explore on foot. It is divided into two parts; the Upper town (Haute Ville) and Lower town (Basse Ville).
As soon as we were allowed to disembark we promptly set off to discover this ‘European like’ city on foot with no itinerary in mind. We commenced our stroll from the pier and headed straight for the Upper Town, climbing the steep stairs that led to the top of the hill. It was a glorious autumn morning and the walk was invigorating. Admiring the view atop the hill overlooking the St Lawrence River below us and the Appalachians and Laurentian mountains to the south and north respectively, we reached Québec’s Fortifications, a defence system that surrounded Old Québec. It was built by the British two centuries ago and has earned Québec the distinction as North America’s only walled city north of Mexico. The fortifications surrounding Old Québec are close to 4.6 km in length enclosing three centuries of the city’s history, architecture and culture. This is one of the main reasons why UNESCO designated this area a world heritage site in 1985. Within the remains of the walls is a charming town with cobblestoned narrow streets littered with bistros, cafés and boutiques. The granite copper roofed houses, churches, parks and several museums and monuments speak volumes of the city’s interesting colonial past.
Dominating the quarter perched on top of Cape Diamond overlooking Dufferin Terrace and the St. Lawrence River is the iconic Chateau Frontenac (Le Château Frontenac). The Canadian and Pacific Railway built this grand and imposing building with its towers and spires reminiscent of France. It was actually conceived of in the 1800’s by William Van Horne, who was then the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He wanted to build castle like luxury hotels along the railway to entice discerning and well-heeled railway travellers to make these hotels their luxurious pied–à–terre. Le Château Frontenac was completed in 1892 and has hosted countless celebrities and royalty since then. A Fairmont hotel, the castle was named in honour of Louis de Buade, Compte de Frontenac who was governor of New France from 1672 to 1682 and 1689 to 1698.
There are tours that begin at the Frontenac kiosk on Dufferin Terrace but we opted to do our own from the Dufferin Terrace to visit Artillery Park. We thought it interesting inasmuch as our walking exploration was a brief history lesson on the fight for supremacy between the British and the French. Of course we all know that the British ultimately gained control of this French colony but Québec city is unmistakably a reminder that the French were indeed its early occupants.
Note: There is a tourism office Frontenac Kiosk, Dufferin Terrace that organises tours and sells guidebooks.
We continued our walk and headed down towards Quartier Petit-Champlain on the south edge of Old Québec. Known to be the oldest shopping district in North America, it was packed with little shops selling souvenirs, art galleries, antique shops and specialty boutiques.
The narrow streets and sidewalk cafés crowded with tourists gave the neighbourhood a festive atmosphere. We ended our visit at the Place-Royale and at the square outside the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church, the oldest stone church in North America (1688) where our attention was captured by the display of Halloween decorations, pumpkins of all sizes and the like. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to venture to the Musée de la Civilisation and only caught a glimpse of the Old Port public market. It was time to head back to our ship where we bid goodbye to this historic, quaint and charming Canadian city with a French twist.
After a day at sea indulging on the Seabourn’s luxuriously appointed facilities, we were looking forward to visiting the Eastern Canadian harbour towns and Maritime provinces. The first stop was Cap-Aux-Meules (Grindstone), one of the dozen or so islands that comprise the archipelago of La Madeleine. Despite the cold, gusty wind, we traipsed along the small fishing village admiring the beautiful desolated coastline and visited the church of St. Pierre at Laverniere. This wooden church was constructed from the wreckage of ships that ran aground or from some that were found submerged on the offshore ridges. One can imagine how frightening it must have been to get blown off course and sunk or lost at sea. The wrecks found in the deep around these islands tell a lot of stories that keep maritime archaeologists occupied. Now of course, a lighthouse stands at Cap-Aux-Meules to guide all types of ships (regardless of their sophisticated radars and GPS).
The cruise aimed to show us the breathtaking beauty of these parts of Canada. It also provided the travellers brief lessons in Canada’s maritime history. What was advantageous for us was the fact that it was an easy way to catch glimpses of the cluster of peninsulas and islands that form what is collectively known as the Canadian Maritime provinces, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The Seaborn Quest took us to the town of Sydney in Nova Scotia affording us amazing views of the rugged coastline, hills and the picture perfect valleys of Nova Scotia and a day later to the busy port of St John, New Brunswick for a day of excursion.
At St John’s we acquainted ourselves with the many delights of this harbour town, notably the Market Square and the New Brunswick museum. The city is distinctly more British than French although about 30% of the population still speak Quebec French or français québécois. The highlight of our short excursion was witnessing a unique phenomenon known as the Reversing Rapids of New Brunswick, best seen from Reversing Falls Bridge. The reversing rapids are a result of the great rise and fall of the tides of the Bay of Fundy. The 28-foot tide change in the Bay of Fundy to the St. John’s River which flows right through town actually reverses direction for a few hours at high tide.
The Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island was the second region in Canada to be occupied by the Europeans after Newfoundland. Vikings were thought to have also settled there but the French still has the distinction of being ‘the colonisers’ of these parts of Canada. In fact it was known then as Acadie or Acadia. The British of course forcibly removed the Acadians during the French and Indian War in 1755–1764. Many fled to Louisiana USA while others were deported back to France.
We made our way towards the US eastern ports, sailing across the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and southeast of Newfoundland on the North American continental shelf. Found in this area is a group of underwater plateaus known as Grand Banks. Discovered by the English explorer John Cabot during his transatlantic voyage in 1497, the Grand Banks turned out to be one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Home to dolphins, whales, Atlantic cod, swordfish, haddock, capelin, scallops and lobsters, the waters were plundered and exploited by fishing vessels from Europe, Russia and South America. The consequence of 500 years of overfishing was devastating to the marine life. Due to this, the Canadian government declared a ‘moratorium ‘ on fishing in 1992. Unfortunately, this move resulted to an economic catastrophe for the Newfoundland northeastern Canadian fishing industry.
Food glorious food…Food on board the Seabourn never disappoints. Spoilt for choice, the traveller can choose to dine in any of the Seabourn’s several restaurants. Award-winning cuisines guaranteed to be made from fresh ingredients purchased in every port stop is a delight and a boon for passengers. Whether one has a hankering for fine dining or conversely, a laid back casual meal, the meticulously thought of menus designed by Seabourn chefs are regionally themed in all of it’s restaurants. The open bars serve a huge variety of very good wine and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This particular cruise indulged the ‘inner foodie’ in us on the array of seafood from the waters of Newfoundland but my carnivore husband was not neglected, as the best quality meats were always sure to be tender, juicy and tasty.
Note: Saveur magazine (gourmet, food, wine, and travel magazine) recognised the Seabourn as the Best Culinary Cruise Line in 2013 and 2014 for their premier Culinary Travel Awards
One of the many appeals of experiencing the Seabourn Atlantic Coast Harbour Cruise was the ease of being transported from port to port in luxurious comfort and relative tranquility. No connecting ferries, trains or airplanes to worry about and most of all, the traveller gets to unpack and pack only once. In isolated locations that are otherwise difficult to reach like Eastern Canada, for us, the Seabourn Atlantic Coast Harbours was the way to go.
Many thanks to Québec City Tourism for allowing us to use professional images featured above.