Bienvenue au Canada! Nous sommes heureux de vous acceuillir . . .
Wait! Weren’t you just in Canada, like two weeks ago?
“Yes I was, sir. In fact, a little less than two weeks ago,” is what I told the immigration officer in Montreal. He was cool with that—he just wanted to know if I had any relatives up here.
I don’t—not any blood relatives, at least. Relative relatives though is another story, because America and Québec—we go way back. Back to a time when most of North America was simply “New France” and “Americans” spoke more French than English. These are the cousins I’ve come to visit and the history I aim to explore.
Those who have been traveling with me in the past already know that I am fascinated by the explorers of old. I read their journals, study their old maps, and feel inspired by their journeys. I also love the way that the early explorers traveled—with passion, curiosity, and total uncertainty about what each new day would bring them. They knew how to travel back then, and despite the ease and comforts of travel in this digital age, I still like to model my travels after mankind’s earlier adventures.
Last year, as you may recall, I chased the path of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica. Then in Australia, I followed Stuart’s trail across the red center, paid homage to Burke & Wills and saw the same ports as Captain James Cook. This spring I landed on some of the world’s remotest islands, first discovered by 16th-century Portuguese explorers, and this summer, I canoed the same routes as the early voyageurs of Ontario.
Today I landed in Québec, ready to explore “la belle province” and to follow the journeys of two great French explorers—namely, Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain. Perhaps you’ll remember them from that one pop quiz you had—malheureusement, those two don’t get much love and attention from high school history teachers. (At least not in my country.)
Please allow me to refresh your memory:
Way back in 1535, Frenchman Jacques Cartier explored these very shores and called it “The Country of Two Canadas”. The Renaissance cartographer was in fact, referring to a pair of Iroquois settlements on the St. Lawrence—villages that would later grow into the cities of Québec and Montreal. Nearly 500 years later, I find Cartier’s first definition of this country quite à propos, for this is still a country of two Canadas—I have spent half my summer exploring the one and I shall now spend the other half exploring the other.
Québec is that other Canada and it is wonderfully different. As a traveler, I revel in those differences: different language, different food, different history and different people. All of these differences go back to that curious French sailor Jacques Cartier and I look forward to exploring the 500-year-old culture he established along the shores of the St. Lawrence.
Have I been to Quebec before? Yes, a few times—When I was 15 years old, I convinced my parents to drive up here for spring break because I really wanted to hear and speak French. Surprisingly, I grew up to be a total Francophile, as well as a Québecophile and Canadophile. So much that twenty years later, I found myself begging my editor to send me to Québec. Miraculously, it worked.
Jacques Cartier himself made three voyages Québec. I will only be here for three weeks—most of the month of August. I’ve always thought August the perfect month to be in Québec. It’s also the perfect month not be in Washington, DC because, as they say in Québec—il fait absolument trop chaud.
Not in Québec. It’s nice and cool today—78 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny with a breeze and a very good chance of adventure. I’ll take it.
By the way, all of you faithful, friendly readers out there might want to brush up on your French—because that’s how we’ll be rolling for the next little while. I may be back in Canada, but this time it’s le Canada and un petit peu different than before. D’accord?
Alright then. Allons-y!