LIVING THE CANADIAN LIFE – IN A DAY
By CHANTAL COOKE
Quebec Province has thousands of lakes dotted across its vast landscape. And these provide the opportunity for the locals (and some from neighbouring Ontario) to have summer cabins scattered along their shores.
One such lake is Lac Castor Blanc, around two hours drive from Canada’s capital, Ottawa. It is a large irregular shaped lake surrounded by coniferous trees with the odd oak and maple thrown in. Here the cottages (as they are known in Canada) are large and well-spaced creating a sense of solitude and privacy. Each cottage has lake front access and a beautiful view.
It’s 6am on a cool September morning and the sun is slowly making her way up from behind the trees. Long fingers of wraith-like mist are creeping across the surface of the water, creating swirling patterns that hint at some hidden intent. A large, dark bass swims close to the surface hunting breakfast. Tiny passerines welcome the morning with their chirping, and a chipmunk cackles at me as he plucks pine cones from the tree and hurls them to the ground below ready to store for the harsh winter ahead.
There are no man-made sounds – no cars, no stereos blaring, none of that general
background hum of humans. It’s just the breeze and the wildlife. It’s one of the things that makes Canada special – the ability to truly ’get away from it all’.
But there’s lots more to Canada’s vast countryside than sitting quietly by the lake; there’s hiking, cycling, off-roading and boating – to name just a few. So I thought I’d see if I could try all of them in one day! And Lac Castor Blanc provided the perfect setting for my quintessentially Canadian experience.
After watching the sunrise I donned my hiking boots and grabbed a long stick for a hike through the forests and along the lakes. Tony (my partner in this mini adventure) set a fast pace as we struck out along the path which used to be the old railway line. The advantage of walking a railway line is that the gradient will never be greater than 2% (trains can’t go up steep hills). Then we veered off into the trees, picking our way over fallen trunks, and trying to avoid damaging the numerous mushrooms poking through the fallen leaves. Above me the sun filters through the leaves and creates a green glow within the forest. A scuffling to my right awards me my very first sighting of a porcupine… large, dark and moving quite fast! Apparently they are very good at climbing pine trees – all the way to the top, in order to eat the uppermost juicy shoots.
During the entire two hours we do not see another person – the closest we get is standing on the lake shore and admiring some of the other cottages, partially hidden by cedars, on the far bank.
Next it’s mountain biking… once again the old railway line provides a great track with easy cycling. The route takes us towards Lac Blue Sea and offers great views of the water, the hillside, and the gorgeous houses dotted along the route. We cycle to Messines (about 20km away) and stop there to drink water from a natural spring, before turning round and heading back. We pass a few other cyclists who wave hello as we pass. Cycling is a great way to cover a bigger distance and yet still feel connected to the nature around you.
By now it’s time for a late lunch – and no lunch would be complete without a slice of pie. Fruit pie is more North American than even the hamburger. But not all pies are equal. I was fortunate enough to be eating one of Mona’s (Tony’s wife) delicious home-made wild blueberry pies. It’s the sort of pie that forces you to have a second slice – it’s just so good. And it’s much more fruit that pie – so it must be good for you!
Now it’s time to go out in the RZRs – a sort of two-seater ATV. There are lots of trails that are suitable for off-roading in the summer, and the RZRs allow you to reach the top of the hills and drink in the views across the lakes. From the high vantage point it’s easier to get to grips with the vastness of the land, the size of the lakes and the thousands of trees that march, seemingly forever, in to the distance.
So far we have enjoyed the land – but not the water. So it’s time to take a boat trip on the lake. Every cottage has its own mooring – most are just small motor boats that allow you to zip around, perhaps to fish, or maybe to visit your neighbours. This evening we are the only people on the water. We cruise past the bigger cottages and head to an area of the lake where the first cottages were built many decades ago. Here the buildings are smaller, much closer together and right on the water’s edge. This density is no longer allowed – all the new cottages have much bigger plots, there are regulations that dictate how close together the cottages can be and they must all be at least 50 feet back from the water. These rules have ensured that the lake and its surrounds are preserved. On this side of the lake it’s clear to any onlooker how much damage would have been done if building had been allowed to continue un-checked.
Back at the cottage it’s time for a sauna and a dip in the cool lake water. It’s the perfect way to end a day of Canadian mini-adventures. Most Canadians are out-doorsy people – and it’s easy to see why. With beautiful landscapes and so many activities to indulge in – there is little reason to stay inside.
I crammed a week of activities into a day – but if you get the chance to visit Quebec I’d suggest taking at least a week to ‘live the Canadian life’.
Air Canada flies direct from London to both Ottawa and Quebec City.
QuebecOriginal.com for useful Quebec tourist information.