In New France.

Last week I went to Québec for a brief holiday; to be more precise, Montréal and la Ville de Québec. Other than a few difficulties in Minneapolis and at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport the flight to Canada went well. Not wishing to fly with a domestic carrier, US carriers make flying British Airways seem like a journey on a luxury spa, I spent a few extra quid to fly Air Canada. It was not an unpleasant experience. The first flight, from Minneapolis to Toronto, was 2/3 full. The air hostess was a comely young Québécoise with an odd accent. A native speaker of French to be sure, but her trilling of “r” was a bit unusual. Service was polite and efficient. Nothing spectacular, but drinks were provided.

While one would be forgiven for not thinking me overly fond of the United States there experience at passport control in Canada was remarkably different from that south of the Canadian border. The queue moved quickly. Within 5 minutes I was called for passport check. The questions were very reasonably – for how long would my stay in Canada be, where would I go, and what the purpose of my visit was. Five days, Québec, and to go sight-seeing and perhaps visit an old colleague if it could be arranged were my answers. Looking at my passport he asked what my legal status in the US was. After clarifying my dual nationality he shrugged, stamped my passport, and welcomed me to the country. Compared to the invasive questions and abuse hurled at visitors in the US it was almost shockingly pleasant. Security screening, the change in terminals from US arrivals to connecting flights within Canada taking me outside a secured zone, was also quick, pleasant, and uneventful. No shoes had to be taken off, no unnecessary aggression on the part of staff.

Arriving in Montréal was similarly uneventful. A bus to the city centre left every 5 minutes and cost C$9.00 which included unlimited transfers for the rest of the day. Not unreasonable, really. The hotel was easily found – two blocks north of the bus station. The hotel itself was clean and recently renovated, but in an unfortunate neighbourhood. And above a sex shop. Not having looked much past ease of access to/from the airport and general customer satisfaction (as well as the assurance that I would not have to be subjected to any barbarous deeds including sharing relief and bathing facilities with any other person who happened to have the fortune to be in my vicinity that day) it came as a bit of a surprise to find myself in the red light district with vagrants and petty drug dealers roaming about. It all left me somewhat unwilling to explore the immediate area around the hotel, although Vieux Montréal was under 2 kilometres away and after two blocks the neighbourhood improved remarkably.

The old town of Montréal is beautiful. Much of it reconstructed in the late 18th, early 19th centuries the buildings were quite beautiful in an understated way and the cobble-stone streets reminded me a bit of Trier. After a bit of walking and finding a bank where I could withdraw cash I explored one of the nicer streets in the district, Rue Saint-Paul. After 15 minutes I found an Alsatian restaurant that was still open and not too busy. The food was for Canada moderately priced as well. The service and food were excellent.  For dinner I had a well-prepared plate of schnitzel with a caramelised onion and apple sauce, fried young potatoes, and a croquette of zucchini over a bed of savoury red cabbage. The portion wasn’t large but it was adequate. The bread was decent and the Riesling passable. The dessert, a spiced apple baked in orange juice, was also delicious.

The next morning I set out again to see some of the sites that had already closed the evening before. After a breakfast of yoghurt and granola with a large cappuccino at a pleasant café on Boulevard Saint-Laurent owned by a Greek immigrant and his wife who both had sharp senses of humour. It was refreshing and willing without being too heavy. The cappuccino was also properly prepared – something one rarely finds in North America. After looking through a few stores and walking around Place Jacques-Cartier I visited the Château Ramezay, the former house of the French colonial governor of Montréal. After having been abandoned for a century the historical value of the building was finally fully realised it was fairly recently renovated and re-opened to the public. Some of the exhibits, including the fully rebuilt original early 18th century salon which had been imported from Nantes by the governor, were incredibly interesting.

After rushing back to the hotel, I returned my key and took a taxi to la Gare Centrale for a train to la Ville de Québec – a trip of just over three hours. Train travel by Canada is remarkably pleasant. The trains are older, but they’re well-maintained and reasonably clean. Every 90 minutes or so there was a coffee service. The views of rural Québec were also beautiful in a bleak, late winter/early spring sort of way. There were few leaves and a lot of snow.

La Ville de Québec is in many ways a more interesting than Montréal. That’s not to slight Montréal, but major cities have in many ways grown more homogenised and frankly less interesting because of it. My hotel in Québec-ville was surprisingly good for the price. Two blocks in front of the hotel was the Saint-Laurent River, one block in front and one block to the side was the Château de Frontenac. Four blocks to the other side was the beginning of the Plains of Abraham, the site of the battle that marked one of France’s most glorious military achievements. The district was in the old quarter with its architecture dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, most of it from the 18th century. It was a bit touristy in some respects but not too horrid. A lot of hotels, shops, and restaurants but done in a way that was not too tacky. Further to the north, away from the old quarter, things became more interesting in their own way. For as much as I appreciate the old district and its architectural gems the newer parts of the city were in some ways livelier. The restaurants were cheaper and better (my first dinner in Québec-ville was an uninspiring pseudo-Norman veal dish that was priced far above its merit). I found a pleasant Breton restaurant in a late 18th-early 19th century building that had most of its original decoration. The service was good; the food was good, and the price moderate. La Musée de l’Amerique Française was in its own way inspirational. The French chapel attached to the 17th century French colonial structure next to it was remarkably beautiful. The chapel itself was a 19th century romanticised version of French Gothic.

On my last night in Québec-ville I went to a Québécois restaurant that has been open since 1675 and has been in the same building since 1677. The food was simple but honest and the servers were pleasant. It was busy, but they found seating for me at the bar. A Québécois bison pie with blueberry wine cream sauce, escargot, a glass of local red wine, fresh vegetables, and a cranberry vodka aperitif. Dessert was a maple syrup pie.

My last day in Québec was spent in Montréal again. My last dinner was at the same Alsatian restaurant, save that I had the duck compote. Perhaps the greatest difference was that no one asked me if I wanted to buy drugs. (The answer was no, I don’t want to buy drugs)

It was all surprisingly pleasant there. Despite the many horror stories I found the Québécois to actually be very pleasant and helpful. They were reserved but not unfriendly. Other than the inevitable ruffians the most unpleasant people there were Anglophone Canadian tourists who seemed to almost bark orders at their Francophone counterparts, often with an undisguised contempt. There were very few who even attempted to speak French, the most notable exception being a very pleasant man of a certain age with his wife who spoke with a strong accent but were still understandable. I cannot say that Canada was my favourite country. It’s a nice country, much nicer – albeit somewhat less interesting – than the United States, but it’s missing something that Europe has.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

27 thoughts on “In New France.”

  1. I hate to point out that the frogs lost the battle of the Plains of Abraham. It was a decisive victory for the British. Regrettably both generals died. James Wolfe on the battlefield and Montcalm of his wounds the next day. It was the turning point of the Indian War.
    Surely the Quebecois do not tout it as anything else?
    Listening to Canadian radio every night, one gets the distinct impression they speak with forked tongues which may well be the source of contempt of the Anglo Canadians!

    Glad you had a nice break.

  2. The French can’t get over their inferiority in so many areas, both social and geographical, so when they get the chance they stick together and pretend they are winners. Why should Canadians have to accept French anything? 🙂

  3. Janus: I made a point of speaking French the entire time in Canada, even when not in Québec. This includes dealing with ‘Merican customs in Toronto who did not approve of my speaking anything but ‘Merican to them.

  4. Thank you this, Christopher, very interesting.

    I have always imagined that I would prefer Canada to the United States, although I have only briefly landed in Canada and have spent much more time in America.

    Would you rather live in Canada than America? I know I would.

  5. Minty: Canada has all the good aspects of North America. The stunning natural scenery, a lower population density, a diverse population, and in some respects a more dynamic, youthful culture than found in the more settled societies of Europe. It also lacks many of the problems of the USA. The real crime rate is much lower, real unemployment is much lower, the country is much cleaner, the people are not as paranoid, and they tend to be more reserved and calm. They are also modester. It is a bit provincial in some respects but it’s a very nice country. I would without hesitation trade countries.

  6. Thanks Christopher.

    It not entirely unsurprising that you should think so. Generally speaking, Canada is one of the preferred places for immigration from the British Isles. Climatically, Australia and New Zealand probably rate higher, but Canada is popular.

  7. Minty: many Germans also emigrate to Canada. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand rank as some of the top destinations for educated/skilled immigrants from Europe and Asia, especially Canada and Australia.
    It seems as if fewer and fewer qualified people seeking to relocate seriously consider the US which is a telling sign.

    British Columbia’s climate, by the way, is very similar to that of the British Isles.

  8. Janus: you might also find it amusing that the French Consulate General in Québec-ville is in the same building where the capitulation ceding New France to Great Britain was signed.

  9. The down side of Canada-

    Much higher taxes than the US.
    Much more expensive properties.
    Waiting lists for medicine, usual drugs rationing. V anti private medicine, most rich slip south of the border to have things done in a timely manner
    Some rather nasty punitive/exploitative relationships with the Indian tribes Bit too much don’t do as I do do as I tell you!. They wouldn’t dare try such crap on the Indians south of the border these days. The Canadians will not give the title of the lands back to the tribes up there, keep them as owned by the government. In the USA these lands are now sovereign territories controlled by the Indians themselves , they have a vested interest in running things efficiently.
    Constant squabbling between the frog and anglo Canadians, becomes very trying!

    Down side of BC..

    Immigrants have a nasty shock on the expense of living in Canada. They take jobs at $100.000 a year in the lower mainland BC ie the greater Vancouver area, thinking they will be just fine and a lot better off than back in the UK. That doesn’t even give you enough to buy any home, just about afford to rent an apartment and not in a good area either and live modestly! Many up sticks again and move either South to the USA or New Zealand. A decent 3 bed home in a good area looks like nearly a million $ these days!!! North shore and a large house looks like $2 million! You would be surprised how many commute across the international boundary just to afford housing, I personally know several professionals who do it. Equally the whole of Bellingham complains about the amount of Canadians shopping here for food and household goods such as linens, clothes and shoes, literally half the price of up there. Money goes an awful lot further S of the border.
    Too many immigrants, some parts have got to the mosque on every corner, literally! (Surrey, S. Vancouver)
    Bit like Tower Hamlets, no whites left. A lot of the whites who can no longer afford Vancouver have gone inland to the Okanagan, roughly 100 miles to the right to get away from ethnic aggro.

    Good things about Canada are all the non essentials, outdoors sports etc boating, fishing hunting etc, fine if you can afford the basics otherwise forget it.

  10. Like Araminta, I’ve always thought Canada would be preferable to the US. I, just don’t think I could manage the cold!

  11. CO:
    1. Canada is in the midst of its own real estate bubble. Comparing Canadian prices
    to US prices today is to compare a country with a strong currency and a property boom
    to a country with a soft currency and a property collapse. Much like Australia, prices are
    relatively high vis-a-vis the USA because the US dollar is well on its way to turning into the
    northern Argentina peso.

    2. US health care is imploding as we speak. My mum works in healthcare and what
    new laws are doing will make Canada look quick and efficient.

    3. Who in their right mind moves to the USA? It’s a Mafia state without business sense or
    ability to turn a profit.

    4. Vancouver is a particularly expensive city to begin with. Compare it to San Francisco,
    Los Angeles, or San Diego — not Bellingham.

    5. Those living in the USA have no right to criticise anyone about race aggro. As for the
    Franco/Anglo nagging, well, that’s what happens when a country is formed from two distinct
    communities. It takes a lot of work make it work. Meanwhile those living in the USA have no
    incentive to learn English, or what passes as English.

    6. Do you really believe that indigenous groups are treated better in the USA? Bog paper
    is more durable and usable than any agreement with the US government. If indigenous groups
    have become better at waging legal battles it’s because the have had lots of practise.

  12. Boadicea :

    Like Araminta, I’ve always thought Canada would be preferable to the US. I, just don’t think I could manage the cold!

    It’s not equally cold everywhere in Canada, though it is hardly the warmest of countries. It’s actually not
    that much colder than much of the US, though. In fact, it’s often warmer than Minnesota.

  13. I first visited Canada in 1970, when as a callow young marketing assistant I popped over from Buffalo to see some colleagues in an sister company. It was early Spring; sunny and very attractive. My lasting impressions are of proud, welcoming, happy people; rather old-fashioned at times. I recall the pub hours were restricted and it was illegal to join somebody else at a table, unless invited.

  14. Can’t say I agree with most of you, but then I only live on the border!

    Can’t say a lot of Canadians agree with you either, a damned sight more Canadians live in the USA than Americans live in Canada.
    I wonder why?
    Half of the whites of Whatcom county come from Canada and seem in no hurry whatsoever to go back!
    Vancouver has always been far more expensive than south of the border, nothing to do with economics/currency whatsoever, just look at a map!
    There is very little flat land beset by sea and mountains, the lower Fraser valley is needed for agriculture so that land available for Vancouver and it’s environs is extremely limited. Hence astronomical prices.

    Fact- 90% of population of Canada lives within 200 miles of the USA border. Although they would deny it to the end they are inextricably mixed up, linked and share an extremely similar lifestyle and interdependency.
    You only have to see the border crossing to realise how many thousand go to and fro every day, they are not at leisure, they are working, shopping, just living.

    I think that most of the perceptions here are rather out of date. An older, gentler Canada before they decided to go multicultural in a big big way! It doesn’t exist anymore!
    Mexican drug cartels can operate more easily in Canada than in the USA and the RCMP, (mounties) are noticeably corrupt. You would be very surprised at the rate of drug fuelled fire fights on the streets of Vancouver and Toronto. Plus the Hell’s Angels of Eastern Canada that have regular fire fights with the police.

    Most British people think that Canada is a nice place, that it it has the best of British and enough Americanism to make life pretty satisfactory. This was true for a very long time. It is no longer how it is. Canada has a lot of problems that they rarely address and not in public. How many of you actually know what is happening in the Athabasca oil shales area?
    Thought not!

    Being neither Canadian or American I do not have a dog in this race. I can only report what I see and hear.
    Living near the border and surrounded by mountains I can only get Canadian radio at night, which is on 3 hours nightly, I go to sleep listening. So I know exactly what is happening here and their concerns on a minute basis.

    Chris does not have any great love for the USA, any place in the world is better than here! Perhaps it always will be for him, no obligation to love the place you partially come from. But it really does colour his judgement!
    I have lived here on and off since 1976, I do not think that I misrepresent what I see, some of my friends here are ex Canadians who do not see it far differently from I. Both sides of the border are a mixed bag, but it is a damned sight easier to make a good living south rather than north! None would go back.
    And that says it all!

    Whatever you think you know about Canada, your info is WAY out of date.

    Interesting detail, at the border, the Canadian lot demand in a peremptory manner to know what you have bought in USA, any tobacco, booze, shopping, right snottily! Go south and you do not even get asked the question by the Yanks. They know nobody EVER buys anything in Canada, too damned expensive!
    They just want to know who you are. We always declare a box of one dozen Tim Horton’s crullers and offer one to the guards, bloody funny! (Several of the border guards are neighbours and friends) Of course until the blood wogs played the 9/11 card you didn’t even need a passport, a driving license would do!

  15. I for one accept your views, Christina. I was merely reporting a slice of my history.

  16. CO: you are correct in saying that there are more Canadians in the US than Americans in Canada. That is in absolute numbers which, by virtue of Canada having 1/10th of the USA’s population, telling in many regards. Nor did I assert that Canada is a paradise.

    Do I have no love for the US? Of course not, I never found much to love. The grating paranoia, the unwarranted superiority complex, the lack of any real culture, the fact that the USA lies through its teeth about how severe its problems really are in order to keep their egos artificially boosted. What I liked about Canada was the fact that they were not insulting in their questions, that they allowed me to clear the border quickly and without hassle. That has hardly happened once to me in the USA. It’s always a battle to get in and it’s hardly worth it. The police tried to plant evidence on me in the USA. Another time they tried to manipulate a neighbour to make a false statement against me which she saw through and gave them a proper chiding for. Quite frankly the only reason my life has not been ruined is not because of the strength of US laws or institutions, it’s because I quickly demanded consular representation whenever the police grew aggressive. They backed off because they’re afraid of having to justify their actions.

    Furthermore, I find Canadians to be more down to earth and willing to admit the severity of their problems. When I was younger and more gullible I mentioned to Canadian acquaintances that I wouldn’t mind moving to Canada and why only to be met with strong advice to expect much of what you say. They also brought up the reality that many positions in Canada barely pay enough to exist, much less have even modest comfort. Not that the USA is much better any more.

    By the way, in Minnesota there are constant race battles. A few weeks ago there was a riot in Minneapolis. American blacks versus Somalis. The tensions between the groups had been festering for some time. Black gangs also often wait outside the Mall of America at night to attack white customers. St Cloud’s mosque has been fire-bombed several times since its opening just over a decade ago. Filipino gangs frequently have gun fights in broad daylight in the Bay Area. The same for black gangs in Oakland and Los Angeles. There have been more murders in Chicago per year than death tolls in Afghanistan.

  17. I do hope the American blacks won!!
    The only silver lining to domestic murders of lowlife is that it reduces benefits payable, hopefully most of them kill each other before they breed more parasites.

    Chris, I think you go out of your way to piss off the Yanks! Having dual nationality has been increasingly frowned upon since 9/11. I have experience of this as the boy was also. He was exceptionally careful to leave his UK passport at home that end when visiting the USA as it was full of Russian and ……Stan stamps!
    That way, nobody knew his business. You came in speaking French, what do you expect?
    I presume you always enter the USA on your American passport, it is after all their requirements.
    Trouble is now you have flagged yourself up, perhaps not the wisest of manoeuvres! Sounds to me that you have an FBI watching brief.
    Of course, should you care to depart and not return then it doesn’t matter a bit, however, with parents still alive and in the USA you are going to come and go for a while yet. Equally one never knows what is going to fire off where at any time in the future, one really wouldn’t want to be caught as a foreigner in S Korea when it kicks off and the locals are being killed by misdirected friendly fire etc etc!!!
    Always best to keep as many options open as possible, never quite know if and when you are ever going to need them!
    Hang in there, they’ll let you escape in due course. But beware the old adage, be careful for what you wish, you might just get it!

  18. CO: it came to a draw and the PC world-view of the Twin Cities metro was partially shattered. They are now having to realise that their theory that white people are the root of all evil and discord might not actually be correct. Their squirming is highly entertaining. They know that they were wrong, but they can’t admit it to themselves.

    I know and obey the laws. I exit and enter the USA on a US passport. That is the law and, frankly, it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation. Abroad I travel with little exception on my German passport. As a citizen of an EU member state it’s preferable to travel to Europe on a European passport. In East Asia it’s better to travel on a non-US passport as many people are not especially fond of the US. As soon as people find out that I am, in fact, German they tend to treat me much better. Germany is taken much more seriously and is much more respected. The Chinese especially hold Germany in high regard.

    I do not go out of my way to provoke anyone, although my patience has been sorely tested by American absurdities. For the most part I do not mind the USA but the issues I do have with it are big enough to make my presence here untenable. Perhaps more than anything else I do not take the USA seriously any more. It’s lost much of its credibility. The US has in many ways become a victim-bully and it is somewhat embarrassing.

    I am currently preparing to repatriate to Germany next year. So long as the US government is not utterly obnoxious I will fill in tax forms and continue to follow the law. As for going back… My mum knows full well that she will have to come to Europe to visit me or meet me half-way in Canada or Asia. As she frequently travels to Germany anyway it won’t be an issue. My father will simply have to get a passport. Unless things improve I have no desire to return to the US, especially since most of my mates are in East Asia, Europe, or preparing to return to Latin America.

  19. Para 1, how funny, that is exactly what happened in Birmingham UK. The blacks hated and fought the whites until the browns arrived. Then they transferred their hatred, many of the blacks got serious evangelical Christianity and live with the whites more than happily and fight the browns like Kilkenny cats.
    The council do not dare try to house the blacks and browns any where near each other, but the do mix whites and blacks without a minutes problem these days. New battle lines drawn, but don’t lets talk about it!!!
    Para 2, the boy said virtually identical!
    Para 3, tend to agree. But I do think they are capable of pulling some serious un-joke behaviour. Great pity they never developed any foreign policy! Always crippled by the psychology of their own history of having been a colony, at least in the minds of inside the ‘beltway!’ No-one else cares, it might be better if America seriously followed a policy of isolationism, most of them would be far happier with it that way.
    Para 4 don’t burn your boats!

    Can’t remember which end you were born, USA or Germany. If it were USA, not a damned thing they can ever do to you, but if Germany you might be a little more circumspect in your opinions!!

  20. CO:
    In Los Angeles they do everything possible to keep blacks and Latinos away from each other.
    Whenever the two groups come up they tend to fight each other like cats and dogs. Los Angeles
    has actually been experiencing ethnic cleansing for decades. Latinos, after becoming dominant
    in a neighbourhood, push blacks out. In general the groups tend to segregate themselves.

    I was born in Germany. The US cannot do anything to me. I never applied for US citizenship,
    nor would I have. I inherited a US passport from my father who is an American. Blood is as strong
    as soil so I can keep it as long as I wish. I don’t intend to burn any bridges, but it might be necessary.
    An increasing number of US citizens abroad are renouncing US citizenship because tax codes and
    audit laws are so overwhelming. In some countries banks no longer offer accounts to US citizens because
    they are in no mood to hand private documents over. Or, as is the case in Germany, it’s illegal for banks to give personal information under the country’s privacy laws to anyone without a warrant.

    I think that I would appreciate the USA much more if I didn’t have to live here. Familiarity breeds contempt.

  21. I should add that the reason why I am leaning in favour of Germany over other countries I’m fond of — the UK, Denmark, Canada, etcetera is because I’m fairly indifferent about Germany. I know the good and the bad and can broadly tolerate both. What bothers me most about the USA is its paranoia. The fact that people are treated like criminals and the fact that the police are so trigger-happy. That, and in general the only state I’ve seen that I could happily live in for any amount of time is California and California is an utter mess.

  22. I don’t think you realise how free the USA is compared with the UK, bloody cameras on every corner and all and sundry twitching their curtains to report people to this and that authority. especially in the urban areas.
    Fair crack about familiarity breeds contempt.
    Of course coming from hill country that is still pretty wild and woolly I’d love to live back in Wales.
    At least, I think I would, but after reading the internet papers I have a suspicion that it wouldn’t be half so much fun really, especially the taxes!
    One is sometimes happiest on 747s enroute!
    I must say I was in Germany a lot in the 80s and liked it but have never lived there.
    Can’t stand France, it smells!
    Thanks for the conversation, always interesting.

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