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Down the Seaway

Saturday, June 24, 2006
Route Map #10
A large appendage of land projects out into Lake Ontario southeastward from Trenton, a city that is next to the lake only by virtue of the fact that a long and relatively narrow channel slices through to it.  The channel  runs tens of miles inland and does so in three long, straight-running sections that are assembled in the shape of a "Z," as if Zorro had left his mark here.  Trenton is located at the inmost extention of the channel and I am today headed for the small town of Picton situated forty miles away at the second abrupt course change of the Z.  There I will meet Michael again, and this time he may bring his family.

Trenton was a lively place last night.  Motorcyclists had rented the city park over on the other side of the river and many hundreds of them were camped there.  There was live music in the park and one had to pay admission to attend.  That a public place should be rented out to someone who then charges the public to enter strikes me as being inappropriate.  Still, it is a way to generate money and anybody who can afford to buy a Harley probably has some.  Most of the bikes that were in town were in fact Harleys and that explains why so many motorcycles were cruising the city streets all night long: only a Harley makes enough noise to justify such behavior.

As Kobuk headed out into open water and put distance between us and the city, the sounds of roaring engines faded away, leaving only the gentle drone of the little Yamaha and the luscious slap of crinkled water on the hull.  So much is relative, isn't it?  To me the Harleys are an unwarranted invasion of personal peace; to someone on a sailboat, Kobuk is.

This long, Z-shaped channel is known as the Bay of Quinte (you pronounce the "e").  On a day when the weather could not be m
ore pleasing--sunny but not hot and ventilated by a gentle breeze--this bay seemed like the perfect place to be.  A few boaters were out on the broad waters, but not too many--just enough to lend a feeling of companionship with their distant presence.   The hours slipped by unnoticed, as if time had taken a break, and in early afternoon with the sun still shining and a stillness on the waters we snaked our way into Picton Harbor.
Mike and Svea
Like the course of a river, Picton Harbor weaves a narrow band of water up into the landscape.  Lining the banks, marinas and homes and anchored craft and boat houses press in from both sides until the main channel is little more than a slender thread.  It is an intimate place, small in scale and so arranged as to make life across the bay seem no more distant than your neighbor's yard across the street.  The town itself is  up beyond the head of the bay and contains a downtown in which contemporary enterprises carry on their modern functions in premises that often date from a century ago.Picton Boathouses

Mike and Svea arrived in Picton not long after I did.  All through the afternoon and well into the evening, we talked of things inconsequen
tial.  We all had our say, but of the three Svea is the most talented at the art of conversation and so Mike and I often found ourselves under her spell.  Both by training and by nature she is a showwoman, and both the men accompanying her are awed by such lack of inhibition.  In the final hour that we were all together, when mosquitoes swarmed in the thickening twilight, she told the tale of how she and Michael had come to terms with the realization that their newly purchased home was infested with rats.  With innumerable plot twists and countless reversals between apparent success and apparent failure, her saga embraced the full range of human emotion--everything from the near collapse of a marriage to the financial trials associated with hiring ineffective exterminators to familial bonding in the shared task of stripping drywall from walls and ceilings to the ultimate detection of what lay behind a two-year quest for the source.  In the end the rats were exterminated and their source of constant resupply was interrupted.  Happy endings are always best.

Port of Picton Marina:          44* 00.629' N  /  77* 08.127' W
Distance:                               40 miles
Total Distance:                     3,409 miles



Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bay of QuinteEven as the Bay of Quinte opens up to Lake Ontario, it stays screened behind a string of islands that lie offshore from the northeastern coastline.  In effect, it is possible to get through to the eastern end of the lake (where the St. Lawrence begins) without ever actually getting out on its open waters.  In spite of a steady wind out of the southwest, therefore, Kobuk and I were able to get all the way to Kingston without ever having to contend with lumpy water.

The St. Lawrence is many miles wide where it starts its journey from Lake Ontario to the sea, but most of its breadth is occupied by Wolf Island, a Canadian possession that sits mid-channel with the New York State shoreline off to the southeast and  Ontario's to the northwest.   Each channel is a couple miles across, and  on the Canadian side the city of Kingston spreads along the mainland shore, so positioned as to look directly out at Wolf Island, with the open waters of Lake Ontario visible off to the right.  Kingston itself is a city of perhaps 75,000 with little in the way of blocky highrises but with a small collection of delicate church spires and ornate government office buildings from a gilded era piercing the urban greenery.  But for them, it would be hard to tell that a city sits here.  The place is wonderfully town-like.

By the time we motored into the city harbor, wind and clouds and intermittent rain had beset us and the forecast was for more of the same over the next few days.  I sated my curiosity with a quick spin around the downtown on Bike Friday and then returned to the water for the short run over to Wolf Island.  Back in Picton, the captain of a small cruise ship had told me about an abandoned dock over there in Marysville, where the ferry terminus is located.  I decided to overnight there since there would be no slip fees, and then return to Kingston in the morning. 

Marysville, Wolf Island:          44* 11.698 N  /  76* 26.394 W
Distance:                                   43 miles
Total Distance                          3,452 miles


Monday, June 26, 2006

Just as some view Boston or Jamestown as an embryo from which sprang early American culture, so do many Anglo-Canadians look upon Kingston as central to the development of their distinct identity.  Kingston was not the the first English settlement in Canada: many small outposts had been established much earlier in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and the rest of the Atlantic region.  It was not even the first English settlement in Ontario.  It was, however, a significant urban place in the early days of what was to become Ontario, and it emerged very early on as a bulwark of resistance to America.  Canadians are not anti-American, exactly, (although they tend to be a little so these days) but they do view themselves as constantly threatened by America.  At times, the American threat has been military--and that certainly was so late in the eighteenth century--but at other times it has been cultural or economic.  Even today, an extraordinarily large amount of Canadian public discourse revolves around the question of whether American interests are excessively influential within their country.
Kingston
It is worth remembering that interior Canada--that part west of Quebec--came under British control only a decade before the American revolution.  Even though Ontario is today the wealthiest and most populous province in Canada, it had virtually no European settlers at the time of American independence.  It had been part of the great French fur empire of the interior but when the French were defeated and Quebec brought under British control, it temporarily lacked utility for the the European imperialists.  It was, in effect, left to the Indians.  Left, that is, until the American revolution gave it a new role to play.

 Nobody knows what percentage of the colonial American population was content with British rule and opposed the independence movement, but it was considerable.  These loyalists were not simply unsupportive of the rebellion; many of them actually cast their lot with the Brits--spied for them, fought with them, and provided economic succor.  After the war, many became refugees and although a larger share moved to England or migrated to British colonies in the Caribbean, some of them fled through the back door--across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence and into the wilderness of what is now Ontario.

Ontario, then,  was settled by British loyalists and this became a central element in the emerging Canadian national identity.  Most of these loyalists had lost everything when they left their homes in the States and, as is often the case with those who support a regime, they had been loyal precisely because they had had a lot to lose.  Although they put the past behind them and set about the task of rebuilding their lives, they harbored no illusions about returning to the States and they did not expect what had been done ever to be undone.  Even so, they naturally harbored a certain wary scepticism about those rambunctious Americans across the waters.

In 1812, the loyalist concern with whether the United States could ever be trusted was answered in the negative when a second war with Britain  brought about an American invasion of Canada.  In American history books, the War of 1812 is treated as a minor incident and the American attempt to seize control of British Canada is given little play.  In Canada, however, the War of 1812 came to be viewed as a pivotal event.  Americans could not be trusted.  They had betrayed their expansionist agenda and had been defeated on the battlefield.  Americans have always thought of their foray into Canada as just another attempt to fight a bunch of Brits, but to the loyalists living there felt pride in having been able to hold off the American incursion.  At the time of the war, the United States had a population of over five million.  In Canada, on the other hand, there were only 60,000 Quebecois and 20,000 English speakers living upstream in the region then known as Upper Canada but now known as Ontario.  To have thwarted the Americans, therefore, was a source of pride.

Neither the Americans nor the Canadians have an unvarnished view of the War of 1812.  Americans dismiss it as a minor event because its outcome was inconclusive, but it is human nature to downplay an unsuccessful venture.  Canadians cherish it as an example of Canadian fortitude, even though the deterrence of American forces could be attributed in no small part to British regulars from overseas.  Still, most history is little more than myth and often the most can be learned from the incompatibility of conflicting myths.  In any event, if Americans are ever to understand Canadians they will have to spend a little more time looking at what actually happened during that war.

From a military point of view, Kingston would be a good entry point for any future American invasion.  It is just across the river, so to speak, and rather less distant from American centers of population and industry than are most other convenient entryways into the heart of Canada.  The idea of another American invasion is of course absurd, but it is a little more absurd to an American than it is to a Canadian and in the decades following the War of 1812 when the United States was pursuing its "Manifest Destiny" it was not absurd at all.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It seemed a pity to pass through the enchanted 1000 Islands when the skies were drear and the rain was falling, so when it became obvious this morning that the weather was destined to be even worse than yesterday, I resolved to stay here in Kingston another day.  That gave me time to visit Queens University and Fort Henry.

If there were an Ivy League in Canada, Queens University would be a part of it.  As the second oldest college in the country and one of the hardest to get into today, it has the proper qualifications.  Not only that, it offers a collection of core buildings that--although not ivy covered--are fine examples of nineteenth century architecture.  I went to the geography department and talked with one of its senior professors about its academic program and considering his paternalistic tone I can only conclude that Queens would fit right in with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

The weather was getting even worse as I cycled out of town to visit Fort Henry and upon arrival a black sky came sweeping up from the south to overwhelm the fort with furious winds and slashing rain.  The gift shop was the most convenient shelter, and I spent a couple hours there waiting out the storm.  It gave me time to peruse the book collection and read about the War of 1812.

Although part of Kingston faces the St. Lawrence, the downtown actually overlooks a protected bay that marks the egress of the _____ River.  Across the bay, beyond a peninsula that projects out into it, Fort Henry contours itself to a sloping hillside that convexly curves down to the waters of the St. Lawrence.  The hillside is bare of trees; the fort occupies a high position on its open, grassy meadow. The fort was built to protect against an American invasion, of course.  Its construction proceeded at the same time that the Rideau Canal was being built.  This waterway runs north from the head of Kingston's Bay all the way to Ottawa wherefrom ships of the day would have been able to run down the Ottawa River and back into the St. Lawrence.  The canal also was buil
Fort Henryt as a defense against possible American aggression.  The Americans might be able to choke off transit along the St. Lawrence, the thinking went, so the Rideau Canal would provide a more secure route some distance removed from American territory.  Of course, if the Americans were to seize Kingston they still would be able to control the canal as well as the St. Lawrence, and that,  I suppose, is why the fort was built.

Fort Henry never came under attack, Kingston never suffered occupation, and the Rideau Canal never had to serve as a substitute for the St. Lawrence.  From an American point of view, these non-events would cast doubt on whether such large scale engineering projects were worth the investment.  For Canadians, however, these same non-events prove the value of precautionary measures.

Fort Henry incorporates engineering innovations that I think deserve special mention.  First, there is the unusual nature of the walls.  Most forts from that era had their stone walls erected and then had ditches dug around the perimeter.   Fort Henry seems to have gone at it the other way around: first a ditch was dug and then the inner wall of the ditch was shaped to become the fort's exterior wall.  As a result, it does not stick up much above the level of the surrounding terrain, and that gives the enemy very little to shoot at with its cannons.  The second interesting feature is the character of the ditch.  Like all serious forts of the day, it had both walls finished as vertical stone faces, which of course meant that the enemy had to get down into this slaughterhouse before even beginning to think about scaling the wall of the fort.  And also like all other forts, Henry had turrets strategically placed to permit rifle and cannon to fire along the run of the ditch, thereby making suicidal any assault by footsoldiers.  The Fort Henry innovation was to curve the outside wall of the ditch around the four corners.  This meant that when grapeshot was fired along the run of the ditch it would be able to ricochet around each corner, thereby making life miserable even for attackers on a different side of the fort.  How clever and ingenious we humans can be.  I wonder if this particular innovation inspired the shape of that most august of Canadian institutions--the hockey rink.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Very early in the morning, Kobuk motored out of the Kingston harbor and headed downstream.  The sky was mushroom gray but the wind had died and the surface of the river lay unruffled.  Throughout the morning we glided along with islands passing us to left and right, some so large as to seem part of the mainland and others so small that you would get dizzy walking around one.  All of them, though, On Board in the 1000 Islandswere occupied.  If it is large enough to have vegetation, the thinking seems to be, then it is large enough for a cabin.  "Cabin," incidentally, is the kind of word a rich man uses to understate his affluence.

There is a reason for the reputation associated with the 1000 Islands area.  To thread your way through a warren of rock-bound, pine-clad islands brings delight with every new bend in the channel.  Round a headland and you confront not a broad expanse of open water as is so often the case but instead another island and another channel and a world so close you can see the bark on the trees, the looks on the swimming children's faces, the name on the stern of that boat.  Even when travelling on rivers, it is rare for a boater to feel so much intimacy.  We all yearn to be in a place where we might get lost, I think, and here one has the distinct advantage of becoming lost without becoming estranged.

I had originally intended to head for Gananoque, a Canadian town that draws the the tourists, but across the river from it is Clayton which has a classical boat museum.  As I wandered among the islands, I found it increasingly hard to stick with my initial choice and eventually, as the skies began to clear, I changed my minc and angled Kobuk over towards New York.  I found what I thought was the town dock at Clayton and tied off right next to the museum.  When I walked to the landward end of the pier, I found an attendant there who answered a number of questions for me, including what I should do to clear customs and immigration.  He allowed as how many people don't bother to do it, but the appropriate procedure would be to make a call on that phone over there.  Since I had been in Canada for nearly a month I thought I should play by the rules and make the call.  The woman who answered asked a few questions and then informed me that since I did not have with me some particular form I would have to go over to the other town dock and phone from there.  After finding the other town dock, a couple miles away, I called her again on the video phone and she took a close look at me and my driver's license.  I wish someone would explain to me the purpose of this procedure.  If I were undertaking a nefarious mission would I have phoned in the first place?  I understand that budgetary constraints may make it impossible for there to be customs and immigration agents in all appropriate locations, but would it not be more sensible to simply accept that reality instead of pretending to be effective by chasing down self-reporting law-breakers?

The Classical Boat Museum cheered me up.  It had all sorts of restored boats from the early days of power, most of them in varnished mahogany.  There was a separate building that housed nothing but what you might call precursors to the cigarette boats--state of the art speed machines powered by massive Rolls Royce airplane engines.  Runabouts and outboard engines and canoes were abundant in Chris Crafttheir display, but not much was there in the way of sailboats.  Of partucular interest to me was the collection of J. Henry Rushton canoes, many of them restored to working condition, but one that looked The canoes were particularly interesting to me, not least because the museum has a large collection of
like an untouched original.

In the late 1800's, Rushton made a business out of constructing cedar strip canoes that he sold to the general public.  Before him, canoing was identified with work; he helped turn it into aimless recreation--for which we all should be grateful.  He became associated with a man who adopted "Nessmuk" as a pen-name and popularized canoing as a sport by writing articles about exotic river trips that he had done in the continental interior.  Nessmuk relied on Rushton for his canoes.

A Rushton canoe is like nothing you have ever seen.  You probably do have an image of what a cedar strip canoe looks like, but Rushton didn't make them that way.  Instead of producing something sleek and varnished, he built clinker style.  That is, each cedar strip overlapped the preceding one. like clapboard siding on a house.   His cedar strips were very small--only about 2"x3/8"--and when he overlapped them he would clinch nail the two together.  Then he would caulk the void between them.  The advantage of this method is that it allows a canoe to be built with no interior framework.  This saves weight.  Get this: Rushton build a single-person canoe that weighed less than the lightest of modern racing bicycles.  No wonder Nessmuk always used a Rushton.  Of course the final product was not nearly as durable as a modern kayak made of synthetic materials, but it was perfectly adequate for ordinary canoing on flat water, flowing rivers, and probably even class one and two rapids.  Find a modern kayak that weighs less than thirty pounds and you're doing well.  Rushton's "Wee Lassie" weighed ten.

Late in the day I pushed on down the river and as the sun dropped low I found protection in a narrow shallows between Wellesley Island and the New York shore.  All the nearby lands were privately owned and posted to discourage visitors, but I did not go ashore.  With the anchor in only four feet of water, Kobuk floated sweetly in open water, not a stone's throw from land on either side..

Wellesley Island Anchorage:          44* 20.324' N  /  76* 00818' W
Distance:                                          31 miles
Total Distance:                                3,483 miles


Thursday, June 29, 2006

The anchor dragged a bit last night.  Our situation was not quite as protected as it had been and we were in somewhat deeper water.  It was not a problem; winds were light and the the anchor still had a bite on the shallow bottom, but it made me realize that in the future I will need to be a little more careful regarding where and how I anchor.  I should have tested the set of the anchor by powering Kobuk in reverse but I had been too lazy to take this standard precaution.  I seemed unlikely that heavy weather would test us so, but now it is obvious that even nice weather could have put us adrift, and this makes it virtually certain that any significant blow would have put us up on a rocky shore (for other types are rare).One of the Thousand Islands

The incident taught another thing: pay more attention to the scope of the anchor line.  We were sitting in about three feet of water when I dropped the anchor last night whereas the depth this morning was about six feet.  I had let out less anchor line than would be appropriate because I feared that a wind shift during the night might take us too close to shore.  I didn't stop to think about the fact that dragging into deeper water would make the scope of the anchor line less and less effective.

I have read the books on anchoring.  I don't think my problem was ignorance.  Rather, it was a careless attitude about something understood only at the intellectual level.  Since I never have experienced the unpleasant consequences of doing it wrong, I was rather too casual about doing it right.  In the future I need to remind myself that if I don't take anchoring seriously it could easily cause the death of Kobuk.

It took only a few hours to run down the river to Brockville and on the way the islands thinned out until eventually it was possible to see both sides of the river.  I had made up my mind that the 1000 Islands were pretty much behind us, but just outside of Brockville we entered a narrow channel on the Canadian side that was screened off by a string of islands that ran like a dashed line.  They all are linear strips and each one comes close to connecting with its neighbors.  The whole string leaves only a narrow channel between itself and the mainland, so thin that crewmembers of passing tankers could toss a football back and forth between them.  And this is indeed the deep channel for Seaway traffic.

These islands have no development on them.  I think they belong to the city of Brockville and are, in effect, a city park.  Each has picnic tables strategically placed and many have small boat docks--but none have private cottages, as far as I could tell.  Even though it was a weekday, many of the islands had overnight campers with colorful tents set back in the trees.  How many city parks do you know of where you would be welcome to spend the night?  Maybe you know of one, but chances are it has neither the seclusion nor the scenery of the Brockville Islands Park.

We came into the Brockville Harbor from open water that the wind had made tumultuous--only to be confronted by a different kind of tumult.  This happened to be Brockville's Riverfest weekend and the harbor was awash with visiting boats.  A steady stream of traffic was entering and exiting; up and down the piers, the yachting folk were drinking and barbequing; not a vacant slip was to be seen.  There turned out to be one remaining free slip, deep in the harbor next to the downtown.  I took it, of course.  Ordinarily, there would be no available space on this particular weekend, but it happens that the marina has one short pier with slips too small to accomodate even the most modest of modern yachts.  Kobuk, however, fit perfectly.

Brockville Harbor:          44* 35.353' N  /  75* 40.926' W
Distance:                         26 miles
Total Distance:                3,509 miles


Friday, June 30, 2006

Like Kingston, Brockville has all the markings of a loyalist town.  There is the same tendency to name streets after monarchs and their near and far relatives.  Specialty shops prefer names and merchandise that are suggestive of the home country.  Old buildings have that Edwardian and Victorian architecture.  All in all, it is a comfortable town and I decided to spend the day.  One should think brockvillethat decisions of this sort would have a reason, but often I am unable to identify precisely what it is that causes me to make the choice that I do.  In some instances, of course, it is obvious: the locale is particularly attractive or maybe I have reached the point where I really must do my laundry.  But often, the decision is arrived at without such concrete rationale.  I am sure this would not so frequently happen were I not alone; in that case discussion of the matter would lay bare the pros and cons of the two opposing choices.  In this way, then, a solitary voyage is a more mysterious thing.

Once the decision is made to stay somewhere, there are always a list of practical things to do.  The first priority usually is to find an Internet connection that will permit me to administer the online courses that I am responsible for, and since the entire day is available it always seems appropriate to do as much as possible with them.  This often consumes a large part of the day.  But then there are other things such as buying gas, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and catching up with this log.  It is all quite perverse, actually, for the choice to spend a day in a particular locale often initiates a somewhat frenzied effort to take care of practical matters, and this in turn ends up consuming the whole day--leaving me in the odd position of waking up the following morning and wondering once again whether I should stay or I should go.  Today was a little like that for by the time I had taken care of housekeeping it was late and I was tired.

It was time to change the engine oil in the Yamaha and
since I was here for the day there was no excuse to not do it..  It isn't possible to drain and refill the oil without removing the motor from the boat and hauling it the length of the dock to dry land where some serviceable object like a park bench or a railing can be used to hang it.  Even though it is a little engine, it has a big collection of attachments to the boat.  In addition to being screw clamped to the Remote Troll, it also is through bolted.  Then there are the other connections which include the electric start cable, the wire that takes power from the battery for the electric start and returns power to the battery once the engine is running, the rpm gauge wire, the shifter cable, the throttle cable, and the gas line.  Only the last of these can be disconnected and reconnected without some sort of production.

I find the process of undoing and redoing all these connections to be time consuming because they must be done from awkward positions leaning out over the back of the boat, and any clumsiness at all will cause either tools or nuts or bolts to disappear forever in the murky harbor waters.  Then there is the task of actually lifting the 107 pound engine off the remote troll and up to safety whilst straddling the ominous waters between Kobuk's stern and the dock.  Even the shortest of docks--and happily the one here in Brockville is one of them--requires lugging the engine at least a hundred feet to dry land where port authorities will not suffer suffer cardiac arrest if by chance a spillage occurs when the old oil is drained and the new oil poured in.  Even draining the oil is a bit of a problem when you do not have the correct tools.  My current approach is to cut the top off a square, half-gallon, drink container (like milk) and duct tape it to the lower unit just below the drain plug.  If cut in a certain way, the container can be efficiently taped so that no oil dribbles--as long as you are very careful when pulling the tape off the engine.  After that, the next step is to dispose of the oil.  I know of no way to do this without cheating.  My usual strategy is to pour it into one of the cheap plastic bottles in which drinking water is sold, screw on the top, and then drop it in a trash container when nobody is looking.  Today I had to be particularly surreptitious since the crowds are here for the Riverfest happenings.

The whole process went without a hitch--although hauling the engine down the dock did put a hitch in my back.  After the job was done, I could only barely walk and began to look like the old man that I am.  As the countless millions of you who have these back problems know, when you strain the back muscles like this you become virtually paralyzed.  Even the slightest of deviations from a few awkward positions causes sudden, sharp pain.  You quickly become exhausted trying to stay in the comfort zone and really the only sensible thing to do is lie down.  That is what I did--and ended up going to sleep with the sound of Riverfest rock ringing in my ears.


Saturday, July 1, 2006

Stop to think: the St. Lawrence River drains over a fifth of all the fresh water in the world.  From a certain point of view this outdoes even the Amazon.  The system is diminished by the unusually slow pace at which it circulates, but even so, the St. Lawrence is the only outlet for the five Great Lakes and that means an impressive amount of water is moving down this river channel.  Now that the zone of islands and multiple channels is behind us, the St. Lawrence has begun to look more like a typical large river, and to move with the silent swiftness that makes them so deceptive.  Downstream from Brockville, Kobuk and I found ourselves in a straight running waterway that was over a mile in width and that moved us along a couple miles per hour faster than we might go on flat water.

This day we began the descent through the Seaway locks.  There are seven in total, although Kobuk will only have to suffer through five of them since the final two, next to Montreal, will be bypassed by using a different canal that has more locks but that is smaller and less abusive of small boats.  The first lock we came to was the Iroquois, a transit on the Canadian side that adjusts for such a minor elevation change that we were able to pass through with no locking whatsoever.  The water level was the same at exit as it was upon entry and in fact we motored through with both lock gates open.  It still cost the standard $20 for a transit, however.

Some distance below Iroquois, the two American locks (Eisenhower and Snell) took us back over to the New York side of the river and did, indeed, drop us down many tens of feet--perhaps over a hundred in total.  As in the Illinois Waterway, these Seaway locks are intended for large commerical ships and the lock attendants often have a bit of an attitude problem when it comes to locking through pleasure boats.  Small craft are directed to tie up at a specified dock by the lock entrance and their crews are prohibited from wandering away from their boats.  The prohibition is enforced by surrounding the entryway onto the dock with a tall, wire fence.  There is a phone accessible there from which you are to supplicate the lock master in the appropriate tone of voice, meekly informing him of your arrival and beseeching permission to use the lock.  Depending on how the lock master feels that day, or on how successfully you have manage to grovel, the time until you are permitted to pass may be as short as a mere half hour or as long as many hours.  You are never, never to forget that this grand lock was not intended for the likes of you and your passage through is a sublime manifestation of royal grace.

This is the last Kobuk will see of the United States for a while since New York's frontage on the St. Lawrence ends a very short distance downstream.  From here on for the next 500 miles it will be Quebec.  Then after that it will be over a thousand miles of Maritime Province cruising before reaching the Maine coast.

Cornwall is the easternmost Ontario city and it is situated on the Canadian side close to the exit from Snell Lock.  The standard passage to Cornwall involves running down along the southeast side of Cornwall Island, which lies between the main channel and the city, and then running back upstream along the other side of the island for a couple miles to reach the city port.  It is possible, however, to turn immediately left out of Snell and go up over the top of Cornwall Island, thereby gaining access to a secondary channel that runs down past the city.  Kobuk and I opted for this shorter but dicier route.  The little Yamaha began to power us through the upstream channel around Cornwall Island, but when the flow of the current became so strong that our forward  progress was brought to a standstill and then gradually converted to a reverse drift, it seemed advisable to fire up the main engine.  Even with it running at an rpm level that ordinarily would move us through the water faster than twenty miles per hour, we could not make ten.  The depth finder indicated that the water was deep enough to carry a little speed, but once we broke through to the other side of the island the shallowness of the secondary channel made the downstream passage even more exciting since the current was carrying us along at a handsome rate that had to be surpassed by at least a couple miles per hour if Kobuk was to be anything more than a piece of driftwood in the water.  Since there were bridge abutments to pass and river shallows to avoid, there was no choice but to drive forward at what seemed like a breakneck pace.  In any event, we finally made it to the Marina 200 where a tall, lithe and lovely teenage lass came bounding out of the marina office with a broad smile on her face, waiting eagerly to help tie Kobuk to the dock.  That's the way all good little adventures should end.

Marina 200, Cornwall:          45* 00.864' N  /  74* 43.175' W
Distance:                               59 miles
Total Distance:                     3,568 miles
 


Sunday, July 2, 2006

The wind this morning was whistling.  According to the young man working in the marina office it had been reported at 25 knots.  It was clear weather with little likelihood of deteriorating conditions, but Kobuk and I had never been out in winds this strong before.  The passage of the day would take us along the full length of Lac Saint Francis, nearly 25 miles of open reach across a
Windy Day on Lac St. Francisshallow reservoir.  The wind would be perfectly behind us, but even so it was intimidating to set out.  Once on the water, though, the glory of the day compensated for the concern with what might come.  Overhead, white puffs scudded along in a clear blue sky and on both shores the trees were tipping and waving as if to say "Go that way, and hurry up."  It was cool.  The wind was cleansing everything and every object appeared in sharpened clarity and enhanced color.  Under such conditions, I found it easy to shed my anxiety.

The river channel that runs through Lac Saint Francis is very carefully buoyed for the large commercial ships that would otherwise end up grounded.  Almost certainly the shallow draft of Kobuk would permit passage anywhere on the surface of the entire lake, but almost is not good enough and so I was careful to keep Kobuk in the channel.  This was at times a somewhat challenging task for the rolling waves were constantly playing with Kobuk and threatening to spin her broadside to those that followed.   There was no risk associated with taking waves on the beam but when using the little Yamaha and the Remote Troll it is tiresome to get the hull moving in the proper direction again once we have broached.  The Remote Troll simply is not powerful enough to function properly in these sorts of conditions and so the trick to making it work is a little like the challenge of keeping a large fish on an easily broken line: never resist pivoting action of the hull but instead try to reinforce the direction of pivot whenever you think it to be the appropriate one for course correction.  The result is a drunken, veering course that often swings through ninety degrees of compass bearing.  I cannot imagine what people on other boats think when they see us pass.

I do believe that buoys have some sort of unfathomed power for whenever we would close with one, much more frequently than statistics would predict, the Remote Troll would fail to respond and Kobuk would bear down on the buoy.  Either the buoy has some sort of perverse attractiveness more intense then mere gravity or I cannot steer well under pressure.  I prefer to believe the former.
Valleyfield War Memorial
Ile de Salaberry sits at the far end of the lake with a low dam across a shallow branch of the river that runs around its north side and a long, narrow channel that has been converted to a canal  running along its south side.  On the island, a deep, estuarine embayment faces the lake and lining it on both sides is the city of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.  I took Kobuk there for the night and found Marina Campi right downtown.  Repose at last, one might think, but this is Quebec, this was a weekend, and this was the end of a long reach of open water on a windy day.  Boats and people were everywhere.  They were as wild as a bunch of World Cup rowdies.  They would challenge the wind, as if waving a red flag at it and daring it to chase them down.  I threaded Kobuk through this chaos and finally entered the overcrammed marina where the waters were finally stilled but the wind was still ferocious.  Kobuk drifts like a leaf in the wind so the prospect of getting to a slip was much more hair-raising than the open waters of the lake.  When I came to realize that the staff was primarily lively young women who spoke English with the sort of accent that no self-respecting man could ever resist, I immediately confessed my worry and asked for crew assistance with passage to my assigned slip.  One charming young woman came aboard to handle lines.  Another ran down to the far end of the marina to await our arrival.

That evening, I was sitting near the downtown under a summer beer parlor tent, tasting for the first time a Brazilian beer named Brahma and using my laptop computer.  At a nearby table, a large man who was no longer young but who had the innocent good looks of a teenager was talking with a diminutive woman and two older men.  He was the center of all conversation, handling it like the conductor of an orchestra.  Eventually, he projected his charm my way and adopted me as a project.  His companions informed me that he was the best salesman in Canada, and I do believe they are right.  His flattery was as natural as a sunset and he took enormous interest in everyone around.  He was also drunk.  His name was Marwin Bictache, of Egyptian heritage, and his talent was schmooze.  Before I realized what was happening he had me buying us a couple bottles of wine and spending a few evening hours on his pontoon boat.  When the wine was gone, I staggered back to Kobuk and passed out.  I would pay the price in the morning but it had been worth it.

Campi Marina, Valleyfield:          45* 15.284' N  /  74* 08.812' W
Distance:                                       35 miles
Total Distance:                             3,603 miles


Monday, July 3, 2006

After a morning of office work, I took Kobuk out on what was now a perfectly calm lake and headed for the canal that leads to the Beauharnois Locks.  When we got there I could see in the distance that the huge bank of lights that controls passage through was lit green at the top.  It hardly seemed possible that Kobuk would be able to proceed through so quickly, but I was disabused of such a fantasy a few moments later when that top tier of two green lights went off and a pair of red lights came on instead.  I think they saw us coming.  We motored up to and tied off at the appropriate dock, and I walked to the phone where there was also a machine for buying a ticket to pass through the lock.  I made my purchase and was about to call in on the phone when below the red lights a single flashing orange light went out indicating that there were only two and a half minutes left until the gates to the lock would open (the light system for these locks is quite complicated; I spent a good amount of time studying the manual before arrival).  This seemed to indicate that I should get out there on the water and be ready to enter, so I didn't make the call.

As Kobuk eased away from the dock, a sailboat passed by heading for the lock and I followed.  The lock gates opened but the light stayed red.  After a few minutes, the couple on the sailboat inched in past the lock gates while I waited just outside where I could see the light.  Eventually, someone walked down the length of the lock and spoke with the people in the sailboat, which subsequently backed out of the lock and joined me waiting just behind the light.  We were kept there for some time so eventually I decided the best thing to do would be to return to the dock and phone in.  When I did this, the person on the other end of the line admonished me that I should not ever enter the lock while the light is red.  I explained that I had not and that I had stayed behind the red light.  Then I asked if I had failed to stay far enough behind.  My question was not answered.  Instead I was informed that I am supposed to call in before entering a lock.  I then explained that I had planned to do so but that when the flashing orange light had gone off, seeming to indicate that I would have less than two and a half minutes to get out on the water and prepared for a quick entry.  The lock attendant then told me that two large ships were coming upstream and that in two or three hours, after they had passed, I would be able to lock through.  I said thank you and hung up.

The couple in the sailboat had come over to the dock and I conveyed to them the information about the 2-3 hour wait.  They were absorbing this painful news when a voice came over a loudspeaker informing us that the lock gates were open and that we could enter now.  I will leave it to you to interpret what was behind this entire episode.

Actually, the episode was not yet ended.  When I got in to where the lock assistants would pass me the lines for holding next to the wall, one of them told me that I was supposed to have a crew member who would be able to tend the second line.  I explained that the sailboat was planning to tie on to me instead of the wall and that one of that couple had agreed to help me by te
Serge and Joannending one of the lines.  I wondered out loud why it was that the three preceding locks had allowed me through without a crew member.  Eventually, a different man showed up who proceeded to angrily lecture me about the fact that what I was doing was against the rules and that when I returned to this lock he would not allow me to pass without a crew member on board.  I finally managed to exercise a little self-control and refrain from informing that I would not be passing through again.

The very good thing about this whole experience is that it threw me together with the couple on the sailboat--Serge and Joanne.  We ended up talking more or less non-stop during the times we were tied together in the two locks and they eventually offered me a protection for the night in their yacht club at Baie D'urfe at the western end of Isle de Montreal.  In spite of the fact that they were sailors and I was on a stinkpot, we did have something in common: the pleasure of doing extended voyages on boats much too small by the standards of most boaters.  We both deplored the enormous waste associated with huge yachts that rarely get used.  We also preferred to do our boating without the company of other boats.  One other thing: we both thought the Lake Huron waters surrounding Killarney were the closest we would ever get to nirvana.

After the Beauharnois Locks, we had to make our way through Lac Saint-Louis, a hazard-strewn body of water lying immediately upstream from the Lachine Rapids.  Joanne and Serge showed me the way through to their small yacht club and then fixed me up for the night.  They were French-Canadian, but they both spoke comfortably in English and they everything conceivable to make me feel like an honored guest.  One thing about them puzzled me, though: they had named their boat "Loan Shark."  Why would a French Canadian couple choose such an English name.  Then as we talked the pieces fell in place for me.  Their sailboat is of the type known as Shark and Serge is a project manager at a bank.  Not only that, they prefer boating alone.

Baie D'urfe Yacht Club:          45*24.227' N  /  73* 55.387' W
Distance:                                  29 miles
Total Distance:                        3,632 miles


Tuesday, July 4, 2006

The alternative route around the Lachine Rapids is the old Lachine Canal, an essential element in Montreal's early rise to commercial and industrial ascendancy in Canada.  It made possible direct water access to the continental interior and it naturally attracted many early factories that could benefit either from water transport of raw materials and finished product or from tLachine Canalhe hydropower generating capacity associated with the little dams that inevitably accompany the locks.  For over a hundred years, the Lachine Canal was at the heart of industrial enterprise in Montreal, but of course the decline of manufacturing in the twentieth century turned the zone into a blighted and neglected stretch of real estate.  When the Saint Lawrence Seaway was constructed in the 1950's, thereby allowing large ships to enter the Great Lakes, it was only a matter of time before the Lachine Canal was obliged to shut down.  For thirty years it lay like a deteriorating slough in Montreal's side, but a short while back the city decided to restore it and turn it into an attraction for small boats.  This in turn stimulated a cascade of land use changes such that the its sides are now coming to be lined with city parks and long abandoned factories now converted to upscale condos.  Where bridges cross the canal, small commercial nodes have sprung up with attractive shops that cater to the upwardly mobile middle class moving into the area.

The city plan has worked fabulously, even though most of today's pleasure boats cannot pass through the canal.  Bridges are so low that nothing standing higher than eight feet above the water can make it under some of them.  Most everywhere I go with Kobuk, she is one of the smallest craft in a harbor--and she measures a little over six feet from water level to the top of the cabin.  Whenever I pass under one of these low bridges it seems to hang so low that I wonder whether the measurements are as accurate as I know they must be.
Atwater Market
Kobuk and I got to the upstream entrance of the canal early in the day, but passage through the locks turned out to be complicated by the fact that a boat is absolutely prohibited from transiting without at least two on board.  This stipulation, so arbitrarily enforced in the huge Saint Lawrence Seaway locks where there actually is some risk of a single person losing control, is incomprehensible here.  Each lock contains a floating dock, protected with a rubber bumper, running along one side.  When you enter the lock you tie off at this dock and do not have to tend your lines while water is being let in or let out.  The locks, furthermore overcome such small elevational changes that a stairway runs down to the dock from the top of the lock, adjusting to the up and down movement of the dock by rolling on two wheels.  All in all, these are the least stressful locks Kobuk has yet been in.  And yet, the rules are rigorously enforced and only by recruiting strangers was I able to pass through the first two locks.  At the second of these, I was helped by Kevin who was traveling in his own small boat with three teenage daughters.  He ended up spending over an hour with me while the lock crew was engaged in filling and emptying the lock and his daughters waited for him in their boat downstream.  Then, as it happened, we both decided to tie off at the Atwater Market.

I have a good friend in Salt Lake City whose sister has visited from Montreal during each of the past two winters.  On both occasions I have had the chance to go skiing with the two of them and so now I am friends with the sister as well.  Her name is Marie Forte and she lives near here with her family.  When I called her yesterday she invited me to dinner for this evening and so after getting properly tied off I called her once again.  She drove down to Atwater Market to pick me up, and after we met we walked to Kobuk so that I could lock the cabin and pick up my camera.  As soon as we reached the boat, however, it started to rain and we were obliged to take cover on board.  Marie and I were sitting in the confined space with all the canvas curtains zipped on and the rain beating down when I heard Kevin's voice outside.  He and his daughters were looking for cover since theirs is an open boat with no protection from the elements.  When I unzipped the canvas and lifted it for him to step aboard, poor Marie must have been astounded when two steel hooks preceded the entry of a red-haired armless man who talked to me as if we knew each other.  Only afterwards was I able to explain to her that  this individual had gone out of his way on my behalf and that he was not a total stranger. 

Atwater Market, Montreal:          45* 28.665' N  /  73* 34.572' W
Distance:                                        19 miles
Total Distance:                              3,651 miles


Wednesday, July 5, 2006

I cannot imagine what I was thinking those many years ago when I was a college student in this city.  Why did I not pay more attention to what was around me at the time?  Montreal is one of the great metropolitan centers of the world--not because it has a large population or because it includes the entire spectrum of commercial and industrial activity, but because it is a center of culture.  This makes it a fascinating place.  Everywhere you turn you see examples of human endeavor taken to its highest level of accomplishment.  A church, for example, would typically be not merely one more church but instead a monument to the most inspirational and grandeloquent notions of how to express spirituality.  Parks are not merely grassy places where a few trees have been planted but instead rural estates where every effort has been made to replicate a feeling of being out in the country.  The best of the restaurants and the best of the shops are not merely the best in the area but instead strive to be the best, period.  Museums and centers for the arts are not designed simply to meet the needs of a large and sophisticated population but instead to frankly compete with all the others that exist in the other great cities of the world.  Of course one can find the ordinary and the shabby and the uninviting, and find them in abundance, but that is not what one notices.  What one notices is how frequently your attention is captured by something that obviously represents a refreshingly irrational pursuit of perfection.

In his neglected book "The City in History," Lewis Mumford makes a compelling case that the most important function of an urban place is not its preeminence as an economic or political center but instead its magnetic capacity to attract everything of greatness in an entire culture.  In the case of Montreal, the culture is of course distinctive.  Americans tend to think of Quebec as different primarily because the people speak a different language--an impression that is not wrong but that is superficial.  As profound as a difference in language may be from the point of view of communication, it is only the beginning.  All the people for whom a particular language is the mother tongue tend to share a world view that is different from that of any other linguistic group.  They tend to have the same view of what happened in history and what its significance might have been--once again, a view that differs from that of any other linguistic group.  It is these deeper levels of difference that set Quebec apart from AngloAmerica even more than the simple gulf between the French and English languages.

Quebec is a unique culture.  Its European roots extend as deeply into the soil as do those of Jamestown or Plymouth or Boston, but what makes it so different is that the fact that the original  transplantation of a European culture--in this case, the French one--was not followed by a steady stream of colonists and ideas throughout the following centuries.  Even in the 1600's, France was neglecting its settlements here and the local population was becoming self-sufficient.  Quebecois culture quickly became a significantly altered form of French culture, and this divergence due to isolation was only reenforced when England seized control of the colony almost 250 years ago.

Today, French Canadians still draw nourishment from their French roots, and many things French continue to have a powerful influence on how Quebec shapes its own culture, but just as Americans (even Anglo-Americans from New England) no longer think of themselves as English, the Quebecois no longer identify themselves as French.  Thus it is that the Francophone from Quebec tends to feel isolated and beseiged by the large and dynamic English speaking world that surrounds it.  In this bastille of Quebecois culture there are only two urban centers: Quebec City and Montreal.  The former is small, culturally pure, and the center of political power.  The latter is large, culturally mixed, and the dynamo of economic power.  When England conquered Quebec (shortly before the United States was born), Montreal became the focus of British administration and investment, and this naturally led to the emergence of an English-speaking population that was rich and powerful relative to the French speaking Quebecois who were, in any event, mostly rural farmers.  Subsequently, when Montreal began to expand rapidly during the industrial era, the flow of French Quebecois into the city eventually made them much more acutely aware of their marginalized position here in their own home.  It is not at all surprising that today there should be a powerful undercurrent of separatism in this p
Montreal International Jazz Festivalrovince.  After all, the general populace had little more to say about Quebec becoming a part of the new country of Canada than the majority of Bantu peoples had to say about the original creation of South Africa.

A majority of the Montreal population is French Canadian but English Canadians comprise about a quarter of the total and other ethnic-linguistic groups are also well represented.  This is very different from the rest of Quebec where non-francophones are rare.  There are exceptions, of course, (the border country with Vermont is mostly English speaking and the vast areas of little population contain a thin veneer of "First Nations") but as a crude generalization Montreal is the province's only real polyglot.  If Quebec ever separates from the rest of Canada, Montreal will be the window through which Quebecois culture finds rapprochment with the rest of the world.

All these thoughts have been stimulated by the day I spent in downtown Montreal with Marie.  She took me to the McGill University campus where I was a student over forty years ago and she showed me around the central business district where change is so great that none of it was recognizable to me.  Early in the afternoon we went to Place Ville Marie where the International Jazz Festival is in full swing, and without planning to we ended up staying for a few hours as captivated listeners.  It was so exciting that when Marie drove me back to where Kobuk moored, I said goodbye, checked to see that all was in order on board, and then took the metro back downtown to listen some more.
  

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Here is an example of Montreal as one of the great metropolitan centers of the world:  this International Jazz Festival--just one of a number of such major events--runs for ten days.  It attracts the best jazz groups in the world.  Any one of them has exactly one hour to perform (although a few are allocated two or three time spots).   Performances are continuous from noon until after midnight every day of the festival and during that time there are always at least three groups playing simultaneously at venues that are only walking distance apart.  This is only half the program; the other half is performances indoors for which there is a charge.  The free performances given during the afternoon are well-attended but by the time the sun has set the crowds are so vast that every possible place to sit is occupied and everywhere that people might stand is so filled that nothing but people can be seen there.  As you move slowly away from one performance, its trademark beat diminishes in your ears but before it is out of hearing distance another group's distinctive sound begins to swell and grow.  There in the zone of overlap you are likely to find world class buskers who have attracted crowds of their own.  All around you is a mass of humanity that is quite evidently not a crowd of mere jazz aficionados--it is grandmothers and romantic couples, teeny boppers and recent immigrants,  blind connoisseurs and befuddled infants, tattooed exhibitionists and up-tight white collars, francophones and anglophones and speakers of God knows what.  It is, in short, everyone.

Although I had to spend most of this cloudless summer day indoors catching up on work, there was time late in the afternoon to go for a bicycle ride.  Montreal has a vast network of bicycle trails and I decided to take the one that crosses the bridge to Ile des Soeurs.  Montreal itself occupies a large island in the St. Lawrence and Ile des Soeurs is another much smaller island lying beside it, immediately Ile des Soeursdownstream from the Lachine Rapids.  The rapids are the first navigational obstruction for a ship travelling upriver and they were named for China because upon reaching them Jacques Cartier--like so many European explorers before him--thought that finally he had arrived.

Ile des Soeurs has quite evidently undergone a real estate boom in recent years.  Shaped like a grain of brown rice, the island is about two miles long and acts as a midstream staging point for the Champlain Bridge that crosses between Montreal and the southeast bank of the river.  It looks as if one day no more than twenty years ago somebody realized that the bridge afforded access to a midstream paradise that would be perfect for development--unencumbered by significant forms of land use and lying only a few miles away from the city center.  This is only a guess, but it is based on the fact that no building or street or planted tree that I saw there looked as if it could have been in place for more than a couple decades. 

What has happened on the island is quite remarkable, really.  Nearly two thirds of ithas been fully developed with a mixture of residential and commercial land uses imbedded in a park-like landscape.  The remaining third at the relatively less accessible upstream end is in the process of being bulldozed into shape.  The whole island appears to be subject to an all inclusive plan that emphasizes open space, gets modern materials to embrace traditional building designs, and carefully avoids segregating the rich neighborhoods from the more modest or the businesses from the residences.  Usually I do not care much for planned communities (for the same reason that models rarely strike me as the most beautiful women) but I have to admit that if one is to live in a city this would not be a bad option.

In the evening, there was only one thing to do: return to the jazz festival.


Friday, July 7, 2006

Vieux Montreal--Old Montreal.
  Was I simply a cretin when I was here before or has this place undergone a Cinderella transformation?  A little bit of both, I think.  I know I must have visited this locale back in the early sixties, but it left so little impression that I can recall nothing of it.  Old Montreal is the original city center located next to the river and all its port facilities.  Over the last century, the heart of the city has migrated a mile or so inland, up onto a geological bench situated between the island's coastal strip and the park-preserved and heavily wooded volcanic plug known as Mount Royal.
Vieux Montreal
Before it was Montreal it was called Ville Marie--and before that it was the native village of Hochelaga.  That early French settlement of Ville Marie, established in the 1640's, was a town of wooden structures, of course, with the river on one side and a stockade on the other three.  From this early nucleus, the city has developed.  It was the same story as you would read for any of the early North American cities: devastating fires persuaded prudent inhabitants to build thereafter in stone and nineteenth century industrialization stimulated the greatness and the misery that inevitably associate with metropolitan status.  One of the injustices of history is that the downtrodden and the poor, so neglected and invisible while living, become no less so after death.   Perhaps not so in the spiritual world but of that I shall not presume to write.

Whatever it was in the early sixties, Vieux Montreal is today a walk through history on clean, cobbled streets, surrounded by refurbished old buildings that wear the mantle of bourgeois respectability.  It is a magnet for visitors, but with its field of attraction so oriented that Montrealers are no less likely to be here than are visitors from afar.  In other words, it is tourism with class.  Appealing restaurants and tasteful boutique shops occupy the many architecturally prodigal buildings, but so do mundane businesses, various government offices, and culturally sophisticated museums.

Parallelling the waterfront is a single boulevard along the inland side of which is a grand sweep of multistoried buildings, adorned with enough ornamental detail to soften their massive fronts but not so much as to suggest frivolity.  On the river side of the avenue, the great city docks project far out into the water, most of them now converted to other uses than their original function as staging areas for loading and unloading large ships.  The old warehouses have been turned into attractions of various sorts and the grounds around the docks have been landscaped into a linear park.  Here in the middle of a week day, the crowds mill and swarm and dissolve like a disorganized army of ants.  There is a French flavor to the architecture and in spite of its historical preoccupation with commerce rather than tourism Vieux Montreal looks like the waterfront of a city on the French Riviera, without the palm trees.

Until very recently, the Catholic Church was extraordinarily powerful here in Montreal and indeed throughout the province of Quebec.  Nowhere will you find churches thicker on the landscape--not even in Latin America--and many of them look as if the parishioners of yesteryear must have denied themselves every form of luxury that they might give to the original church construction.  Not simply numerous, the churches are almost always grand structures compared to the diminutive dwellings that surround them.  Of course in downtown Montreal commercial towers and elephantine factories now overshadow the churches, but not so overwhelmingly as in many other big cities where the skyscrapers may be taller and the churches smaller.  Even the conquering British seem to have been inspired by the Catholic desire to make every church a cathedral: Anglican churches in the heart of the city are only slightly smaller and less ornate than the Catholic ones.

Fifty years ago it would have been hard to find a more religious Western society than that of Quebec.  The idea of birth control was inconceivable--to indulge in a particularly bad pun--and deciding what to do on a Sunday was not a problem.  No politician in those days would have dreamed of taking an important position without first considering the Church view and much of day-to-day life was seen through a dogmatic prism.  But now in just a half a century all of this has changed; Quebecois have adopted secularism en masse.  There continues to be a certain formal respect for all things Catholic but this is little more than a cultured people's natural respect for history.  All this is not mere change; it is revolution.  How did something so precipitate happen so quietly?  I don't know the answer and I have no ideas.  I just think it an interesting question.

Late in the day I went to the Notre Dame Basilica in Vieux Montreal where for about ten dollars one could enter and watch a sound and light show about the history of old Montreal in general and this structure in particular.  Then when it was over and the screens had been drawn away, the interior of the church was revealed in all its restored splendor.  There was nothing shabby about the audio-visual production.  It was decently creative and respectably educational.  Still, one knows in one's heart that such a holy place would never have been used in this way fifty years ago.


Saturday, July 8, 2006

I had intended to leave Montreal this morning but the city has been so good to me that I decided to stay an extra day.  The choice to extend a stopover usually is a sign that inertia has seized control of things but in this one instance the delay is because I like it here.  Rarely does a city affect me so.

I used the time to visit the botannical gardens and biosphere, located off to the east in a part of the city where Anglophones rarely live.  You reach them by taking the Metro to Pie IX stop and exiting towards St. Catherines Street--just to give you a feel for the former power of the church.  The biosphere gives you a taste of the tropics, the arctic, the St. Lawrence marine environment, and the Laurentian forest, each contained in a different quadrant under the dome.  The botannical gardens are nearby and include trees from all around the world--anything that can survive the arduous Montreal winters.  A great many years ago I had a chance to visit Kew Gardens in London.  I do not think that Montreal's botannical gardens suffer by comparison.  One more testimony to Montreal's status as a world-class city.

The botannical gardens has expanded the usual understanding of what this sort of place should include by constructing a special building and filling it with dead insects.  Superficially, the insectarium is less entertaining than a zoo because it is stocked for the most part with corpses rather than captives.  This has its advantages, however: it is more educational.  The world gets divided up up into five major zones for each of which a large number of display cases are filled with bugs, beetles, and butterflys.  For each zone, the insects are organized by genera and species, always in the same order.  When you compare one geographic zone with another you quickly see how much the habitational niche of a particular insect tends to result in a standard physiognmy regardless of world region.  But then you also can see how the Old World equivalent of, say, the Monarch Butterfly differs in little particulars as a species even as it retains the same general conformation.  If people could have seen this exhibit in the early 1800's, there might have been dozens of Darwins and Wallaces rather than just one of each.

As the sun dropped low in the sky, I wandered back to Vieux Montreal and took dinner at a restaurant that specializes in pasta dishes.  It was a maze of loosely interconnected rooms, each having a handful of tables, not one of which would remain vacant even for a minute.  With English decor (wood floors and wall trim and wainscoating of darkened wood) and a French staff, the busy scene was just the thing for a solo diner like me who has nothing better to do than watch the many waitresses flit around the rooms like little tropical birds, each one charming her guests with that distinctively French way of confiding in you about the specials of the day.  Two couples were having dinner together at a table next to me but before long they found a way to include me in their conversations--a remarkable accomplishment considering our physical separation and their natural use of French. 

The menu for the restaurant includes a little blurb claiming that back in the 1840's Charles Dickens sketched out his initial ideas for "Tale of Two Cities" whilst eating dinner here.

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