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Canada with 32 of my New Best Friends

Jonathan van Bilsen



October 2, 2011

Canada with 32 of my New Best Friends

I recently had the pleasure of escorting 32 Brits on a 4 day adventure through Ottawa, into Montreal and onto Quebec City and rekindled an appreciation for the history and beauty our own backyard holds. We sometimes become disillusioned with the concept that travelling means visiting far off locales, forgetting our own surroundings. This trip was simple, filled with historic information and can be done at a moment’s notice and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to get away for a few days. 

We left Toronto just after breakfast and headed along the 401 east to the cut-off for Ottawa, after all what would a road trip be without a stop in our Nation’s capital? I had forgotten how beautiful Ottawa is and when we stopped in front of the Parliament buildings and walked around Parliament Hill I was suddenly engulfed with an overwhelming sense of pride. The tourists under my watch, stood in awe as their cameras went non-stop.

“We want to see a Mountie,” I kept hearing and had to explain that our RCMP officers did not dress in red uniforms during their day-to-day activities. Listening to sighs and groans I finally walked over to a RCMP cruiser and explained my dilemma to the officer. He stepped from the vehicle, wearing his brown uniform and I introduced him as a Mountie. He chatted with the Brits and then posed for photos and all were happy.

Back on the bus and off we went, circling what I refer to as the main square (non-official name). It is the area surrounding the National War Monument, which includes the Chateau Frontenac and the National Arts Centre. It is worth the visit, if for no other reason than to stroll along the streets and gaze at the Rideau Canal.

Our next stop was the market (officially known as ByWard Market, named for Colonel By) and the British tourist’s introduction to ‘Beaver Tails’. Anyone who is Canadian is familiar with this national dish and it was quite amusing to see 32 visitors sitting in the hot sun enjoying variations of this yummy food. Everything from Beavertails with Ham and cheese to Beavertails with apples and cinnamon was consumed and I must admit I too enjoyed two of these massive Canadian treats.

We continued on our journey in an attempt to make Montreal by suppertime, passing along the Prime Minister’s residence, the Governor-General’s estate (Rideau Hall) and dozens of embassies. Montreal is just under two hours from Ottawa making it an enjoyable jaunt as we relaxed and left our stomachs to deal with the Beavertails.

Montreal, of course, is a destination all to itself and we checked in to the Maritime Plaza, located one block from St. Catherine Street and all the shopping anyone could want. The hotel is reasonable and inexpensive and is located in the best tourist area, outside of old Montreal.

Dinner in this old Canadian city would not be complete without an excursion to the old port and a visit to Vieux-Port Steakhouse, one of the finest restaurants in the city. The charm of dining in a century old stone building is in itself unique. Coupled with great food and robust wines it becomes an experience not to be missed. After dinner a stroll along rue St. Paul to Place Jacques Cartier is a must. Looking in shops, gazing at people or enjoying entertainment by the many Buskers in the area is an excellent way to spend the time. For those who wish to be tourists a stop at Maple Delights, also on St Paul, explains the history of Maple sugar with an opportunity to sample some savoury treats.

After a city tour the next day and a busy afternoon in Montreal we ventured forth to Quebec City, Canada’s oldest city and a historic journey into our nation’s past. We stopped en route la Cabane à sucre Chez Dany, or Dany’s Sugar Shack to enjoy a traditional Quebec breakfast, consisting of bacon, eggs, sausages, ham, pancakes, maple syrup, baked beans and of course, sugar pie. A heartier meal cannot be found anywhere, but for those less hungry, maple cookies and coffee are also available. Dany is there to greet us and ensure our stay is enjoyable and after breakfast a demonstration and tasting of maple taffy, rolled in snow satisfies the palette. Less than an hour outside of Montreal this stop is a must for any traveller who has developed a Quebec-style appetite.

In Quebec City we left the coach at the Frontenac Hotel, one of the original Canadian Pacific structures built by William Van Horne to provide comfort for train travellers more than a century ago. The magnificent structure towers high above any other buildings and is a great meeting point from where picturesque walks can be enjoyed. Tours are available at the tourist office in the square and bistros are only a few metres apart. 

Strolling through narrow streets examining local art, shopping in quaint stores for unique souvenirs or promenading along the oldest street in North America is all part of the Quebec experience and a must for any visitor. For the history buffs tours of the Plains of Abraham and sightseeing adventures are readily available. Although we only had a day in this grand old city two or even three would not have been unwelcomed.

Next time the travel bug bites you and you flip through dozens of exotic brochures remember, there is more than most people realize, right in our own backyard.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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