Ile d’Orleans; Aug 11th
It was a quick 7 hour drive from Boston to Ile d’Orleans, an island in the St Lawrence River just east of Quebec City. Halfway we stopped for in Newport VT; Exxon gas and “organic” chickpea soup and a Vermont ham panini. Then back on the road, through a series of showers, and a 20 minute wait for the border crossing. Many Quebec cars heading home from USA and very few USA cars entering.
“Bonjour. How are you? Where are you headed and how long will you be in Canada? ” said the border agent.
“Ile d’Orleans and then Labrador and Newfoundland. Probably about 3 weeks.”
“Have a good time.” He said handing back our passports.
My maternal grandmother’s people were from this island, probably 120 or more years ago. “Turcotte and Sorel” said my mother. The phone book in the motel showed a half page of Turcottes but no Sorels, and no Chouinards from my grandfathers side. There is a genealogy society here. But not knowing what details to look for we passed it up. There was an Abel Turcotte who settled here in 1661. But I don’t believe that was his name. The Chouinards settled further up river in Trois Rivieres in the 1640s.
Ile d’orleans is long and narrow with a raised spine along its length. Deeded land from the settlement days has a narrow water frontage with the homes on the banks of the St Lawrence River. The farmland stretches back up to the spine. The north and west side faces the mainland and is steeper sloped than the south or east. The narrow river channel along the north shore is also shallower. The mainland side has forests and farms for strawberries, raspberries, grapes, and apples. The south side plain is broader and supports farms of potatoes, corn and leeks . Fields of grains now cover the leveled spineland.
Award winning aged cider is done well here. The craft came from Brittany and flourished. Fruit wines from local berries are OK. The grape wines made from hybrids of the region are thin and acidic. Only the ice wine is worth the taste and the money. We spent a few hours taste touring the makers and vendors.
Gites, or B&Bs, are the preferred stay in this quiet place. There is only one motel here. We stayed at La Gite de Quai in St Jean; they promised and delivered a “copious” breakfast of home made goodies. The small town’s houses are made of stone and wood with a long narrow porch along the front of the house. Trim paint and metal roofs are often red, like the maple leaf on the flag, or blue like the Quebecoise flag. Windows are tall and thin French style, not like our double hung. Flowers and plantings were very prominent.
Quebecois French is the first and often the only language. They appreciated our attempts at French but we barely got by. Learning to communicate in another language takes a lot of time. A friend in Lyon, France suggested that we needed to spend intensive language time in France not Quebec. “Their accent and colloquialisms are not easily understood in France; kind of like ‘hillbilly’ in USA.” Still, I began to recognize bonjour and bonjou and bonj as a greeting.
An evening walk to the local Resto for supper is a stroll in history. The old fashioned red street lamp posts has history of the town signs on them. Walk 50 meters and read a sign,walk 50 meters and read a sign. Finally supper. Hhmmn; a local brew and putine for an appetizer!. I was wrong, the cheese curds DO melt in the brown gravy that covers the short hot french fries. How do you say “ribstickinggood”? Then a panini of duck and cheese followed with thin cut quick fried potato rounds. With the sun sinking behind the spine of the island, we walked back to our gite.