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North to Canada Following the St. Lawrence River

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We are in the Baie De Laval area south and east of Montreal. It is a shallow lake area caused by the river widening out and slowing down which in turn caused many sediment islands to form. This excursion was represented to be a boat tour of the St. Lawrence and its many islands south of Montreal.  “See the waterways teaming with wildlife in a modern boat,” said the brochure.   I was expecting………..whales, polar bears, brontosaurs, who knows what.   Carrie plans these things that look and sound interesting.  So we drove and drove, (it seems that you are always driving and driving in Canada, or at least sitting in a car waiting and waiting for traffic to get going) crossed the river on a big bridge south of Montreal, and drove for several hours oeste (east in French-Canadian) apparently following the river on the south bank.  This is a very rural part of Quebec and reminds you of the farms that you might see in southern Ohio.  It is a pleasant, quaint area that obviously has not changed much in the last 50 years.  The roads are all two lanes.  As we have seen throughout Canada the houses are small, much smaller than the average corresponding houses in the USA. Perhaps the Canadians have always had to be more frugal than their expansive southern cousins. We followed the GPS directions and were led off the two lane to a narrow country road that progressively became more like a 1½ lane and the houses less quaint and more ramshackle, early cottage-like. We saw that we were near the shore of a waterway but it was much more reminiscent of the Mississippi Delta area of Louisiana. The closer you got to the water the more the houses were built on stilts.  It was pleasant enough and clean.  But gone were all the rocks and craggy banks associated with the western St. Lawrence. This was mud plain delta environment.  As the road narrowed down further to a rough approximation of a road we came to a house/cottage affair that the GPS indicated was our destination. We pulled in.

Off to the right was a barn with a couple kayaks, a large cage with two amorous raccoons, a couple port-a-pots and some signs in French pointing toward the side of the house, which we followed.  There we found a 60-ish (our age) lady at a computer who greeted us in French. We said, “do you speak English?”. With difficulty she conveyed, “not much”.  We paid our money (about $30 apiece) and were directed outside to a picnic table, whereupon an  older (our age) gentlemen came out and began addressing us in French. Apparently he would be the captain and tour guide and center of information.  Toulouse was a 70ish man of gaunt, short stature, peculiarly collapsed mouth reminiscent of poorly fit, or no, dentures, who may well have just stepped out of a Herman Melville novel.  He truly was the picture of an old Cape Cod Sea Captain standing, pointing out to sea.  My daughter asked if there would be an English speaking person narrating the trip as was promised in the brochure.  Only with great difficulty did Toulouse finally convey that it would be he. I would estimate Toulouses total knowledge of English at about 20 words maximum.  And I believe that we were one of the very few foreigners (non Canadians) to take his excursion.  Forgive me.  I’m not a world traveler like my daughter and her husband.  I find it a bit disconcerting to travel say fifty miles north of the New York border and find that people in this new world suddenly speak an entirely different language than the whole rest of Canada. Suddenly I’m immersed in a whole parlez vous thing. (French was the only course I ever failed in college).  Many of them can understand you but you can’t understand them, and I sense that they want it that way.

There were two other couples who joined us at the picnic table.  One woman had a bit better grasp on English and one of the men who claimed to be a librarian in Montreal had somewhat of a grasp on English.  As it turned out, they acted as translators on the boat ride. Toulouse spoke almost no English.

The boat turned out to be a 25 ft. average aluminum pontoon boat with seating for maybe 8-10 on benches.  The life preservers were kept locked in large pop coolers at the front. They never were unlocked during the trip. Visions of the Titanic popped into my mind but I quickly erased them.  The water was three or four feet deep.  I could walk to shore anywhere.   It quickly became obvious that this was not any kind of a boat tour that we might expect to find in the lower 48.  No, it was an old time, back woods mom and pop enterprise—not that there is anything wrong with that mind you—but these people clearly were no fountain of information about these parts and particularly had little to no information about the fauna associated with it.  Neither could they convey it in any reasonable manner. Actually they had a hard time finding any fauna. I guess you could say that the trip was somewhat misrepresented.  Buyer beware!

Traveling down the waterway it quickly became obvious that Toulouse was no fountain of knowledge as he told us with slow and great difficulty that what was swimming in front of us was a ……. “black……..duck….I think”.  Now I don’t mean to be critical here but having spent my life on Lake Erie I know a cormorant when I see one. And having mounted several black ducks in my taxidermy shop I believe I know what a black duck is.  What he was pointing out to us as a black duck was in fact a cormorant. Toulouse went on further to identify long legged birds as Egrets.  They were actually Blue Herons.  “What kind of fish do you catch in these swamps (my mistake) wetlands”, I asked.   “Eeeeh, small ones….this beeg  (motions with his hands) 5-6 inches, you can eeeet them, good in Gibelotte stew”, he said. “What would you call these fish”, I asked again.  “Eeeeeeeeeeeh, perch…..  oui,…….. mebbe perch”.   The other tourist lady corrected him saying catfish, and further added, “You can put meat in Gibelotte, catfish, racoon, skunk, beaver not good in Gibelotte, what you call muskrat– good in Gibelotte with legumes. Gibelotte is, we had to google it, something akin to what we would call a pureed stew or thick soup.  No thank you, not something that I would ever touch.  Nearby restaurants incidentally advertised this on their billboards as a local delicacy along with Poutine– french fries and cheese curds floating in gravy.  The skunk possibility soured me.

The grand total of wildlife sighted on the tour included two Blue herons (egrets as he called them), one black duck (actually a cormorant), some kind of large bird that he incorrectly called an albatross but was likely an immature eagle.

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Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.