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Tag Archives: Quebec City
Boutique hotel complete with fluffy beaver pillows and wood burning fireplace, or chilly outdoor longhouse? Hummm. Well, I had to go out and have a look. In fact, while I was at the Hotel Musée Premieres Nations in Wendake I had a lovely tour of the village and saw the local church, river, chief’s house, museum and the longhouse.
The Huron-Wendat Nation, located on the territory known as Nionwentsio, is located a 20-minute drive outside Quebec City. My first stop was the museum, attached to the hotel. I learned that in 1534 Donnacona, Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendats welcomed Jacques Cartier, the French explorer and led him to the village of Stadacona (now where Quebec City stands). However, Huron-Wendats mostly occupied the territory south of Georgian Bay in what is now the province of Ontario. They became fur-trading partners with the French, had upwards of 30 villages and a population of 40,000. Unfortunately disease, famine and fighting wiped out more than 90 per cent of them. They left their native land in 1650 and neighbouring peoples adopted some and others went to Quebec. In 1697 about 150 Wendats settled on the banks of the Akiawenrahk River (the current site of Wendake) and the population has grown to 3,000.
Wars between the French and English also resulted in a decimation of the Native peoples. Treaties were signed in the 1700s, in particular the 1760 Huron-British Treaty that formed a permanent alliance between the First Nations of the St. Lawrence region and the British. Ever expanding colonization usurped much of the land and the Huron-Wendats found themselves excluded from community decision-making. It took more than 230 years, but in 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the Huron-British Treaty and the Huron-Wendats were finally given official status as a distinct and free Nation.
Go to Wendake and you’ll see the Huron-Wendats have made tourism into a primary focus. While I was there, the 55-room hotel was packed with a marketing company retreat and I had to squeeze into the bar area for lunch. Warm, woodsy yet distinctly modern, the hotel was filled with Native art, and animal trophies, reflecting their heritage as hunters. Big windows overlooked the river and a central lobby with a fireplace, comfy chairs and animal skins beckoned to guests who wanted to warm up after a winter outing.
Tsawenhohi House was in the heart of the village. The house’s name means “He who sees clearly, the hawk,” and it was completed in 1820 as a home for Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi, Grand Chief. Depending on the time of year, you can see crafts demonstrations, exhibits of cultural objects and a garden of healing plants. Our guide told us the house had been sold, along with all its furnishings, by a relative of the last owner. Villagers were able to buy it back but the furniture was gone.
Trudging through the snow, we crossed a bridge over Akiawenrahk River to look at Kabir Kouba Falls. The name means “river of a thousand meanders,” and it had a gently undulating, snake-like quality. Across the street was the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, built around 1730 and designated a National Architectural and Historic Site in 1981. A carving of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be declared a saint in 2012, sat on one side of the alter. Tekakwitha, known as Lily of the Mohawks, was born in upstate New York in 1656 and is beloved by First Nations churchgoers throughout North America.
The traditional longhouse was our last stop. Completed last year, the longhouse is covered in bark (“It’s actually a simulated bark that withstands weather better,” noted the guide). Inside were bunk beds with sleeping bags, three fires and some benches. In the warmer weather, Wendat guides might bake bannock, traditional bread, brew Labrador herbal tea, relate myths and legends and guard the fire. Nobody was staying there when I peeked in, but it looked like a fun option for a summer adventure.
Although the history of the Huron-Wendat people was tough to hear, I was glad to learn about these resilient people and even happier to experience their culture in a first-class tourist destination.
I love going to Quebec City in February. While mountains of snow and polar temperatures turn Ontarians into cringing shut-ins, Quebecers head boldly outdoors. Traffic is barely affected in blowing snow conditions, all night dance parties take place in sub-zero temperatures, and ice bars offer fortifying beverages to pedestrians on many main streets.
When I was in the walled city recently for Quebec City Winter Carnival, the biggest of its kind in the world, the main man was Bonhomme. A jolly bilingual snowman who seemed to be at just about every event, Bonhomme, I’m told, is an ambassador not a mascot. What’s the difference? Well, for one, he can talk. Rumors are there is more than one, but organizers say no. They just speed him around town in a special minivan with dark windows.
I met Bonhomme at his Ice Palace, across from the Parliament Buildings. He was mobbed like a rock star. Quebec kids love him more than Santa, because they say “He’s real.” His pad was impressive. There were 300 tons of ice bricks used in the construction and it took three weeks. In the old days the ice came from the St. Lawrence, but with global warming and ice breakers, that’s not possible any more. Instead, very clear ice bricks (made with–reverse osmosis–distilled water) weighing 300 pounds each got shipped in from Montreal. Then 12 people worked night and day to get it ready for opening day on January 31st.
Inside there was a kitchen, complete with ice stove, dining room, pantry (he only eats cold items), bedroom and ice shower. Everything a Bonhomme could want! In the dining room there were pictures of him and Princess Grace of Monaco who attended in 1969 and in the kitchen there was a calendar listing upcoming activities, including yoga. Cold yoga!
The Carnival was a blast. On the Plains of Abraham I watched kids ice fish for brook trout (there was a grill they could cook their fish on afterwards), took a ferris wheel ride, cheered the human foosball game players, and ate maple taffy cooled on the snow. What I liked best about the event this year was how it has opened up to all areas of the city. There were eight street business improvement associations that signed up to present activities. On Rue Petit Champlain, just below Chateau Frontenac, I spied 27 magnificent ice sculptures and took a trip down memory lane at Ti-Pere’s.
Ti-Pere was the pub owner who invented the high-octane drink called Caribou. A delicious mix of wine, brandy and spices, it was served hot in a small theatre space dedicated to this Carnival pioneer who passed away a few years ago.
Further afield, on 3rd Ave there were curling rinks for kids, a lumberjack axe-throwing contest, hot waffles and an amazing array of steam punk-style street performers who sang, danced and interacted with the crowd.
At the end of the day was a giant snowball fight. Who called the two teams of around 1,000 each to begin? Our man Bonhomme! Men in kilts fired military-looking rifles to finally let them know it was over. Who won? Nobody seemed to care. They just all took off for hot chocolate and a shot of Caribou.
Quebec City puts the win back into winter. I loved it. And I was dressed warmly, which helped. The Carnival goes until February 16th. Here’s the website. Go if you can. It will melt that polar vortex grimace off your face in a nanosecond.