Our Time Among the Quebecois and Other Tales of Fury


When last I updated you we had shared a lovely lobster dinner with the Lazurri family in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  The purpose of our visit to this Atlantic Canadian province completed and the next official event still a few days off (and several hundred miles away), we had a bit of downtime to ourselves.  Come to think of it, that next event is not only far from Nova Scotia’s briny shores; it’s two time zones behind.  Had we continued Eastward – and yes, you can do that by way of an $800, 12 hour ferry to Newfoundland – we would have been in the unusual situation of setting our clocks one-half hour ahead of Atlantic Time.  Those Canadians.  What they won’t think of.

Alas, we needed to start the long turn westbound.  It was sad saying goodbye to Clare and Brian.  Their family were so incredibly welcoming and such a delight to visit.  But we accomplished our mission here and Christendom alumni outreach can now truly be called “international”.  Vince Criste is breathing a sigh of relief.

You know us, though…  We have three days, a couple of passports, and a working knowledge of pop culture.  We also have two kids who have been quite decent but seem to be cracking so we needed to make these three days as much about them as possible.

DAY 27/All About Anne

I’m sure there are many Christendom alumnae (L., f., pl.) who would think of just one thing when I mention the words Prince Edward Island.  Thanks to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) televised miniseries in the mid-1980’s (and a subsequent rebroadcast on PBS in the States) Lucy Maude Montgomery’s timeless novel Anne of Green Gables is no doubt what sprang right to mind.  Indeed not only young ladies remember Anne Shirley, the title character from Montgomery’s series, but many young men are also familiar with Avonlea, Matthew, Marilla, and a certain fermented cordial.  Stick with me.  Have I steered you wrong so far?  Don’t answer that.  Many of the guys reading this right now can remember being stuck at home that winter, possibly outnumbered in gender by his sisters, nowhere to go thanks to a few feet of Jersey snow, and nothing to watch except… Anne of Green Gables.  Or maybe that was just me. In many ways, our trip to PEI was something I was looking forward to as much as Karla and Rita were.

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Benedict repping Christendom on the ferry to PEI.

Prince Edward Island, for background, is about the size of Delaware.  Until 20 years ago when a fixed bridge was constructed the island was essentially a place where few people lived in relative comfort.  The capital city of Charlottetown is quaint in its beauty.  The rest of the island is pastoral in its charm.  In addition to the bridge a ferry also connects Nova Scotia to PEI.  We took this ferry out to the island at 8AM and enjoyed the sea breeze for an hour and a half.  My daughter even made a friend in a poodle who was on her way to a competition of sorts in Charlottetown.  On the ferry front, it’s a remarkably smooth voyage and totally free of charge!  That’s because people only pay to leave PEI.  Your return options are to come back via the same boat at C$70 per car or take the Confederation Bridge at C$46 per car.  Of course, one could opt to remain on the island and hope no one comes looking for you.

 

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Rita’s new friend.

Disembarking, we drove the hour to Charlottetown.  We took in the sights along the main street, most of which had an Anne theme to them.  Rita bought a hat with red braids dangling from it.  “Honey,” I said to Karla, “Why is she trying to look like the Wendy’s hamburger girl?”  Turns out it’s an Anne hat.  We stopped in at St. Dunstan’s Cathedral Basilica to pray before driving another hour north to Cavendish and the home of Green Gables.  So important is this fictional little girl to Canadian history and tourism that the site of the home that inspired Green Gables is a Canadian National Park.

 

I must say it is beautiful and I wouldn’t mind living here.  That being said I think they’ve taken the Anne thing a bit too far.  We sat down in the orientation theater to watch a video about LM Montgomery.  I cannot believe I just wrote that.  But we learned a few things.  For instance, this beloved author shares my birthday (and Rita’s too since Rita shares my birthday with me).  She also shares a birthday with Dick Clark though he was born just a few years before her.

At one point in the video the narrator described how Montgomery was such a national treasure that the government in Ottawa bestowed some type of honor on her even before she died.  “Montgomery inspired generations of Canadians with her imaginative characters.  In 1946 she was declared -”  At this point the narrator paused slightly.  I turned to Karla and said the only words that would seem to follow naturally.  “- Venerable by Pope Pius XII.”

After our visit and lunch we dipped our toes in the warmest ocean water I’ve ever felt right on the north shore of PEI.  I was shocked.  It was like bath water. The sand was a ruddy color, the waves almost non-existent.  This was a scene of great peace and seemed fitting to mark our halfway point in this tour. Then we drove back to the mainland across the 8 mile bridge.  I was slightly incontinent.  Eight miles.  Out at sea.  On a two lane road.  Thank goodness Karla was driving.

I took over the driving an hour later and drove us into the night.  Remember the desolation I described driving into New Brunswick?  The return trip wasn’t any better.  We had planned to stop in Quebec City for the night figuring we’d like to get as far as we could.  What we did not plan on was Canada’s strange bilingualism.  So, Canada is French and English, right?  WRONG.  Most of the country is bilingual and it shows in highway signage.  “Rue Main Rd” is typical.  But the Quebecois somehow seemed to achieve a brand of the separatism they have long sought at least on the lingual front.  NOTHING is in English and no one speaks it either.  I found this out the hard way when I stopped at a Tim Horton’s for coffee at midnight.  To the man behind the counter I asked tepidly “Do you speak English?”  His reply: “So-so…”  I fumbled my way through an order that he somehow got right.  As I left he turned to me with a knowing look and said softly “Enjoy… meal.”  I stopped in my tracks, turned back to him, and said “Merci…”  Oh boy, we’re in for trouble.

DAY 28/A Prayer in Broken French Still Counts

Saturday morning we woke up in a hotel room in Quebec City.  Afraid to give ourselves away as Anglophones we darted to the car with our kids hiding on the luggage rack.  Before leaving town, though, we explored a bit.  We would totally come back to spend more time (with an interpreter).  I’ve never been to France but Karla assures me it looks like this.  We prayed for you all in the Basilica of Notre Dame du Quebec and moved on.  Our next stop was the shrine of St. Anne in Beaupre.

By some accounts St. Anne, grandmother of Jesus, mother of the Virgin, is considered a patron saint of fertility.  I suppose it would be correct to say a patron for infertile couples but the former works just as well.  My parents stopped at this very shrine on their honeymoon almost 60 years ago.  Sixteen children later and I think St. Anne’s intercession is not in question.  And believe me, I know well the cross of infertility.  It does not matter if it is full and irreversible or temporary.  For a couple to struggle with conception is one of the greatest pains and deepest mysteries I can think of.  For their intentions (and our own) we prayed at this beautiful place.  Above all, may God grant us all peace in doing His Will.

The fact that we walked in on a funeral mass being celebrated in French, well that just made the whole thing more interesting.

Back in the car we headed to Montreal.  No time to see any of the sights except two.  Continuing the theme of prayer for our alums and their families and not to focus solely on Mary’s side of the family we visited the shrine to St. Joseph built by St. Andre Bessette known as the Oratory.  If you’ve been, then you know…  The main basilica (upstairs) is a little goofy.  If you ever come to visit, stick with the crypt level and the gardens.  Still something overtook me as I wandered around and I found myself meditating on the silent strength of the foster-father of Our Lord.  Again, I prayed for myself and also for all the Christendom dads out there.  The other stop here was to the actual grave of St. Kateri Tekawitha.  We’ve been to her shrine in Auriesville, NY but this is where she’s buried – in a small mission church just south of Montreal.  The church was locked.  The neighborhood was not inviting.  I said a quick prayer and we took off.

We headed the 30 km or so to the border with Ontario where we could order food in English.  Quebec was crazy.  Crazy fun!

Day 29/The Falls… Again?

We spent our Sunday first at mass in Kingston, Ontario (where we had stayed the night and where we had once again been given a room that was already occupied!).  More prayers for the Crusader family, another set of plenary indulgences thanks to another Holy Door, and more pictures were taken.  We drove.  We stopped at Tim Horton’s.  We drove.  We stopped for the bathroom.  We drove.  Every time I say “we drove” I mean “I drove”.  We stopped at the world’s largest apple.  Don’t ask.

Finally, we reached Niagara Falls.  Even our kids have been here before so we did not stay long.  It’s Niagara Falls.  Do I need to describe it to you?

We crossed the border and returned to the sweet land of liberty.  It’s not as though our Canadian friends lack freedom.  But they did try to make me recycle.

And we continued to drive until we reached Cleveland.  Tomorrow I will tell you why we drove to Cleveland when it isn’t really on the way from Ontario to Indiana.  Until then, say a prayer for us and if you haven’t already done so, FILL OUT THE SURVEY!

Thank you.


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