By Wayne Litke
When our children were young, we always drove the southern route of the Trans-Canada Highway when traveling to Ontario to visit relatives. Skirting the Great Lakes is a beautiful but time-consuming trip that makes a person appreciate the massive size of the lakes. The term great truly applies to the lakes and we are so fortunate to live in a country that has abundant fresh water. I think we have lost sight of that as bottled water seems to be the drink of choice now and the plastic drink containers it comes in litters ditches and roadways everywhere.
Getting back to traveling, we decided to take the northern route through Ontario this year and see some different countryside. It was a rewarding drive and I was surprised by the large number of French-speaking people living in the northern part of the province. It reminded me of being in Quebec, except most of the signs were in English. It made the transition into Quebec almost unnoticeable, except for one thing that caught my attention right away.
All the rural Quebec highways we traveled had a 90-km speed limit, but no one drove at that speed. Every vehicle travels at a minimum 20 kmph above the speed limit. In fact, it was not until we finally reached a double highway well into the interior of the province that I was finally able to overtake and pass a vehicle – the driver was an elderly woman and she was piloting a small car that was almost as old as she was. Up to that point I had watched vehicles appear in my rear-view mirror, pass us and then watch as their Quebec license plates disappear out of sight ahead of us.
I was amazed by the number of mines in Quebec – truly amazed.
Moving eastward, we camped at Deux Rivierres and it was there that our education about camper-trailer retirement officially began. It was a quiet and well-laid out campsite that offered plenty of trees, shade and space between units. The camper trailers and yards were well maintained and each was personalized and unique. Most of the trailers had the extra protection of an external wooden roof which often extended into a living quarters on the front side of the unit which effectively doubled the size of the trailer. It is a common practice to add an addition to older mobile homes, but such a structure takes the mobility out of a holiday trailer. As we walked around the campsite, it quickly became apparent that many of the units with their additions had been there for years. In our travels throughout Quebec, we noticed many such additions built onto camper trailers – some being in the most wind-swept areas imaginable. It seems to be a common practice in Quebec to retire camper trailers (complete with an addition) in a pleasant area and then grow old with the camper. I am sure francophone land is the place where all camper trailers go to their final resting place.
In the francophone heartland, patriotism was clearly evident in almost every town. Many houses flew the provincial flag, but few dwellings displayed the Canadian flag. I am sure the Maple Leaf was flying in places we could not see and I am happy to report that before our first day was over (and to my delight) we spotted three buildings that were flying both the national and provincial flags. It’s sad to say the national flag was not a common sight. In the Acadia region of New Brunswick on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, an overwhelming number of properties were adorned with the Acadian flag. The neatly-kept properties were a visual treat to look at as finding an unkempt yard was almost impossible. It is clear the residents in that region (and Nova Scotia) take great pride in their history and are not afraid to show it.
One thing that was consistent along the coastline was rough, twisty and often narrow streets in the old towns along the way. On Hwy 132 (after crossing at Trois Rivierres), we also encountered speed limits that constantly varied from 50-90 kmph between every small town. The constantly changing speed limit, narrow roads and traffic made driving a tiring process. There were places where the structures such as a barn or veranda of a house were no more than five feet from the edge of the highway. Furthermore, the highway was narrow and had little or no shoulder. It made me wonder how a snowplow could remove the snow when buildings are that close to a highway.
While approaching the Gaspe Region, I spotted a business sign that had a mix of French and English. The sign stated: Monsier Jack Hydraliques and its wording reminded me of Quebec language police who can charge businesses that did not have adequate French wording on signage. I wondered about the sign and the name Jack versus Jacque. In elementary school we learned about lumberjacks, but we were never taught about the French equivalent – lumber jacques.
There is a piece of protective sports gear that may also need a more accurate name translation. It is know as an “athletic supporter” and has been given many names over the years. It is also known as a pickle dish or jock strap. I feel ashamed that the French did not receive adequate recognition regarding the jock strap. It should be given the appropriate francophone name: jacque strap, and labeled accordingly.
While traveling through an agricultural area of Gaspe, one English-only sign in a dairy producing area caught my attention. It was a big red sign with yellow lettering that stated: “Keep your oily shit at home.” It did not have a French translation, yet I am not sure what it meant and wonder if it pertains to the Energy East pipeline and the prospect of sending bitumen from the oil sands east to be refined.
Employment, energy and the economy can be difficult issues and we all view it from our own local perspective.