We wake up in Montréal to snow, so we forego the chance to walk round the old town before our organised city tour begins. Again we have a Québecois guide and we learn that Jacques Cartier was the first known European on the island of Montréal. ‘Ville Marie’ was settled in the seventeenth century by missionaries. Until a hundred years ago Montréal was a walled city and all the buildings within the walls had to be stone. Half the population of Québec, about four million people, live in greater Montréal.
The city is the venue for many conventions and an annual jazz festival. When the 1967 World Fair was held here one island was enlarged and another created for this purpose. For this, they used earth that was excavated in order to create the underground city, which, at 40km, is even more extensive than that in Toronto. We get to drive round the Formula 1 Grand Prix track. Ok, so our maximum speed was 30kph but we got the idea. We also saw the Olympic rowing basin.
Today there are a mere 828 roadworks in the city and we have to make a few detours. 1% of the budget of all construction projects has to be spent on public works of art. The flowers are all being taken in for winter and street furniture has to be removed to allow for snow clearance. We see the first lock of the St Lawrence seaway. Until the locks were built ships had to stop at Montréal. Despite its distance from the ocean, it is the busiest container port of the Atlantic coast of North America. We also pass Mc Gill university, Canada’s oldest.
A quick stop at Olympic Park sets the autumn colours against a light dusting of snow. Finally, we visit the impressive Notre-Dame Basilica. There has been a stone church on this site since the 1670s but the current building was begun in the 1820s. The architect was Irishman James O’Donnell. The stone structure is lined in wood. The interior decoration is spectacular, in an over-the-top sort of way, rivalling some of the Baltic churches. The stained glass windows, made in Limoges, depict the history of this part of Canada. Pavarotti sang here, Céline Dion married here and it was also the venue for the funeral of Pierre Trudeau.
Then it is farewell to eastern Canada. We had to jettison some of our food in order to prepare for our internal flight. We also said goodbye to our ball of string, which has smelt very odd since getting wet in Darlington. We have somehow managed to cram our belongings into an acceptable amount of bags and head for Montréal airport for our flight to Calgary, nearly 2000 miles further west. This takes us into our fifth province, Alberta. As we have different surnames the system does not realise that we want to sit together, so we are allocated seats in different rows. In fact, I have to eject an interloper from my seat. I am now next to a silent lady and in front of someone who is clearly germ ridden. I am already wondering if my cold day in Québec has given me a sore throat so this is the last thing I need. I doze and read my way through the four hour flight. I am once more impressed by the grid like patterns of the settlements as we come into land. Our bus has broken down so Mark arrives with a rescue bus and the sunset over the Rockies as we arrive is beautiful.
This is probably the most comfortable hotel room so far, with the most enormous bed and a firmer mattress than many. We are very happy to trade the noise of air conditioning for an open window and the hum of traffic – fresh air – hurrah!