From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Thursday, June 17, 2010 Road Junkies 1 Comments

Day 48:  Quebec, QC to Montreal, QC
As we drove along the St. Lawrence River toward Montreal this morning, we spotted a massive steeple across the river. Our subsequent investigation led us to the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap (Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape) in the city of Trois Rivieres. Each year thousands of believers make a pilgrimage to this church, Canada's national shrine to the Virgin Mary.
The original 1659 wooden chapel at this location was replaced by the first stone parish church in 1720. Known as the Old Shrine, this 18th century building is home to a Madonna considered miraculous since 1888 when her eyes were said by witnesses to have been momentarily animated.
Inaugurated in 1964, the newest basilica has a modernistic octagonal sanctuary that seats 1,600. Its dome rises 125 feet, and extensive stained glass windows depict local history as well as biblical narratives. Also included in the building are facilities to support the shrine's active programming-- offices, classrooms, a restaurant, gift shop, and a theater.
Adhering to our commitment to roads less traveled, we avoided the freeway from Quebec to Montreal and drove on smaller roads. One of these was Highway 138, which follows portions of Chemin du Roy (King's Road) built from 1731 to 1737 along the northern bank of the St. Lawrence.
Prior to the construction of King's Road, land travel between Montreal and Quebec City involved negotiating a series of farm roads. Once the direct link was completed, the journey took "only" four to six days.

As we approached Montreal, our first large city in weeks, we had an immediate reminder of why we've tried to stay off the beaten path.  Traffic was thick, patience was short, and, ooh là là , those Montreal drivers!  Though our French dictionary indicates that "Arret" (as seen on a red octagonal street sign) means "Stop," for many Montreal drivers, the translation appears to be "Pause." 
Lane darting is a basic driving strategy, and turn signals are optional.  If an exit ramp with only one lane appears to need with two, drivers just form two lanes anyway and try to browbeat others into compliance with their impromptu rules.  No doubt Atlanta drivers are just as capricious and have often justifiably been characterized as among the rudest in the U.S., but we've just been away from the urban scene long enough to really notice it.  Tomorrow we'll get down to seeing some of the Montreal sights and looking for a few letterboxes planted here and everything will look better.

On most days as we travel, we learn something that surprises us. Today we were astonished by a semitruck we saw on the highway with this logo on the side.  Painted next to this was the name of a department store we've seen in every Canadian city of significant size that we've visited-- The Bay (in Quebec, la Baie).  We had no idea this chain of stores was related to a company we all learned about in elementary school and never imagined that the company still existed.  The Hudson's Bay Company, we discovered, is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world.  Though the company once had vast holdings in North America and acted as the de facto government in large areas, the only part of the company still operating is its department stores, carrying on a tradition begun with trading posts established across North America before George Washington was born.

Daily Stats
Miles driven:  220
High temp:  77° F (ugh!)
Traffic jams:  6
Stalls in women's washroom at Notre-Dame-du-Cap:  25
Stained glass panels:  2,402
Volunteers planting flowers at church:  18