Fly & drive East Canada
Four beavers are fixing a broken dam
East Canada (Quebec and Ontario) has interesting cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec City. Moreover, it has countless nature reserves, like Algonquin National Park, La Mauricie National Park and Reserve Faunique du Saint-Maurice with moose, beavers, chipmonks and North American porcupines. The Niagara Falls are a highlight.
Travelogue & photos: Geja Rijsman
We land in Toronto and rent a big car with child seat for Emma. The city has wide avenues and mainly low-rise buildings.
Next day the weather is great, around 20 degrees Centigrade. We take the subway to the city center, get off the train at George Street and walk along Queens Park Circle. The quiet is remarkable.
In the city center the streets are also wide and the buildings not very high. Daffodils and tulips are in bloom in the parks.
Most buildings are new; every now and then there's an old church or other old building between the new ones. After a short stroll we take the subway to Union. There we walk to the CN tower. From the top we have great views. We see one of the golden buildings on the Royal Bank Plaza.
After lunch in the revolving restaurant in the tower, we go to the glass floor to enjoy the height. Beneath us a baseball game takes place. It's strange and scary to stand so far above the world.
We walk to the Ferry Docks. There we take the ferry to the Toronto Islands, where we admire the view of Toronto and walk around.
Next day we visit the library. The building is not exactly spectaculer. But it has free internet. Then we take the subway to Chinatown, which is quieter than what we're used to in other metropoles. Blame it on the wide avenues. But it has many restaurants.
On the American side we get our first shower
Without breakfast we leave next morning and drive to Niagara Falls without a break. The Falls are not very high, but they are wide and especially the Horseshoe is impressive. We board the Maid of the Mist. We descend via gangways with lookouts. Then we take the elevator to the dock, where we get raincoasts.
The American part of the Falls is our first destination. Here we get our first shower. The boat moves on to the Horseshoe, where it struggles with the current. In the mean time we get one shower after another. I can hardly look up to the wall of water, because when I do, water pours in everywhere.
When we're wet through and through, we go inside. The boat just turns, and we are suddenly in the wind. Our rainsuits flap. Luckily the boat leaves the strong current soon, so we can go back on deck to dry.
We disembark and walk through the entertainment street to our car. We tour Niagara on the Lake with its beautiful houses.
Next morning we drive to Fort Eerie. On the way there we take the highway, on the way back the scenic route. After lunch we drive via the Falls to the Aviary, which is fun, especially when we walk among the birds. Hornbills, macaws, tucans, etc.
In the large hall it's feeding time for the parrots. We disinfect our hands, take Emma from the back carrier and enter. The birds sit on my hands and try to ruin the loops of my backpack and the zip of my camera bag.
Emma tries to catch the birds. Of course she doesn't succeed, but in response they gently bite her fingers. Interestingly, she doesn't cry, but she gets restive when birds sit on my head and hands.
Algonquin National Park
The chipmonk eats pieces of breadstick out of my hand
Today we leave early for the Algonquin National Park. We find a hotelroom with a view of a lake and drive into the park. Soon we reach a spot where we have a view of one of the many lakes in Algonquin.
After a few kilometers a car is parked at the roadside. At a short distance from the road a moose is visible in the forest. I walk toward it, but it remains hard to see. When I walk back, a moose crosses the road at 25 meters distance from our car. We continue our tour. A little later we see a moose on the left side of the road.
We hike around Peck Lake (2 km). We go up and down on a narrow path and sometimes on planking. We think we see wolf pawprints. Later it turns out that in many parts of the park dogs are allowed, including this hiking trail. So those were just dog pawprints.
We drive to the exit in Whitney. When we stop on the way there, Michael sees a beaver in a lake next to the road. We stay for a while and see two beavers swimming back and forth. At the center of the lake, which is filled with tree trunks, they built a huge beaver lodge. When both beavers disappear from sight, we continue our drive to Whitney.
Next day we go deeper into the National Park and take a road where three days ago a bear was seen. Unfortunately we don't see one. We do however see a Great Northern Diver, Canada's national bird. They are shy and fly away as soon as we stop the car near them.
We take the 5.6 kilometers hiking trail to Batlake which leads us through mixed forest with a steep climb to a panoramic lookout. Despite the pleasant temperature, here and there we still find snow on the trail. We see chipmonks and a few birds. A little earlier, we saw a pretty wild hen, which walked a little ahead of us on the trail.
We take a detour along a lake back to the motel. Just before we leave the park, we see a beautiful bird of prey on an electricity cable.
After breakfast next morning we pack our stuff and go back to the park. Because it is dry and not really cold, we take a short walk on the Hardwood Lookout trail (0.8 km). The trail goes up and down, sometimes it's steep and it leads us through different kinds of wood.
After our walk we tour the park. We both make an attempt at wolf howling near a lake, but get no response.
A sign "Forbidden for unautorized vehicles" has us doubting, but then we decide that our day pass makes us authorized. We drive on until we reach a fence and a stop sign. There's a wild hen behind the fence. While I approach the bird, I see from the corner of my eye an animal with red fur cross the road.
Wow, a marten so close by. Michael is surprised by the marten which appears next to him and looks him straight in the eye.
We eat our lunch in the car and give Emma a bottle. The marten crosses the road several times; the hen also returns and moves to a tree branch.
When Emma has almost emptied the bottle, a car approaches. It's a park ranger. He tells us we're not allowed to be here. He is nice and says we should let the baby drink and when she's finished we must leave as soon as possible.
We drive to Spruce Bog, where we take a walk on planking. When we put Emma in the back carrier, I see something small disappear underneath the car from the corner of my eye. A moment later a chipmonk scares me when it appears from under the car. I feed it pieces of breadstick which it eats out of my hand.
We walk on planking almost all the time during our walk. We cross a swamp, where we see how the water kills the trees. Toward the end of the trail we climb a rock, where we sit down for a while and then we return to the car.
Next morning we take Highway 60 through the park. Unfortunately we only see one moose, which crosses the road ahead of us and disappears again. It takes us an hour to cross the park. We drive to Ottawa, where we arrive later in the afternoon.
On the Peace Tower we have a view of the city
After we put our stuff in the hotelroom, we go to the city center and walk around the House of Parliament. It consists of three large separate sections, the East, West and Center Block. Next to the statue of Queen Victoria the Canadian flag flies.
Behind the East Block is the Women's Memorial, which symbolizes the struggle of women to get the vote.
After breakfast next day we walk to Dows Lake. There are flowerbeds with tulips in honor of the Tulip Festival. A large part of the tulips are a donated by the Dutch royal family and Parliament, on account of Canada's sheltering the royal family during WW II and the part that Canada played in the liberation of The Netherlands. When we leave the park at the other end, we take a nice, wide avenue with beautiful houses toward the city center.
We take a bus to the Parliament. We have to walk the last stretch, because there is a ralley; Wellington Avenue is blocked by tractors of protesting farmers.
We walk to Centre Block and take a tour. We are allowed to take a look in the Senate Hall, because it is not in session. Unfortunately we don't have time to attend a session of the House of Commons.
The House of Parliament is a gorgeous building with wide corridors and hallways. At the end of the tour we leave the buggy in the central foyer and take one flight of stairs and then the elevator to the observation lounge in the Peace Tower, where we have a view of the city.
La Mauricie National Park
The strange animal in a tree turns out to be a porcupine
Next morning we leave early and drive to Shawinigan, where we check in in our hotel before we visit the waterfalls. It has different floors and not that much water falling at all. Most water appears to be diverted to a power plant.
We drive to La Mauricie National Park. Because the main road throug the park is only 65 kilometers long, we take it to the end. It meanders over hills and is hemmed in by birches, pine trees and conifers. The wood is mostly too dense to see much. Every now and then we have a view of a lake or a swamp.
Suddenly we see a strange animal in a tree on the side of the road. We've never seen an animal like that before. It has long white hair on its back, but we can't see it very well, because it's high up in a tree and we're also looking against the light. It looks a little like a monkey, but a very clumsy one.
As we move on, we see an animal like this again. This time on a tree branch that hangs almost over the road. Now we see that it has a flat face, a short tail, two red fangs and long nails. Later we find out that it is a North American (also called "Canadian") porcupine.
Reserve Faunique du Saint-Maurice
The park is mainly used by hunters and anglers
We sleep in next day and then visit the Reserve Faunique du Saint-Maurice. It's a long drive with every now and then great views.
Just before we enter the park we pass huge rapids.
The park is mainly used by hunters and anglers, but it also seems to be popular because of its beautiful lakes where you can swim.
We mostly see an enormous amount of felled trees. Which is depressing. On the southern route we see a lot of trucks loaded with wood.
First we drive to the north-west, then turn for a short visit to the bear observation spot. No bears in sight, but there is a warning sign.
In the park, we see a bird of prey, a marten, two chipmonks, a few ducks and twice we see Great Northern divers, of which one is a female with two young. By the end of the tour we see two beavers. There are footprints of moose or deer, but they don't show themselves.
The Citadel has a view of Château Frontenac and the city
Next day, we leave for Quebec City. Our hotel there is an English style house within the city walls, accross the most often photographed hotel in the world: Château Frontenac.
We take a walk in the Old Town. One of the oldest buildings in the city is now an expensive restaurant. It's a gorgeous building with a red roof. From every part of the city one sees hotel Château Frontenac tower over the city, just as the city hall.
The historical seminary sits on a huge square surrounded by white buildings and has an antique sundial on its wall.
The - according to the Lonely Planet - beautiful Rue Garneau is marred by ugly fire escapes and one or two buildings are scaffolded.
Rue Sous le Cap may be narrow according to American standards, but we have seen hundreds of narrower streets in our native Netherlands. But the stairs are remarkable: every floor has its own entrance via a system of stairs. Some are painted beautifully.
On the Place Royale a corner building has a huge mural with images of celebrities and street scenes from the past.
On the square and the streets behind it are souvenir shops and an unassuming church. Everything has been renovated beautifully and has a European atmosphere. We buy souvenirs and then take the funicular to Terrasse Duffering from where we walk back to our hotel, struggling against the cold wind.
We rise around eight, because Emma is awake. We walk to the Citadel, which has a view of Château Frontenac and the city. The Citadel is under renovation.
We are not really interested in the fortress and continue to walk to Parcs des Champs de Bataille (Plaines d'Abraham). On the "battlefield" we see a group of schoolchildren act out a battle between the French and the British.
In the afternoon we drive to Canyon Ste Anne. We take a loop-shaped hiking trail which crosses the river twice: once before and once after the waterfall. Toward the end of the trail there is an opportunity to cross the river again, just above the water. There is an average amount of water in the canyon, so the waterfall is really nice.
We continue to drive to the Reserve National de Fauna Cap Tourmerte, which offers a resting place for migrating geese. We walk on wooden planking to the beach, where there is an observation hut where you can watch the geese without scaring them off. We only see a few.
Only when we're leaving the park, we see huge gaggles of geese. In front of the farmhouse near the exit they occupy a whole meadow and a little farther new gaggles fly on and off.
The Thousand Islands area is in the middle of the St. Lawrence
We get up early and drive to Brockville, where we have made a hotel reservation. We walk to the center, where an old train sits on the defunct tracks. One of the oldest railway tunnels of Canada was here.
Near the bridge over the railway tracks we see a remarkable traffic sign. What could it mean? Beware of flying bullets?
Next day we drive along nice old villages: Smith Falls, Merrickville and Kemptville. On the way I see a regular deer for the first time since we've been in Canada. It appears from the shrubs just when we pass by.
We drive to Morrisburg, to Upper Canada Village, an open air museum. All buildings date from around 1860 and have been moved here because of the widening of the St. Lawrence River. In in every building some trade is performed in the traditional way by people who explain what they're doing during their work. You can ask them questions about there activities and about life in a village around 1860.
Next morning we take a Thousand Islands cruise from Rockport. The Thousand Islands area is in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. The boat sails between the islands for an hour. Unfortunately it takes the same route both ways and it passes mainly larger islands like Heart Island with Bolt Castle.
The beavers bring twigs and pine stuff
Next day we drive via Belleville and Macon to Whitney, the east entrance of the Algonquin Park. Nice road on hilly terrain with few buildings.
Just before the exit to Whitney the car ahead of us sways. There is something on the road. Only when we have almost passed, we see that it's a tortoise which sits on the road with its head and paws sticking out.
We turn and I lift it by its shell. It's reaction makes me recoil, but I persevere and put it down in the grass on the side of the road. Meanwhile, Michael brings the camera, while a car with Germans also stops to watch the tortoise.
In Whitney we book a hotelroom for three days. By the end of the afternoon we enter the park. In the parking lot we see a Blue Jay. Soon we see a moose, not far from the road, between dead branches. And then a young moose on the side of the road.
A few big birds of prey float over the road. Did they spot something? We stop, but eventually they glide away from us.
We return to "our" beaver lake and soon I see one. I gives a wonderful performance, just off the bank of the lake.
We take a walk near the official beaver lake. The first part is deserted, but in the second part we see some activity. We find a great spot in the sun to enjoy the surroundings and the frog concert. A few are nearby, but we don't see them.
We drive to Opeongo, where a black bear was seen. We see a moose in the water. We watch it for a while and I am convinced that I saw something move around it as well. A little later we see two mini-moose. Even better: they stand still for a while and then slowly leave the swamp.
When we drive back, I see a huge beaver just ahead of us on the roadside. We scare it when we make too much noise and the beaver glides in the water. We drive a little closer to the lake and then turn. It turns out that the beaver climbed back on the shore. It is eating grass.
After a restless night we return to the park. We first visit Opeongo, which has beautiful surroundings and is a popular starting point for canoe trips.
A little farther two moose stand near the road. For the first time we see one with antlers. A little farther there are two more. They are headed in our direction. For a moment, they seem afraid and are about to disappear in the woods, but then they reappear and the largest of the two joins the other male in the water.
We drive to the picnic spot on the Lake of Two Rivers. We took our picnic blanket with us, but Emma doesn't stay on it. She is busy picking grass, putting pine cones in her mouth, etc. It's a pretty spot, but there are too many flies, so we return to our hotel.
In the afternoon we return to the park. We walk the Big Pines hiking trail, an easy walk along very high white pines.
Immediately at the beginning of the trail we see two cute chipmonks on the side of the path. One keeps completely still and the other sounds an alarm. Toward the end of the trail something scuffles in front of Michael's feet. All of a sudden we see a little snake with dark and light stripes slide away from us on the path.
In "our" beaver lake, the beavers are busy fixing the broken dam. This morning we already saw that it was broken, but then there was no activity. Now four beavers are working. Three small ones and a very big one. They bring twigs and pine stuff. The biggest one shows how a thick branch is gnawed in two parts and put in place. The small beavers are busy fixing the part of the dam under water.
Next day we visit the forest industry museum in the park. It is an open-air museum about the history of the timber industry in Algonquin. There are nice examples of old lumberjack camps, old machines, etc.
Late in the afternoon we drive deep into the park, where we see a turtle on a quiet road. I try to approach it but it soon feels I'm too close by. It turns and disappears in the stream.
Finally we want to go back to the Opeongo Store, hoping to see the moose with calf again. There are many cars this time.
After some two kilometers we all of a sudden see something big and black on the road. Yes! It's a black bear. As soon as it sees us, it runs into the wood. We drive back and forth a few times, but we don't see it again.
Muskoka Wildlife Center
A park ranger shows the skunk from nearby
Next morning we leave. We drive through the park to Huntsville to find out at the tourist office which Wildlife Center is half-way between Toronto and Huntsville. It turns out to be Muskoka in Orillia.
We take the tourist route. The first part is a small road, very pretty, through wooded hills. The shortcut from the tourist route to Orillia is nice too. Large meadows with here and there - often blossoming - trees, water or swamp and forest on nice hilly terrain.
Next morning we visit the Muskoka Wildlife Center. Inside, we see a skunk, a guinea pig, a chipmonk, a falcon, snakes, frogs and tortoise. Outside we see a porcupine, silver fox, moose, eagles and wolves.
Inside, one of the park rangers shows us Flower, the skunk, and a fox snake close up. We are allowed to touch them. It's interesting how soft and smooth the snake skin feels.
We go back outside for a while and watch the wolves. They are being fed, but it takes a long time before they eat their food.
Around noon we leave the park and drive to Toronto, to the airport.