A free day to explore Prince Edward Island. Navy Car has a sticking throttle and needs a bit of attention. We’ve been carrying around a new set of throttle shafts since Lima in 2015 and haven’t been long enough in one place to get around to it. I pull the carbs off and remove the worn shaft only to find the new shafts are standard size and the car has oversized shafts from an earlier rebuild by the previous owner. Just then a nicely restored MGC rolls up driven by a local lawyer, Danny….. After a bit of a chat he suggests I talk to Peter Noakes, an expat Australian who is also a member of their Prince Edward British Car Club and the local expert on SU carburettors. An hour or so later, what appears to be a 3 litre Bentley rolls up. Peter bought a Vanden Plas fabric body and interior from the UK then built from scratch a new chassis to suit a Jaguar motor and Ford pick up suspension. It even sports power steering from an Australian Falcon GT so despite its 1920s appearance and vintage tyres it is actually fun to drive. Peter has brought over a few boxes of SU spares but alas no oversize shafts so the old ones go back in until another day.
Time to explore Prince Edward Island and first stop is Cavendish on the north coast, famous for being the location of the house with green gables which inspired the author Lucy Montgomery to write the series of books which has sold 50 million copies and translated into 20 languages according to wiki. There is even an Ann of Green Gables golf course, presumably to amuse the blokes who like chasing little white balls around while their partners live out their childhood memories exploring the house and gardens.
Another lobster roll for lunch – this one at the Blue Mussel Café right on the water in North Antico and the best one yet. Prince Edward and the other Maritime Provinces are known as the have-nots compared with the resource rich Canadian Provinces and rely heavily on subsidies from Ottawa to survive. The lobster fishermen and potato farmers are very well off but there is not much else apart from tourism to sustain their economy. Around a million tourists visit PE each year so we guess that the hospitality industry does pretty well too, at least from May to September.
Today’s drive takes us down the eastern coast of New Brunswick and then across the bridge to Prince Edward Island and its principal city Charlottetown. We take the tourist route through a pretty little fishing villages followed by the national park and its succession of bridges crossing rivers and inlets. All postcard perfect except Dave was on a mission so no chance to get any happy snaps along the way. We are seeing it on the best day of this summer – must be pretty bleak and miserable in winter though.
We stop for fuel and coffee mid-morning and have to find a way through the double line of cars and pick-ups stretching back about a hundred metres from the drive thru at Tim Hortons. Must be very good coffee to justify all those carbon emissions – why can’t they park their cars and walk a few steps to the counter?? A Cobra replica rumbles by just as I’m taking the picture.
Then it’s across the long bridge to Prince Edward Island. The locals claim it is the longest bridge in the world at over 10 km across the water but no-one has told them there is a much longer bridge in China now.
We reach our overnight destination of Charlottetown about midday and head downtown to checkout where the best lobster is served. Lobster rolls hit the spot and then it’s off for a walk around the shoreline – no traces of the massive ship building industry of the 19th century now, just beautiful parks and marinas. Here we learn the significance of the town on Canadian history. In 1864, the Charlottetown Convention was held. At first it was to be just a meeting of the three eastern provinces – Prince Edward Island, Novia Scotia and New Brunswick instigated by Great Britain’s concerns not only by the threat of the post-civil war USA taking over but also the cost blowout of recent rail projects. At the last minute, Canada invited itself to the meeting and put a convincing argument to the three British colonies to join with Canada. It seems the Canadian hospitality was so generous that the provinces were convinced to join “..to produce one of the greatest nations on God’s earth”
Just for something different this evening, we see a performance of Mamma Mia in the Charlottetown Arts Centre. An excellent production which would have been worthy of a capital city in Australia – how good to see it in a small town of only 45,000 people.
New territory for me – I’ve never been further East than Quebec on previous trips and we are both really looking forward to exploring this less touristy part of Canada. At the first stop out of Quebec we are bailed up by a guy in a shiny new Porsche Carrera S who is pretty excited to see us. Not something you would expect from a Porsche owner in Australia but Canadians are friendly everywhere we go.
Next stop is for lunch at Grand Falls. Pretty spectacular on this lovely warm summer’s day but must be even better in the spring thaw when according to the signboard it carries 90% of Niagra Falls’ volume. Lorraine gets directions to a patisserie on the other side of town which looks very quiet. Most of the bread and other goodies have gone by the time we arrive but no problems, Madame offers us homemade pea soup and bread to keep us going.
As we are leaving a shiny MGB pulls up and we chat with Eudore who lives nearby. He asks if we would like to see a big bridge and of course we say yes. So off we go about 10 km down the main road and then a short drive on a bumpy road over the top of the hill to be greeted by the sight of a spectacular railway bridge across the valley. Built by Canadian Rail in the early 1900s it is 240m high and dwarfs his house and garage. Who needs Skyrail…
A quick update on how the cars are going. Both Red Car and Blue B have been having intermittent problems with overdrives. Ken has become expert in rebuilding overdrive solenoids and they both seem to be getting on top of it. Blue B has a more serious problem – it is consuming ever more oil with a complete engine rebuild the only solution. Ross is becoming increasingly concerned and asks the distance we are planning to drive around Newfoundland before we put the cars on the ship to the UK. I suggest it would be about 4 litres which Ross didn’t seem to find helpful.
A free day to walk around the beautiful old part of Quebec along with a few thousand other tourists. The main streets with their tourist trap shops could be anywhere in the world but away from there the magnificent French influenced buildings and streetscapes can be enjoyed. One of the distinguishing characteristics of churches and public buildings in Quebec is their zinc plated roofs and spires which blend into the sky almost appearing transparent. Chateau Frontenac, the much photographed hotel overlooking the water, is every bit as grand as we expected. Since I was last here a boardwalk has been built stretching along the clifftop to the Citadel and the end of the old city wall. We were hoping to get views back over the old city but temporary fencing for a rock concert about to get underway on the Plains of Abraham limited access – we got to hear the rehearsal for free – almost as good as the real thing but with almost no audience apart from us.
We are meeting Jen and Todd Steeves from the Ottawa MG Club for breakfast near the hotel and then driving to the outskirts to meet Duncan and the group who will be driving with us to Montreal. No dramas getting away although Peter is a bit disappointed that the electric fan he was hoping to pick up for Green Car didn’t turn up. Yesterday he had dropped into a spares shop near the hotel and the owner was so impressed with our trip that he told Peter he could have any of the fans he had in stock for free if they would fit. Unfortunately they were all too large so he tried to get a smaller one overnight – no stock unfortunately but a nice try.
Bob Zelmer from the Ottawa Club has loaned me a Gilles Villeneuve book overnight for our adventurers to all sign – we find we share a passion not only for MGs but also Formula 1, especially from the 1970s and 80s when Quebec’s Gilles Villeneuve was driving briefly for for McLaren and then Ferrari. An exceptionally talented driver who had a short but exciting career and was the father of Jaques Villeneuve. Bob was excited that our trip includes a visit to the Montreal F1 track named in the memory of Gilles so it’s going to be a good day.
Montreal is only a couple of hours away tracking parallel with the St Lawrence Seaway so we shortly arrive at Chateau Laudreuil – a magnificent building and gardens running down to the water. There are another dozen or so MGs with their very enthusiastic and welcoming owners from the Montreal Club there to meet us and we enjoy a delicious buffet lunch – how good to be in Quebec province where the culinary traditions are so French.
First stop after lunch is the Gilles Villeneuve circuit built after Mosport was deemed not safe enough for F1 in 1982. It was built on Ile Notre Dame alongside the former 1967 Canadian Expo and has a reputation for being one of the more challenging circuits on the calendar. The wall on the outside of the chicane is known as the Quebec Wall and has caught out many famous drivers. The weather today is much cooler with showers followed by brilliant sunshine but It is fairly damp and dreary when we arrive at the circuit. A quick grid line up of the cars for photos with officials flapping around saying you can’t stop here and we are off at the strictly limited top speed of 30 km/h – what would Gilles have thought about that!
Then it’s into the old city where we meet Duncan’s friend Sarah who is our tour guide. An excellent introduction to Quebec’s history dating back to 1642 interlaced with nice touches of humour and little tests along the way followed by a meal at a very noisy restaurant right near the hotel we somehow managed to book right in the party centre of Quebec. Not quite our demographic but everyone has a good time anyway.
There was a bit of car drama this afternoon when we were parking in downtown Montreal and for a change it wasn’t one of our cars. The very smart MGB driven by our friends Jen and Todd suddenly started itself as they were unloading stuff with no-one was in the driver’s seat. And it was in gear! Fortunately the handbrake was on and Jen managed to stall it before hitting any of the other cars but what a nasty shock. They had experienced a starter relay problem a few days ago and it seemed the wire to the starter relay had short circuited to a live wire at the ignition switch. An autonomous car ahead of its time! Unfortunately the starter solenoid fried itself so they were left with a long drive back to Ottawa and no starter – Jen sent a note later that night saying they got back okay so all good.
Our first morning in Ottawa and we take the hop-on – hop-off bus for the tourists’ view of the city. It is a very beautiful city with many grand public buildings including Parliament House and the impressive chateau nearby built by a railway magnate. In Australia the grand buildings of the 19th century can be attributed to gold but in Canada it seems to be mostly about lumber and the railways. First stop is the Museum to get an overview of Canadian history. The permanent displays focus on pre-European settlement and celebrate the rich history of the First Nations Peoples. We were fortunate to also see 3 special exhibitions – one covering a large collection of very-French carriages and sleds collected from all over Quebec. Another covering Napoleon’s life and influence on Paris and the third on the gold rush in British Columbia. I’m guessing most Australians are like us and don’t know a lot about this gold rush which followed on from the 1850-60s rush in Australia but it was just as intriguing as ours. The environment was every bit as tough as any of the goldfields in Australia but at least they were blessed with plenty of water. What made it different was the active involvement of the First Nation people. Prior to the gold rush there were many years of trading between initially the French fur traders and later the British so there was a strong desire to maintain harmonious relations. This worked well until there was an influx of miners from America and then things turned ugly in some areas. Reason prevailed and harmony was largely restored according to this version of history. It was interesting for us to see a number of unflattering comparisons made between Canada and Australia’s treatment of their indigenous people. In one display there was a quote from an editorial in the Maryborough (Queensland) Chronicle of 1861:
“The war has now fully commenced… Every white man has full license to shoot, kill and destroy all aborigines… The process is so slow, so expensive… that if the extermination of the aboriginal races of Australia be essential to the prosperity of the European races, then he is the greatest benefactor to the country who mixes arsenic in the ration flour and so destroys them quietly and expeditiously”
Back on the bus feeling a little flattened but a walk around the Byward Market lifted our spirits – we skipped the last few legs of the bus tour and walked through the old residential part of town and around the canal back to where the car was parked under the Arts Centre. It seemed most parts of Montreal were under re-construction in readiness for their 375th birthday celebrations next year and this included most of the Arts Centre precinct but we finally found a way around the construction after a few false attempts.
Got back to the hotel in time for a bit of car maintenance. Our brake lights have been more or less out of action for most of the trip – only coming on when you really stand on the pedal. Simon changed the pressure switch a few weeks ago but it still isn’t right. Checking all the connections suggested that the pressure switch still isn’t right so this might need to wait for another time. Hope we don’t get to wear another car in a sudden stop…
What a contrast to the fast and furious not to mention stinking hot drive to Bracebridge after we left the Falls yesterday. 10 and even 12 lanes on the expressway as we approach Toronto. Fortunately our side of the road was flowing fairly well but the other side was stop and go for over 100 km which would have been miserable in the hot sun without air conditioning. Canadians seem to have a fairly relaxed approach to speed limits with a margin of around +20km/h the norm. Even in the US you tend to get mown over by huge trucks if you are driving at the speed limit and there is no backing off for roadworks. At one point the highway was down to one lane while workers were sealing cracks in the pavement just a few metres from trucks and cars whizzing past at 110 km/h. We learnt that the penalty for hitting a highway worker is 10 years in jail – a reasonable incentive to be cautious.
Our stop over is in Bracebridge, a picturesque town a couple of hours north of Toronto in the lakes district of Ontario. From there we drove along Route 118 as recommended by MG people from Ottawa. What a fantastic road! Just two lanes winding through thick forest between the lakes and small villages for nearly four hours – MG paradise.
All good things have to come to an end and finally we reach Renfrew, just a few km from Ottawa where we are to stop over for a couple of days. Renfrew was a very wealthy lumber town in the late 19th century but has hung on nicely and we found a newly opened slightly quirky coffee shop called The Vintage Kettle to have lunch. Very friendly staff and good food! After just two days in Canada we are starting to see the stark differences in cost of living between Canada and Australia. Our respective dollars have the same exchange rate to the USD and Canadian salaries are similar to ours but eating out in Canada will cost about half the amount in Australia. A $10 minimum wage in Canada probably explains the difference. You could also buy a 4 br house with 3 bathrooms, all freshly renovated with its very own sandy beach on a lake less than an hour from Ottawa for less than $500k. Of course we were seeing it at its very best, a beautiful warm summers day but we’re not so sure about the -20 deg C winters…