A Step back in Time

By Habeeb Salloum

Cote de Beaupre, QUEBEC -- The spring morning was surprisingly cold as we climbed aboard our tour bus. The biting wind seemed to stab through my clothing like a sharp needle, sending shivers through my body. Flopping down into my seat, I remembered the words of a beautiful Québécois lady who a day before said, "Here in Québec City, we have four seasons: 'almost winter', 'winter', 'still winter' and 'construction'. This moment her words had a ring of truth. It was 'still winter'.

Soon we were driving on the Côte de Beaupré following one of the oldest thoroughfares in North America. Called the Avenue Royale or the Route of Nouvelle-France, it is edged by buildings that cover three centuries of history. Our guide enthusiastically pointed out the characteristics of a number of the 1,500 ancestral homes of various vintages and styles. It was a comprehensive overview of this part of Québec where Canada's history began.

In less than an hour we arrived to the famous pilgrimage site of Sainte Anne de Beaupré. For 350 years, it continues to be a mecca for the faithful. People journey here to seek healing for their ailments or just to pray. Each year more than 1.5-million pilgrims and visitors experience the calm and peace of this revered basilica.

The first church, where this magnificent shrine now stands, was erected in 1658. The story goes that during its construction, Luis Guirmont, who was too ill to work in the building of the church, came to just symbolically lay a stone and, while doing so, was healed of his affliction. It was the beginning of an endless parade of the faithful who have claimed they were miraculously healed after praying at this shrine - dedicated to Sainte Anne, the patron saint of Québec.

In 1878, the church was demolished with a larger structure rebuilt. Sainte Anne de Beaupre was later destroyed when a fire broke out in 1922. A much larger basilica was built and consecrated in 1976. Today, Sainte Anne de Beaupre is draped in granite with a medieval style and has a combination of carved stone, mosaics and 240 stained glass windows.

After touring the church, with the seven deadly sins portrayed on the floor in mosaic, I inspected the Way of the Cross, lined with life-sized bronze figures. The others in our group prayed in front of the statue of Saint Anne, holding her daughter Mary, then stopped by a major relic, a bone from Saint Anne, before moving on to view a replica of Michelangelo's 'Pieta'.

A short time later, we returned to the Avenue Royale where our guide narrated escapades and historic anecdotes of the early settlers who once lived here until our bus stopped. The 'Moulin du Petit Pré,' considered the oldest commercial flourmill in North America was built in 1695 and was recently refurbished.

Dressed in 17th century costume, the mill's General Manager Isabelle Longré, and her husband greeted us in a traditional manner similar to the early settlers of New France. Stepping back in time, the couple took me on a tour of the working mill which produces 400-pounds of flour per hour. Today, the Moulin du Petit Pré is a major tourist attraction.

To lure even more visitors, there is a shop for enticing the many patrons to sample and purchase local organic products such as a delictable raspberry liqueur. The mill was even awarded the Québec Bus Owners Association's '2003 Tourism Innovator' prize. In the words of Isabelle Longré, "We present in our mill the best of what the Côte de Beaupré has to offer."

Leaving Avenue Royale behind, we crossed over a bridge to the Island of Orleans, Quebéc City's natural playground and dined at the Auberge La Goéliche. Overlooking the fast flowing Saint Lawrence River in a glass-walled dining room, we enjoyed a hearty tourtière (meat pie). Like much of the foods developed by the French Canadians, it was tasty and filling.

Sated with the fine food, we left for Forge à Pique - Assaut, an iron workshop, exhibiting a fine selection of handmade ironwork. Using traditional techniques with a forge, anvil, hammer and muscle, Guy Bel, the owner, has created exquisite iron candlesticks, chandeliers, cornices, fireplace accessories, furniture, lamps, murals, signs, stair railings, and vases.

Bel, a renowned blacksmith, has been an art-metal artisan for over 25 years. In his shop he offers crafts that dazzle visitors. Some are contemporary, while others reflect the traditional heritage of Québec. "A real medieval craftsman, living in the 21st century", is how one member in our group described this energetic man who is keeping alive an honored trade from the past.

I was still thinking of Bel's creations, when after recrossing the bridge we stopped to admire the majestic Montmorency Falls. A spectacular, awe-inspiring natural wonder, the falls plummets 27 stories 30 m (98 ft more than Niagara Falls) on its way to the St. Lawrence. In the winter, the mountains on either side of the falls become sheets of ice, transforming into an ice climbing wonderland.

A few hours later, we arrived to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel, one of Canada's renowned historic hotels where I was ushered into a room. It turns out Rayan Marquis, Sous-Chef of Le Château Frontenac, was ready to demonstrate his culinary genius. As we gorged ourselves on some of the finest food in the country, the idea of saints, flourmills and blacksmiths seemed to be in another world. It was a delightful capping to our exploration of the Côte de Beaupré.


photos: Habeeb Salloum

If You Go:

Ste. Anne de Beaupré - Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada GOA 3CO Tel: (418) 827-3781. Fax: (418) 827-8771. Website: www.ssadb.qc.ca

Moulin du Petit Pré - 7007 Avenue Royale, Château-Richer, Québec, GOA 1NO Tel: (418) 824-7007. Website: http://www.moulin-petitpre.com

Auberge La Goéliche - 22 chemin du Quai, Sainte-Pétronille, lle d'Orléans, Québec GOA 4CO Tel: 1-888-511-2248. Fax: (418) 828-2745. Email: infos@ goeliche.ca Website: http://www.goeliche.ca

Forge à Pique - Assaut - 2200, Avenue Royale, Saint-Laurent, Ile d'Orléans, Québec GOA 3ZO Tel: (418) 828-9300. Fax: (418) 828-1186.

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel - 1 rue des Carrieres, Quebec City, Quebec G1R 4P5 Tel: 418-692-3861; Toll free: 1-800-686-9206. Fax: 418-691-2143. Website: www.fairmont.com

Tourisme Québec: for complete tourist information Québec, call: (514) 873-2015 or toll free: 1-877-363-7777, or visit Website: www.bonjourquebec.com

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