Gabriele Wills Guest Post and Give@way
My Favourite Places to Visit in Canada
By Gabriele Wills
My favourite city is Ottawa, where we lived for eight years. There’s a tale, which claims that when Queen Victoria was asked to choose a capital for the fractious colony of Canada, she stuck a pin in a map, randomly selecting a brawling lumbering town in the middle of the wilderness. But as the new seat of government, Ottawa eventually outgrew its raucous past, and is an enchanting, people-friendly city, with plenty of parks and miles of trails for bicycling or skiing. It lies alongside the broad and sometimes turbulent Ottawa River, with a backdrop of the picturesque Gatineau Hills of the French-speaking province of Quebec on the opposite shore. The city is bisected by the Rideau River and Canal – the latter a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which becomes the world’s largest skating rink in winter, stretching 7.8 km.
Our sojourn in the Ottawa area inspired my novel Moon Hall. Set in the present as well as the past, some characters experience life in the fledgling capital in the 1870s, mingling with the charming, popular Governor General, The Earl of Dufferin, and his adventuresome wife. Since 1867, the official residence of the Governor General, who is the Queen’s representative, has been Rideau Hall. It’s the Monarch’s home when she’s in Canada, and is open to the public.
I’m drawn to places with a sense of history, and 400-year-old Quebec City is surely a treasure. Once you pass through the fortified “Vieux-Québec” walls into the narrow streets lined with ancient stone buildings, you feel as if you’ve stepped back a few centuries into Europe. Yet it has a character and flavour all its own. Here you can really savour the French-Canadian culture and cuisine.
Lord Dufferin had his second vice-regal residence at La Citadelle, and fortunately prevented the city from tearing down the historic old walls. As a result, Vieux- Québec, known as “the cradle of French civilization in North America”, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before leaving Canada, Dufferin designed the Terrace that bears his name. It’s a broad boardwalk along the St. Lawrence River, affording magnificent views. Like most immigrants who came by sea, my family first set foot on Canadian soil in Quebec City, although I was much too young to remember. My novel, A Place to Call Home, is about Irish immigrants arriving in 1832 along with a devastating cholera epidemic, which decimated the community.
It’s always a pleasure to visit the Maritime Provinces where the friendly locals make you feel so welcome. On tiny Prince Edward Island, we once stayed at a farmhouse B&B that overlooks Cavendish Beach, in the area made famous by L.M. Montgomery in her Anne of Green Gables books. How exciting it was to discover that our hosts were her cousins! They took us into their hearts as well as their home. A couple of my characters meet L.M. Montgomery in my latest novel, Under the Moon.
In Nova Scotia, you get a sense of the rich Celtic heritage through the toe-tapping music and lilting accents. Exciting Halifax has the dubious fame of being the site of the largest accidental man-made explosion in history. That happened in 1917 when a munitions ship collided with another vessel in the harbour. It completely leveled part of the city, damaged every other building, was heard hundreds of miles away, killed 2000 people, and injured 9000. There’s a scene in my novel, Elusive Dawn, which is set there just after the explosion.
Lake Louise and Banff, Alberta, in the Rocky Mountains, are breathtaking, and I enjoyed what little I have seen of Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada is such a vast and varied land, so I still have plenty to explore!
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