Canada Turns 150!

Why you should visit Canada in 2017

By Alana Lojek

2017 marks Canada’s Sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Not coincidentally, Canada has been named the Top Country to Visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet, and took the number one spot in the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2017.

Interest in Canada is soaring. Our charismatic prime minister, the second-youngest (and arguably handsomest) leader in the country’s history, has garnered attention, but it is the diverse landscapes and dynamic cities that are drawing visitors from around the world. The generous current exchange rate with the US dollar probably hasn’t hurt, either.

A (very) brief history

The Dominion of Canada was born July 1, 1867, when the British North American Act melded  Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The remaining provinces and territories were stitched together over time, with Nunavut being the most recent addition, officially becoming its own territory in 1999. Canada as we currently know it, with 10 provinces and 3 territories, is only turning 18, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

What to expect

Don’t let our polite demeanour fool you: we Canadians know how to party. Here in the north, festivities are in the works from coast to coast to observe Canada’s 150th. Provinces are planning year-long events to celebrate the anniversary, with particular emphasis, of course, on Canada Day, July 1st.

While each city will provide its own cultural flair, highlights will be Vancouver, where First Nations art and music will take centre stage; the nation’s capital, Ottawa, which will host a massive street party with flyovers by the Snowbirds (and maybe even a special appearance by the Queen); and an all-day concert showcasing the musical talents of PEI‘s Charlottetown, the Cradle of Confederation.

Anticipate high volumes of traffic in city centres, and hotels booked to capacity. Parks Canada is offering free admission to National Parks, Historic Sites, and Marine Conservation Areas for 2017, so these areas will be busier than usual. A little extra planning will make for smoother travels.

Join us this year to see what all the fuss is about!

 (ses·qui·cen·ten·ni·al – perfect the pronunciation and dazzle your friends)

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Careful Mr. Lobster Man!

 

I’m riding my bicycle to music class on Tuesday morning, late November, cold and sunny. I hear a big big grumbly rumble behind me, and tense up. The driver is kind: I hear him gearing down. He is treating me like vehicular traffic! I smile, and as the road continues in its narrowness, I see a paved area and pull off to let him pass. Holy crap! He’s carrying a load of lobster traps that takes up nearly the whole of the road on his side of the centre line! I pray silently: “thank you!” and wave to the driver. Just at that moment, my son waves and beeps as well, coming in the other direction on his way to work at Freewheeling Adventures. He always tells me how proud he is to see me – his momma – brightening up the road in my fluorescent green vest and cheery smile.

 

I’m riding my bike to music class on Tuesday morning, cold and sunny, one week later. I hear a big big grumbly rumble behind me, and tense up. There is no gearing down. Instead, the engine revs. I scan the road ahead: there is oncoming traffic, and no shoulder except a steep gravel drop off. For some unknown reason, I have chosen to ride my sturdier hybrid bicycle this morning rather than my faster road bike, even though there is no ice or snow. So grateful for my stronger wheels, I brace and pop off the road, just in time to feel the wind of the truck’s load millimetres from my left elbow. I scream at the top of my lungs as I put my foot down and watch the lobster man barrel past me with his wide load. Had I not pulled over, I would have been creamed, smeared, broken into small bits. I pray silently: “thank you” and wave to the sky.

 

This is dedicated to Ellen Watters, who was not so lucky on her bike ride a few weeks ago and was killed. Drivers: please be kind! Catherine Guest, December, 2016.

         

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Waving at Crosswalks

By Cathy Guest

There has been a rise in pedestrian crosswalk accidents here in Nova Scotia, with ensuing talk of pedestrians waving a ‘thank you’ to the car driver who has stopped for them at a designated crosswalk. Why should we wave a thank you? says the angry pedestrian. It is the duty of the driver to stop. Why indeed! We hear that in Montreal, if a pedestrian steps out to cross the street, the driver will veer towards him, just to give him a ‘heads up’ that this is ‘car territory’ – pedestrian beware!

There was talk here in Halifax of eye contact – not always a guarantee, we hear, of compassionate behaviour. But persevere at the crosswalk we must! Already, jay walking tickets are exorbitantly high – perhaps more than a drunk driving fine, minus the loss of the license and impounding of the car – since there isn’t one…

What got me thinking, as I rode my bike leisurely last Sunday on a quiet country road, was about all that waving. If the pedestrian waves her thank you, and the car driver also waves, may not others wave also, just for fun? We humans are great pranksters – what mayhem could ensue if we are all waving and making eye contact, even at people we don’t know, loving our neighbours, saying “Hey!” No one could drive in that madness! We would all have to switch to non-motorized vehicles for safety’s sake.

I confess, I nearly fell off my bicycle from laughing so hard at the thought of all that waving, and drivers getting all confused about who was saying thank you and who was just kidding around. Bicycles rule! Cyclists can wave and drive!

 

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Kitchen Folk

[an ode to all the wonderful people that have worked in our Freewheeling kitchen over the years]

I’m writing to you so that, in

the passing of one year to another,

one season to another,

your presence in my life will not go unmarked.

 

So deeply have I been moved

and blessed

by those spaces of overlapping time

that we have spent

elbow to elbow at the kitchen sink,

aprons on and smartly tied,

Robot Coupe flying

under pressure of walnuts and feta,

taming of butter chunks,

pestos with herbs and nuts and beans,

hummous for days;

still thrilling to the perfectly timed,

perfectly cooked

batch of brownies

 

Side by side, we dug in the garden,

in the compost,

and picked black currants for weeks

 

hanging napkins and tablecloths on the clothesline

folding napkins and tablecloths

ironing napkins and tablecloths

and then washing, washing, washing

examining for stains, holes, fading, fraying –

only the best and brightest

for our Freewheeling picnics!

 

And the bleach…scrubbing coolers

and Tupperware, and the bits from

the Robot Coupe…rubber gloves wiping

our sweaty brows in the heat

 

Why is it, you beauties of spirit,

that I hear from you that

you loved these summer spaces

in the thick soupy-ness

of all the ingredients that make up

the ideal Freeweeling adventure experience:

the tried and true recipe,

with heaping servings of well maintained equipment,

liberal dashes of excellent humour,

more than a few pinches of compassion,

and the most gorgeous landscape of the world

under the amphitheatre of sky?

 

Yet, as much as there is pride in

the good work done,

this is life being lived in the now

of that soapy water, the black fly

swatted, the whirring of blades, and the scrape of

batter to pan, cooling rack to tin.

All the while, the blue skies

beckoning, the waves breaking along

the rocky edges

 

Summer was always with us,

always precious,

and dreams a drifting mind away….

planning bonfires, bike rides, midnight swims,

and times together with our summer friends.

 

Thank you, oh beauties of spirit –

Kitchen folk

We’ve been sneaking into every Victory

square, every jar of salsa, every

loaf of banana bread

the secret ingredient

for success, for joy, for fun, for

adventures that remind us that we are

travelers together on this earth journey –

Yes, love – we put the love in.

 

Blossoming abounds.

 

You are forever welcome in my kitchen.

 

Happy New Year! Love, Cathy

December 31st, 2015.


David Brennan, inventor of the walnut feta, serves a picnic at Bayswater.

David Brennan, inventor of the walnut feta, serves a picnic at Bayswater.

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Spring Fever!

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If you’ve been whiling away the winter in a fabulously warm locale, tropical fruit-laden beverage in hand, you probably won’t experience the spring fever that has hit us East Coasters with a vengeance! After a winter that felt as though it had no end in sight (and I am a one of the few who actually enjoys the snow), the little glimpses of spring we’ve had over the past week have been downright glorious. 

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Finally some vitamin D! Sorting compost, planting seeds, sneaking in a game or two of Frisbee golf…it’s been a long time coming.

 

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At Freewheeling this spring, it’s not just the longer days that have us excited. Reservations have been rolling in – Nova Scotia seems especially attractive this season – and we have new team members (meet our office staff and guides here: http://www.freewheeling.ca/meetTheTeam.html).

And…drum roll, please…our Quebec: Magdalen Islands Multisport tour has been selected as one of National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime.” Not too shabby! http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/tours/

The magical Îles de la Madeleine form a small archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Before the days of lighthouses, the high, strong waves around the islands were blamed for over 400 shipwrecks, resulting in a population melting pot of Anglophone shipwreck survivors, Francophone settlers, and Mi’Kmaq descendants.

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Our Magdalen Islands tour will be featured in the May 2014 issue of the magazine, which hits newsstands April 22. The rigid selection process chose tours acclaimed for their authenticity, innovation, stellar guide reviews, and sustainability. Freewheeling’s six-day tour explores a new island of the Maggies each day. A family-friendly adventure on bike, sea-kayak, and foot, participants relish the chance to try kite-buggying, dabble in kite surfing, cave swimming, sailing, and snorkeling with seals.

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Jacques Cartier, credited as the first European to visit the islands, described “beasts as large as oxen and possessing great tusks like elephants, which, when approached, leaped suddenly into the sea.”

Throw in some amazingly delectable cuisine and first rate inns, and everybody’s happy.

http://www.freewheeling.ca/adventures/QuebecMagdalenIslandsMultisport.html  

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Fall at Freewheeling

By Freewheeling staff member,  Alana Lojek

View Of St. Margaret’s Bay, from Freewheeling HQ

Ah, fall. Sunny days, crisp nights, and the glorious progression of autumnal hues. A chance to catch our breath and reflect on the whirlwind summer, a wonderfully hectic season that has suddenly passed us by.

As the greenhorn of the group, I have been able to watch as adventures unfold; from the early booking stages of my first days at Freewheeling, to the post-tour feedback from guests. It has been an exciting experience witnessing tours come to fruition.

If we’re being honest, though, I must confess to finding myself in a rather panic-stricken state for the first few weeks of employment at Freewheeling headquarters. Not that there is anything nerve-wracking about the staff here; on the contrary, you couldn’t ask for a kinder, more laid-back bunch. It is the million little details that go into a tour (so-and-so only likes orange Gatorade, or was it blue?) that woke me at 3 am, wondering if I had remembered to book the proper hotel rooms and note the medical details for tour participants.

Now that I have shed the rabbit-in-the-headlight demeanour (or so I am choosing to believe), I can see that it is precisely that level of attention to detail that make Freewheeling trips so special. Need help making pre-tour reservations? We can do that. Like dark chocolate, but not so fond of white chocolate? We’ll make sure you get all the cocoa-ey goodness your taste buds can handle. Basically, we aim to please.

These days, our time here at Freewheeling headquarters is spent preparing for next season, identifying and implementing improvements to our routes, inns, and service.  We are once again busy planning great tours, and having fun along the way.

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Cycling the Eastern Townships

By Freewheeling guide, Dan Corbett

After a classic getaway from a sweaty Grand Prix weekend in Montreal, the tour kicked off amidst a street festival of local crafts and produce in the picturesque hamlet of Dunham, Quebec. Late in the afternoon, there was just enough time to acquaint with our bikes then take on an easy 24km loop ride. Stomachs growling, a local sauvignon blanc magically complemented Françoise’s beautiful presentation of Lac Brome duck and grilled peppers in the intimate dining room of her lovely B&B.

A drizzly morning could put no damper on the boundless ambitions for a second day of riding, neither could an unexpected detour around a missing bridge. Thankfully, one amongst the many things the Quebecois have mastered is the preparation of coffee. Les Sucreries de L’Erable, while famed for its maple syrup pie, also serves up a mean espresso. The extra jolt carried us all swiftly towards a hot lunch at Sutton (and no, we didn’t even consider tasting the exquisite apple cider brandy at Domaine Pinnacle) just as the drizzle and wind escalated into a veritable downpour. Enter the support vehicle. Cold, wet and longing for ease? Hop on board! Tired, poor and hungry masses congregated in the Volvo for a dry shuttle to Knowlton. Side note: if you’ve yet to experience from inside a car the sight of your friends riding in the pouring rain, you’ve yet to feel true pity. The 150-year-old Auberge Knowlton awaited us with hot showers, towels and hot meals supplemented carefully with a brief shopping trip in centreville Knowlton.

As with most foul weather, this storm simply didn’t have the gumption to stick around for another day. The sun shone beamingly through the clouds by mid morning on the third day and we made our way along the trafficless, wooded road beside lake Memphremagog to a stone-pier, shoreside picnic of local foods in Knowlton’s landing. Free entertainment (en français) was provided by sailors Larry, Curly and Moe, raising their vessel’s mast to inaugurate the season. Stuffed with prosciutto, Camembert, chocolate & strawberries, we sluggishly carried on riding towards the Abbey at St. Benoit du Lac. Here, we toured the vast, active monastery to the sound of an organ resonating Bach throughout. The last leg of the day was interestingly split between the busiest road of the week and a dedicated bike thoroughfare. One must feel lows to really appreciate the highs. The bike path into Magog was second to none and led us directly to our delightful, French ex-pat owned B&B. A supper of smoked salmon focaccia and exotic pizzas left us brimming for the short walk through the lively village back to our inn at the end of the night.

After a long third day, a bit of rest was in the cards for our circuitous ride about Magog. The route called for a long venture uphill toward the north border of Mt Orford National Park, followed by a long, winding, backroad descent back to Magog. To truncate the day, we elected simply to drive to the top then cruise back down. What a joy it was! This stretch of road was probably my personal favourite for the whole trip. So it was possibly for its immaculate pavement, downhill stretches and almost entire freedom from cars, but more likely for its terminus at one of the finest bakeries ever I’d visited. ‘Twas a very good thing the remainder of the road was scarcely inclined. The provincial, downtown Magog was at its best on a sunny afternoon. To be sure, lakeside patio dining comes no finer.

Day five brought us from Magog to North Hatley along 80 kilometers of quiet roads. Climbs both steepened and stretched, but with four days behind us, everyone was feeling strong. Yesterday’s forests were replaced with vast pastureland – grains, grapes, lavender and ‘mooooooo’ cows. A classic covered bridge made for a terrific spot for fresh fruit and fabulous home-made cookies at our mid-morning break. Lunch in Ayer’s Cliff could have been no better a preface to a beautiful stretch of lakefront bike lane. One of the best sections of riding for the week was today’s 20km converted rail bed beside the Tomiphobia river. Avian songs and a trickling river were all that could be heard apart from bike tires on packed gravel. A mill re-conditioned to become the Picallili restaurant in North Hatley offered memorable tastes plus a quiet & refined but modest atmosphere. I was told that the salmon was not to be missed. I, however, blessed my tongue for the first (ahem, and last) time with a most splendidly presented plate of veal kidney.

With the promise of a second night in North Hatley’s Manoir Hovey, there was little need to wake early for our penultimate day’s 55km ride. An unsightly construction zone was carefully bypassed in the car and the ride began at the quiet crossroads dubbed the town of Compton. The week’s sole punctured tire was replaced in record time and only a few rolling hills dotted the route through pastoral richness. A latte break in the bustling small town of Coaticook was the last of our stops on route to a picture-perfect waterfront park at Lac Lyster in Baldwin Mills. With the day’s riding finished, our picnic was decidedly abundantly stocked in all things delicious. The eating was appropriately no holds barred. Ice cream and sunny naps in the grass were for some, while others took 62 minutes (sorry to keep you waiting) to hike to an endless outlook from atop the mammoth cliff at Lac Lyster.

In only a modicum of haste, we returned to Manoir Hovey for a dining experience that was an event unto itself. Finer attire somehow absent, I contentedly sat, much to the bemusement of our half-dozen servers, in a borrowed M.H. golf shirt whilst we were served possibly the most extraordinary food that has ever graced my palette. You must experience it for to understand. Tired and stuffed, we passed on the sampling of 25 local cheeses and moved right along to desserts that were otherworldly in their goodness.

A pleasantly tardy final morning marked the end of a week fast gone by. The 90 minute drive back to Montreal was broken up by the tying up of loose ends in Dunham and one last charmed bakery stop for lattes and melt-in-your-mouth croissants.

The colours and tastes of this remarkable region still linger in my mind. One of the great joys of being a Freewheeling guide is that I know I’ll be back here soon. It’ll be just a matter of weeks, in fact. You ought to come along for

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