Accommodations, City Tour, Funiculaire/Upper Town, the Citadelle, Sainte Anne de Beaupré, Montmorencey Falls, l'Île d'Orléans, l'Observatoire de la Capital, Museum of Civilization
Accommodations, the Changing of the Guard, Parliament Hill Tours, Peace Tower, Sparks Street Mall/National War Memorial, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Rideau Hall, Notre Dame/Royal Canadian Mint, Ottawa River Cruise, Sound and Light Show
Accommodations, Montreal Botanical Gardens, the Biodome, the Montreal Tower, City Tour, Old Montreal
click on the symbol in the review for pic
By James Glasbergen
People looking to experience a little French and British culture without going all the way to Europe will find Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa worth their trip. I recently went for an 8-day swing through these cities with the goal of spending 2 to 3 days in each city and taking in as many of the main attractions as possible. We started out by driving to Quebec City, the capital city of the province of Quebec. It is perhaps the most European city in North America. We spent a couple days taking in the French culture and touring the local attractions. Then it was off to Ottawa, Canada's capital city. Although it is mainly a political town, there are many interesting ceremonies, museums, and institutions that make the trip worthwhile. Lastly, it was over to Montreal where we spent a couple days taking in the history and culture of Quebec's largest city.
Upon arrival in Quebec City, it took us a bit of time to find our hotel. The street signs in the Old City were sporadic and the roads seemed to go every which way, so it took a bit of driving around before we spotted our hotel. The hotel was located in the Lower Town, only a short walk away from Place Royale and the Funiculaire. It was a really good location. There were plenty of restaurants nearby, and most of the attractions in the Upper and Lower Towns were within walking distance. The hotel itself was quite accessible. We had a large accessible room (, , , ) with a bathroom that included a bathtub () and a roll-in shower (, ). Unfortunately, the roll-in shower was not made for wheelchairs. There was a 1 or 2 inch lip (, ) going down into the shower and a wheelchair would have to make an extremely sharp turn upon entering the shower in order to get the chair in all the way, which just would not be possible for most standard-sized wheelchairs. It is unfortunate because there are currently no other accessible hotel rooms in all of Quebec City that have a roll-in shower, and with a little modifications this shower could be perfect. The good news is that I spoke to the General Manager about the issue and he seemed very interested in making some changes, so hopefully he will follow through on that.
We started out our first full day in Quebec City with a 3-hour city tour. Since there were no sightseeing companies that had accessible buses, we used my own van and hired a private guide to show us around. In the 3 hours, we were given a good overview of the history of Quebec City. We started in the Upper City with a trip to the Plains of Abraham, site of the historic 1759 battle that saw the British defeat the French in a surprise attack, an event that changed the shape of Canadian history. There was a lookout area on the edge of the cliffs that offered a great view of the St. Lawrence River. We also stopped at the Hôtel du Parlement, where Quebec's provincial government meets and debates. We ended the tour with a walking tour through the Lower Town. It ended at Place Royale, the old square that served as the town marketplace in the 17th and 18th centuries. The focal point of the square is Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in Québec. Movie buffs will recognize the church as the place in "Paris" where Leonardo di Caprio was caught by Tom Hanks in the film "Catch Me If You Can." Getting around the square is a bit rough for wheelchair users as it is lined with cobblestones. However, it is manageable if you take it slow.
After the tour we made our way over to the Funiculaire, an elevator that transports people up the side of the hill from the Lower Town to the Upper Town. The entrance to the Funiculaire is actually inside an old house that has steps at the main door, but there is wheelchair access if you go around the side and in through the back of the building. We exited at the top in front of the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City's most recognizable and most visible landmark. A statue of Samuel de Champlain - a famous French explorer - stands out front. It is a very touristy area as various street performers performed in front of the statue, while vendors and tourists lined the boardwalk on Terrasse Dufferin. Notre Dame Basilica, home to the oldest parish in North America, is only a few blocks away and is wheelchair accessible.
Next, we made the short walk over to the Citadelle for a guided tour. The Citadelle was built in the 1800s to protect the city from attack, and it still operates as an active military base today. Two tours are offered during the day - one of the Governor General's residence and the other of the Citadelle grounds. We opted for the one hour tour of the grounds which was free for persons with disabilities. The tour included a visit to the Royal 22nd Regiment Museum, once a French powder magazine and later a military prison. There was not much else to the tour other than a couple overlooks that offered great views of the city and the St. Lawrence River. A more entertaining alternative to the two tours is the Changing of the Guard, which takes place daily at 10 a.m. during the summer months. During the ceremony, troops from the Royal 22nd Regiment parade through the grounds in their red coats and bear skin hats. We came back to see the Changing of the Guard on our last morning in Quebec City, and we found it quite worthwhile.
We started our second day in Quebec with a 30-minute drive east to Sainte Anne de Beaupré, home to the world-famous basilica. A chapel dedicated to Sainte Anne was first built on the site in 1658. The current basilica was completed in 1922 after a fire destroyed the previous church. We found the shrine to be very accessible. There was a ramp off to the side of the main entrance, and inside there was an elevator from the main floor to the sanctuary in the basement.
Next, we drove 15 minutes back toward Quebec City for a stop at Montmorency Falls. At 83 metres high, Montmorency Falls is actually taller than Niagara Falls. The whole park was very accessible. There was accessible parking near the entrance to the main building and a paved pathway that led close to the base of the falls. There was also an accessible cable car that we took from the parking area to the top of the Falls. At the top, one could have lunch or dinner at Manoir Montmorency, although I was not a big fan of the menu or the prices. We decided to head straight over to the accessible bridge that overlooked Montmorency Falls. From the bridge, we had a great view looking down over the Falls and across the way toward the bridge to l'Île d'Orléans (the Isle of Orleans).
After spending some time at Montmorency Falls, we got back in our van and took the bridge to l'Île d'Orléans. The island, which was isolated until 1935 when a bridge from the mainland was finally constructed, remains a rural community lined with farms, orchards, and old churches. There is a main road that circles the island, so we went for a little scenic drive around the island before returning to Quebec City.
We finished the afternoon with a trip to l'Observatoire de la Capitale. Located on the 31st floor, the observatory offers a spectacular view of Quebec City and the surrounding region. It is open daily during the summer months from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located just a few blocks from the Hôtel du Parlement.
Before heading off to Ottawa the next day, we made a quick visit to the Museum of Civilization, located only a few blocks from our hotel. I am sure there are many people who would find the museum fascinating, but I was bored to tears. Wandering through an exhibit about salt didn't exactly pique my interest, but to each their own. Needless to say, we did not spend a great amount of time there before getting in the van and making the 4.5 hour drive to Ottawa.
Our hotel in Ottawa was about a 15-20 minute walk from Parliament Hill. The accessibility of the hotel was very good. There was disabled parking on-site and plenty of room to move around in our room (, ). The bathroom () included a roll-in shower (, , , , ). There was also a good restaurant in the hotel that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only negative we found was that there were not many other restaurants in the immediate area, so the eating options were limited unless you wanted to go for a 20 minute walk toward the Byward Market area where most of the major chains are located.
We started our first full day in Ottawa by heading to Parliament Hill for the Changing of the Guard. The 30-minute ceremony takes place every day during the summer months at 10 a.m, weather permitting. During the ceremony, the colorful guard marches onto Parliament Hill in their red coats and busbies and performs a series of military exercises. It is a good idea to get there at least 15 minutes early to ensure a good viewing spot.
After the ceremony we went over to the Info-Tent, located between the Centre Block and the West Block. At the Info-Tent, you can pick up free tickets for guided tours of Parliament Hill and the Centre and East Blocks. We started with a tour of the East Block. Four rooms in the East Block have been restored to look as they did in the late 1800s, namely the offices of Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, the Governor General, and the Privy Council Chamber. The tour was conducted in 19th century time, so at various points along the tour we were “interrupted” by characters dressed in costumes who explained a little bit about daily goings-on in the building. The tour was completed accessible. The main entrance had steps, but I was escorted through a side door and up an elevator for the tour on the upper floor.
Next, we did a self-guided walking tour around Parliament Hill. Information booklets with maps were available at the Info-Tent. We were able to walk all over the Hill, including a walkway behind the Centre Block that overlooked the Ottawa River and Gatineau, Quebec. Points of interest included the Noon-Day Gun, the Cat Sanctuary, the Summer Pavilion, and the Victoria Bell. There were also many statues of significant figures in Canadian history, including statues of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria (who chose Canada’s capital), Sir John A. Macdonald's (Canada's first Prime Minister), Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Canada's first Francophone Prime Minister), and others. We also stopped by the Centennial Flame, located directly in front of the Centre Block. The flame was lit in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. It is surrounded by the shields from each province and territory.
We made our way back to the Info-Tent in time for our tour of the Centre Block, home to the House of Commons and the Senate. The tour typically ranges from 20 minutes to an hour depending on whether the Chambers are in use. Since we were there in the summer, we were able to go right onto the floor in both the House of Commons and the Senate. It was quite worthwhile.
At the end of the tour, we were given the option of leaving right away or going for a trip to the top of the Peace Tower. There was quite a line up for the Tower, but we wanted to do it away. The line up actually went up a flight of stairs, so a security guard took us up an elevator so we could join the line at the top. Once we got to the front of the line the two security guides stopped me and explained the policy on wheelchair users in the Peace Tower. The policy is that if a wheelchair user wants to go up the Tower, they first have to clear out the people at the top. They immediately halt the line of people going up the elevator and wait until everyone from the top has come down. Then the wheelchair user goes up alone (or with their companion(s)) for a private viewing. The purpose of this is for fire reasons. I guess the stairwell in the Peace Tower is pretty cramped, so in the event of a fire it would be hectic enough trying to get 15 or 20 able-bodied people down from the top, nevermind having to drag a disabled person down as well. I understand the policy (I think), but it was a little awkward for us because they were basically shutting down the Tower for us while a huge line up of people waited for us to go up, look around, and come down. I am sure there were a few annoyed people, but too bad. They told us not to feel bad about it because they do it all the time. That’s just the way it is. Anyway, the view at the top was fantastic, and I definitely recommend it.
Located near the elevator in the Peace Tower is the Memorial Chamber. Inside the memorial are several altars with books on them containing the names of Canadian soldiers killed in battle. The chamber’s walls and floors contain stones from several significant battlefields in Canadian history.
Upon exiting the Centre Block, we walked one block south of Parliament Hill to Sparks Street Mall, Canada’s first pedestrian mall. It stretches for 3 blocks and is full of shops and restaurants. After a little lunch, we made our way over to the National War Memorial, located across from Sparks Street Mall. Completed in 1939, the War Memorial commemorates Canadian soldiers killed in war. The Tomb of the Unkown Soldier was added to the memorial in 2000 when the unidentified remains of a World War I Canadian soldier were brought back from France.
At night we drove to the other side of the Ottawa River to visit the Canadian Museum if Civilization. We hit it just right because they were only open at night twice a week during the summer, and admission was free after 5 p.m. Highlights of the museum include the Grand Hall, home to the world’s largest collection of totem poles, and the Canada Hall which takes you through 1,000 years of Canadian history. I definitely found it more interesting than the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City, but I still wasn’t overly in to it. It had been a long day though and I was pretty tired. My friend thought it was great, so who am I to judge.
We started our second day with a trip to Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s Governor General. We parked on a side street near the front gates. Visitors could simply walk through security at the front gates and down the long driveway to the residence. Once at the residence, we joined a free guided tour of the gardens behind Rideau Hall. I’m glad it was free because I would have felt ripped off if it wasn’t.
Next, we went inside for a self-guided walking tour of the residence. Several rooms were open to the public, including the Ballroom, where state dinners take place and where national honours like the Order of Canada are presented. A guide was located in each room to answer any questions that visitors had.
On my way out, I made sure to get my picture taken with one of the sentries guarding the entrance to Rideau Hall. As we headed back down the driveway and approached the front gates, we were passed by a piper and five soldiers in their red coats and bear skin hats as they marched to the entrance to replace the two soldiers guarding the main gate. The Changing of the Guard takes place at the top of each hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer months.
From there we drove back into town and parked across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral. The basilica was accessible so we went for a quick tour inside. Then we walked across the street and went for a guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint. The tour explains how coins are made and takes you to several large rooms to show you the money making process. The whole tour was completely accessible.
Next, we got back in our van and drove across the bridge to Gatineau to catch an Ottawa River cruise. There were a few companies that did Ottawa River cruises, but only one had wheelchair access (). The cruise lasted three hours and went past several attractions along the river, including the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Falls, and the Prime Minister’s residence. The first half of the cruise was fairly interesting as we made our way down the river, but the return trip was somewhat boring since we had already gone past all of the points of interest.
We concluded our 2-day trip to Ottawa by heading to Parliament Hill for the Sound and Light Show. The free 30-minute bilingual show takes place twice nightly from July until the first week of September. Bleachers are set up on Parliament Hill, and you can also sit on the grass or stand if you wish. The show uses the Centre Block as the backdrop to tell the Canadian story. Don’t miss it!
We arrived in Montreal at around 11 a.m. after a 2-hour drive from Ottawa. We stayed at a downtown hotel close to McGill University and not far from the Old City. Our hotel room was pretty good for access. There was room for a queen bed and a roll-away bed (, ) , and the bathroom had the biggest roll-in shower I have ever seen (, , ). Since we arrived so early, the room was not quite ready yet, so we just dropped off our luggage and took off to do some sightseeing.
We spent the afternoon in the Olympic Park area, located about 20 minutes east of downtown Montreal. We started at the Montreal Botanical Garden where there was accessible parking. Admission to the grounds was free for one person accompanying a disabled person. The same policy applied for the Biodome and the Montreal Tower. Upon entering the Botanical Garden, the first thing we did was hop on the accessible mini-train (). The train circles the Botanical Garden for most of the day stopping at 4 different points where passengers can hop on or off. It was easily accessible as there was a hydraulic lift at the back (, ). There were a couple of highlights at the Botanical Garden. The first was the Chinese Garden, the largest Chinese Garden outside of Asia. The second was the Insectarium, home to many of the world's most unique insects.
Next, we went across the street from the Botanical Garden to the Biodome. Although it is only across the street, it is actually quite a far walk. Fortunately, there is a free shuttle service that operates every 30 minutes between the Insectarium and the Biodome/Olympic Stadium. Certain buses are accessible, but they do not offer the greatest access. The coach bus kneels down at the front and a ramp flips out at the main entrance where everyone boards (). The wheelchair can then wheel aboard, but it must be able to make an immediate sharp left turn to sit in the center aisle. It was not a big deal for me in my electric wheelchair, but it would be extremely difficult--if not impossible--for scooters and extra wide wheelchairs. Furthermore, the ride to the Biodome was quite a wild ride as there were no tie-downs and I was sliding at every turn.
After we got off the bus, we went straight over to the Biodome. The Biodome was originally built as the Velodrome for the 1976 Olympic Games. After the Games it was converted to a unique attraction housing four distinct ecosystems, including a Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Forest, the St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem, and the Polar regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic. Visitors can wander from section to section viewing the unique flora and fauna, including animals ranging from tropical birds to alligators to penguins to bats. The Biodome was completely accessible.
After the Biodome, we went for a trip up the Montreal Tower, located right next to the Biodome. The Tower is actually part of Olympic Stadium, the centrepiece of the 1976 Olympics. The funicular that takes visitors to the observation deck is accessible (). The observation deck offers a good view of Mont Royal and downtown Montreal in the distance.
The next morning we started our only full day in Montreal with a 3-hour city tour. As was the case in Quebec City, there were no sightseeing companies that had accessible vehicles, so we hired a private guide and drove around in my van. The great thing about hiring a private guide is that the tours are flexible; they will only show you what you want to see. We did not need to go to the Olympic Park area since we had been there the day before, so we concentrated on other areas of the city.
We started with a trip to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, located on l'Île Notre-Dame. The race track plays host to the Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal's annual Formula One race. When not in use, the circuit is used by cyclists and joggers for exercise. You can also take a drive around the circuit, which is what we did, but keep in mind that speed limits apply.
Next, we drove to Mont Royal, the big hill in the middle of the city that Montreal was named after. We stopped first at Saint Joseph's Oratory, a huge basilica completed in the 1960s to honor St. Joseph. The basilica is accessible and offers guided tours, but we opted to just park at the end of the driveway and get out for a quick peek. Then we proceeded further up Mont Royal for a stop at Parc Mont Royal. The park is usually full of people year round, from joggers and sun seekers to cross-country skiers. The park is located near the top of Mont Royal and offers excellent views of the city.
The tour ended with a drive through Old Montreal, the oldest section of Montreal. Our guide gave us a quick history lesson as we drove by the major attractions. After we dropped him off, we parked the car and got out to tour the Old City on foot. We started at Notre Dame Basilica. Completed in 1829, the basilica holds 4,000 people and is a sight to see for its magnificent architecture. We entered Notre Dame through the exit door since it was more accessible. Visitors can tour the basilica on their own or opt for one of the guided tours.
Next, we made our way east towards Notre Dame de Bon-Secours Chapel. On the way we passed by City Hall and a big statue of Maisonneuve, founder of Montreal. Across the street from the statue was Place Jacques Cartier, the center of activity in Old Montreal. Originally a public market, the square now comes alive in the summer with street performers and outdoor cafes lining the square. Place Jacques Cartier actually sits on a hill and slopes down towards the port. We made our way down the hill before turning a couple blocks east to arrive at Notre Dame de Bon-Secours Chapel. This was the roughest part of town when it came to cobblestone streets (, ). Most cobblestone streets were easy to avoid, but there is little choice for people who want to visit this church. It was completed in the 1770s and has an accessible side entrance. We ended our day of sightseeing next door at Bonsecours Market. The building opened in the mid-1800s and has served a variety of purposes, the current one being a big market full of boutiques. There was an accessible entrance at the back on the north side of the building.
That was the end of our 8-day swing through Quebec City, Ottawa, and Montreal. We managed to take in the major highlights and see everything we wanted to see, although it would have required an extra day or two in each city to truly do each city justice. However, for people who want to see a lot in a limited amount of time, these cities are worth the trip!
QUEBEC CITY PICTURES
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