Elk and moose frequently meander along roads in Banff and Jasper, but they're not a common sight halfway between Gatineau and Montreal unless you are visiting Omega Park. Located in Montebello, Quebec, a tiny village sitting alongside the Ottawa River on the less-visited side of the Laurentian Mountains, the vast park resembles a huge zoo; however, here the animals run loose while humans are caged inside their cars.
Some 300 animals indigenous to North America and Europe wander freely through the 600-square-hectare grounds. Purchase a bag of goodies or carrots at the entrance or bring your own to feed animals along the 10-km drive through the park. Be cautious about opening your window. Too wide and the bison and elk will push their whole head through.
Large adult boars ignore the cars as they waddle across the road, a line of baby boars trailing behind. Overhead, you might spot a black bear sitting high in a tree. In the summer, falcons and bald eagles swoop overhead for daily shows. The animals escape summer's mid-day heat by disappearing into the woods, so schedule your visit for late afternoon. A clear day after a heavy rainfall is good because the animals come out to hunt for food.
This section of the Outaouais was originally part of a seigneurie owned by the first major political figure in French-Canadian nationalism. Louis-Joseph Papineau was speaker in the Assembly of Lower Canada until his role in the Rebellion of 1837 forced him to flee the country. After a pardon seven years later, Papineau retired to his 260-square kilometre seigneurie, building the villa Monte-Bello. The municipality named itself after the house.
Time stands still at the Manoir Papineau. The stately stone house meant to represent Papineau's image of a feudal castle combines architectural styles varying from Queen Anne Revival to Regency. Papineau spent much of his time in the 6000-book library occupying one of the four towers.
The site honours Papineau, but the first seigneur was Bishop Laval of Quebec City. He'd bought the 100-square-kilometre property from the West Indies Company for approximately 11 pounds to be paid every 20 years. The original deed hangs in the opulently decorated manor. Furnishings by the Papineau family fill the house.
Louis-Joseph Papineau died here at age 85 and was buried in the memorial chapel he'd built. Along with the six Papineau generations entombed here, the gothic stone mausoleum exhibits the 1837 rebellion leader's personal flag.
Wandering around the grounds, you will also see the family's tea pavilion, an English-style gardener's cottage and the red-brick, steeple granary. Instead of money, residents paid the seigneur in grain. Today, it houses a history of La Petite-Nation seigneurie.
In 1929, when grandson, Henri Bourassa, was the region's Member of Parliament, the Papineau family ran out of money and sold the property. The house is just a short walk from the Fairmont Château Montebello. Its construction as a private club in 1930 made headlines across North America. Not only was a spur rail line built to bring in 10,000 red cedar logs from British Columbia, but the job was completed in three months. Up to 3500 men worked 12-hour shifts, living in tents on the grounds.
Entering the Château Montebello's grounds, you pass under a wooden arch connecting two small log guardhouses. The Seigniory Club maintained a private police force. The road curves through woods to the brown-stained log Château. Its wings radiate out from the central lobby, forming a star shape. The Swiss-American millionaire behind the project, H.M. Saddlemire, was inspired by castles in the Swiss Alps. Building the world's largest log cabin was an ostentatious display of wealth at the beginning of the depression. Just the land alone - 20 farms, a lumber baron's estate and the Papineau property - cost $450,000 in 1929.
The Seigniory Club hosted everyone from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands to Bing Crosby, but by 1970, costs were rising and membership dwindling. Canadian Pacific Hotels & Resorts bought the property, renaming it Le Château Montebello.
Little has physically changed since its creation. The rooms still contain the solid wood bureaus and desks original to the club. And the glorious six-sided stone fireplace remains the dominant feature of the huge lobby.
Another huge log building alongside houses an indoor pool, spa, exercise room and squash courts. In summer, guests can also swim in the outdoor pool, horseback ride through the grounds and fish with a professional guide or go out on a sea-doo or pontoon boat - the hotel has its own marina. The numerous winter activities range from curling to dogsledding.
Besides the log hotel, the chain owns a challenging 6000-yard golf course in the Laurentian foothills and one of the largest private reserves in North America. The 260-square-kilometre Fairmont Kenauk, interspersed with 70 lakes, two rivers and wood chalets, is ideal for hiking, fly fishing, hunting, clay shooting - to name just a few activities. Reserve a chalet through the hotel. Day visitors need only register at Kenauk's main gate.
Mary Ann Simpkins is a frequent contributor to the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Spa Life, North American Inns, and also Fifty-Five Plus, Grit, Rolls Royce Diary & Fodor's Travel Guides. She is author of Travel Bug Canada & Co-author of Ottawa Stories. Mary Ann is a member of TMAC & SATW.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/