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Montmorency & the roar of surging water

© By Mike Keenan

  If you visit Québec City, be advised that it is surrounded by striking natural attractions, and visitors should take side-trips to Montmorency Falls, a short drive east by the St. Lawrence River. We followed Highway 40, and in fifteen minutes, viola, observed Montmorency, the largest of a number of major waterfalls along the Beaupre coast. The water from the Montmorency River seems anxious to join the St. Lawrence below. It crests rapidly over the falls to drop 83 meters (272 feet) into a bowl-shaped basin 17 m. (56 ft.) deep. We were transported slowly to enjoy the view by a cable car to the top to walk across the suspension bridge built over the cascading water. Montmorency are 30 m. (98 feet) higher than Niagara, a fact that locals like to brag about, but quite narrow in comparison. Of course, to give Montmorency its due, it's not surrounded by casinos, hotels and commercial businesses offering chintzy amusement opportunities for camera-toting tourists.
     From the bridge high up amidst the roar of surging water, I observe 487 wooden stairs built down the bluff on the opposite side of the gorge. Mist rises from the yellow-cast water caused by high iron content sluiced from the riverbed. The moist stairway and lookouts precariously balance, trapped in thick mist as they snake cautiously down the ridge.
     Montmorency Falls were named in 1613 by Samuel de Champlain. An Interpretive Centre is located on the second floor of the attractive Manoir Montmorency surrounded by flowers at the summit. The first home was built here by Sir Frederick Haldimand in 1780. It was then home to the Duke of Kent and his mistress. The Duke was father to Queen Victoria.
     The waterfall is surrounded by the provincial Parc de la Chute-Montmorency where visitors and locals stop to enjoy both view and picnics. The remnants of earthen forts built by General Wolfe are located in the eastern portion of the park, constructed in 1759. Landings below Québec City were repulsed by Montcalm and the French forces at Montmorency Falls. Later, Wolfe was successful, climbing the steep bluffs further downstream from Québec City by the Plains of Abraham, and as we know, the history of Canada was forever changed in a brief battle.
     A few kilometers north of the heaving, gushing Falls, one of the world's largest ice sculptures is erected each January in the form of an 85-bed ice hotel. This I do not understand. Perhaps those who live in sunny Florida might find it an oddity and opt for a night enclosed by fur blankets but not me. In winter, plunging water and its freezing spray conspire to construct a solid mountain of white ice at the base aptly named the pain de sucre or sugarloaf which may grow as high as 30m. (98 ft.). The Falls are illuminated summer nights, and there is an international fireworks competition.
     Montmorency is definitely worth a visit, a combination of history and natural attractions that augment any visit to Québec City. At the top of the Falls, you might say that you encountered a peak experience!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan
Quebec Tourism: Winter scenes

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