Though the name “Parks Canada,” may conjure up images of lush green landscapes, mountains, rivers, and all manner of outdoor activities, the government agency has a whole lot more to offer than a nature encounter.
Parks Canada accounts for a number of major cultural historical sites across the country, many of which are located in urban settings.
To show the world what they had to offer, Parks Canada invited 20 journalists for a full day of activities last July 20, centred on the tours and educational activities available in Montreal through Parks Canada.
On the itinerary were three very different yet very pertinent sites in the city’s history: the Sir Georges-Etienne Cartier House, The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site at Lac St-Louis and a cruise tour of the Lachine Canal highlighting Montreal’s industrial origins.
This three-pronged tour of these very different historical sites was specific to the media tour and is not available to the public. The intention was to showcase the different varieties of tours and cultural activities that Parks Canada can custom design for just about any group.
The Sir George-Étienne Cartier House
Nestled on the lesser travelled eastern border of Old Montreal is the former home of one of the so-called fathers of Confederation, Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Billed as the only preserved and restored Victorian-style interior open to the general public in the Greater Montreal region, its deceptively modest exterior opens up to a well-preserved world of yesteryear.
Cartier was a lawyer, politician and businessman who lived the life of the bourgeoisie to the fullest extent, in other words, lavishly! What separates this tour from Montreal’s endless bounds of historic and tourist attractions is its unique quality. Rather than being given the tour by a regular guide, actors in period attire are the hosts in this house.
Throughout the year various different tours are given of the Cartier home. Over the course of the summer months a tour entitled “Montréal: Magnificent and Miserable” was featured, detailing the lives of servants of the 19th century but later on this year a tour developed around Victorian Christmas will also be offered, among others.
For school-aged children there is a fun and interactive tour entitled “The Etiquette Game,” wherein students are introduced to polite manners and etiquette practised in the 19th century. Kids also get to take on the roles of Cartier’s distinguished guests.
For high school students, “Montreal: Full Steam Ahead!” is a special tour geared towards the newly established social class system that came about during the era due to Montreal’s explosive economic growth.
There are also specialized tours available for new Canadians learning either official language, tours geared towards those in tourism, communications and museum studies and a design-centrie tour designed for those in either cabinet-making or design school.
This truly magical blast from the past has something to offer up to just about anyone of any age, to find out more, go to: www.pc.gc.ca/lhnnhs/qc/etiennecartier/activ/activ
The Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site
Though every Canadian who has sat through a high school history class has heard about the fur trade voyageurs at length, how many of you can say that you’ve been through a quasi simulation? That is what Parks Canada is offering up at this historical museum. It’s not just a visit with a lecture on smallish French men in a boat, what they killed and who they traded it to. This interactive tour is all about what it was really like.
The museum itself was a warehouse where the actual pelts were stored some 200 years ago and if you go to the museum you will still discover lots of pelts along with various displays, hats and belts to try on and listen the songs of the era. The guide on the media tour, Daniel Benjamin did not just tell it like it was; he sang it!After a guided and delightfully animated tour of the fur trade warehouse, the media was invited to climb aboard a Rabaska canoe to paddle the 25-person boat, sing the traditional songs that the fur traders once sang and become truly immersed by the experience.
This tour also featured various different actors to add to the experience, but what was most interesting was the actual canoe that Benjamin said was a gift from the Mi’kmaq community. Though the Rabaska was not historically accurate as the original canoes were significantly smaller (as were the people), it brought a First Nations contribution to this period in history to the forefront of the tour.
If you are fit and into fur this tour has a lot to offer and more information can be found at: www.pc.gc.ca/lhnnhs/qc/lachine/activ/activ
The Lachine Canal Boat tour
Up until 1970 this area of town was forbidden to cyclists and pedestrians and it was most certainly not a place to take in Montreal’s glory. Now the locks of the Lachine Canal have become a public paradise.
Spanning 14.5 km from the Old Port to Lac Saint-Louis, the canal has seen many transformations over the course of its history. From its shipping origins prior to construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to the hydraulic power supplier of the 19th century to its present status as tourist destination, the area has never lacked for activity.
The mini cruise ship leaves from the Atwater Market and heads off to the reborn Peel Basin via Saint-Gabriel Lock, on a delightful tour that encapsulates Montreal’s industrial history.
At one time, the canal was the heart of Montreal’s manufacturing district. The tour features various present and former factory buildings and details their historical significance. Opened to shipping in 1825, the Lachine Canal of today is a restored specimen of significant beauty that allows for a unique and breathtaking view of Montreal’s distinctive skyline while still touching on its vast history.
For more information on the Lachine Canal and the cruise, go to: www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/qc/canallachine/index_e.asp
Note: Group rates are available for all of the above-mentioned activities. They recommend booking in advance for any of the tours as Parks Canada will help you select a specific tour geared to the number of people in your group and their age group for maximum enjoyment and learning.