Day Twenty-five: L’Orignal, Ontario

We crossed the bridge from Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Quebec to Hawkesbury, Ontario mid-afternoon and decided to call it a day. We found a lovely B and B in nearby L’Orignal on the Ottawa River.

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It feels strange to be back in Ontario after almost a month on the road. However, since 89% of the people in Hawkesbury are francophone, it still feels like we’re away from home. It is considered to be the third most bilingual town in Ontario.

We started the day in a downpour so gave up plans to explore the view of old Quebec City from the waterfront of Lévis. Instead we took the Pierre Laporte bridge across the St. Lawrence and began our journey west to Trois Rivières.

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The skies did clear en route and the vast flat fields began to remind me of southern Ontario.

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We wandered around the busy port area of Trois Rivières.

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On the side of buildings in the core as well as along the river promenade I saw a number of silver plaques.

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Each one was engraved with a love poem, in its original language as well as in French, and gave the name of the poet and country of origin.

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I checked it out online and discovered that every September, Trois Rivières hosts the International Poetry Festival with 40,000 participants, events all across the city, readings by poets from around the world and even a “poetry line” (like a clothesline) where you can hang up your poetry for others to read.

We came across this 100-year old covered bridge not far from Berthierville, the birthplace of racing legend, Gilles Villeneuve.

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As we drove through Saint-Lin-Laurentides, we saw a small picturesque brick house that turned out to be the birthplace of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister.

It continues to surprise me what you can learn along the backroads of your own country.

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Day Twenty-four: Lévis

The rain had stopped this morning, but the strong cold winds continued unabated as we packed up the car for the day. The snow geese were making the most of the tail wind, thousands glistening bright white against the black clouds. Such a beautiful sight to start the morning.

We took the main highway rather than the coastal route but still had good views of the mountainous north shore of the St. Lawrence.

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I’d read that Kamouraska was considered one of the top twenty prettiest villages in Quebec so we took a detour to check it out. It’s a small village right on the shore of the St. Lawrence and the houses are all unique. Some have big front porches, many are narrow wood siding, some are old stone, and at least one was this unusual tile that I have often seen along the coast.

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I don’t think I need to explain what this shop is. 😊

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And yes, we stopped even though it was only around 9 am.! So many choices…a tough decision!

The landscape was constantly changing. From rocky hillsides to long stretches of fields.

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We also stopped in Montmagny, the Snow Goose Capital.

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Every year in October, they hold a snow goose festival. We missed that but thought perhaps we’d see some of the birds along the water’s edge. Instead, they were all overhead so we’re glad we had the chance to see them in Matane.

Montmagny does seem to have some resident artists. This rock was near the waterfall.

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And this mural was in town on the wall of the bookstore.

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By noon the sun was out and the colours along the road and across the river were vivid.

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We drove past the sign for Grosse Ile and the Irish Memorial site. This trip has taught me a great deal about our uncomfortable history.

Grosse Ile was set up as a quarantine area by the Lower Canadian government in the 1830’s to contain a cholera epidemic thought to be caused by the influx of European immigrants. It was reopened in the mid 1800’s for Irish immigrants who had contracted typhus during their voyage (escaping the Potato Famine).

Over 3000 Irish died on the island and over 5000 are buried there, many having contracted typhus from the unsanitary living conditions on the island. Ships were not allowed to sail past Grosse Ile until they had assured authorities they were free of disease.

By 1847, the island was overwhelmed and did not have sufficient facilities or medical staff to care for the numbers arriving. Requests to the government for additional funds and staff apparently fell on deaf ears.

Many who arrived healthy often died within a short time, hundreds left lying on the beach with no shelter, food or water. Even doctors and nurses became sick and died.

Although we didn’t stop at the site (it is a National Historic site and is closed for the season), just reading about the tragic history was yet another reminder for me of the many times we, as a people, have misunderstood, ignored, neglected, harmed and turned our backs on those in need.

As a nation, there is a large part of our history that we must remember and acknowledge the role we played.

While we can’t change the past, we can take a different approach to the future.

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Day Twenty-three: Rivière-du-Loup

Yesterday’s uphill hike in the strong cold wind took more out of us than we realized and we woke up rather tired today. So we scrapped plans for a hike today to a glacial lake and decided to meander slowly toward Rivière-du-Loup. It would normally be about a 3-hour drive…it took us almost eight because of all the stops we made along the way!

We spent a good half hour in Ste-Anne-des-Monts parked along the pier, identifying birds and ducks. A new one for us was the black guillemot.

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A little further along the road we spotted a large bird sitting on a pile of stones off shore. Initially we had high hopes it was a golden eagle since they have been seen nesting in nearby Gaspésie National Park but it was an immature bald eagle.

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Impressive nonetheless.

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Our next stop was in Cap Chat to see the world’s tallest vertical wind turbine (it makes the other “regular” wind turbines look tiny by comparison).  It was in operation from 1983-1992. The site is now open for guided tours.

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The tide was out as we drove along the coast today which made for a far different experience from yesterday. There was no wind, we explored tidal flats, and unusual rock formations.

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One of the biggest surprises happened in Matane. The river was covered in white birds…snow geese, as far as the eye could see. There must have been thousands of them. For birders like us, it was a big thrill!

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In Ste-Flavie, we discovered the stunning sculpture art of Marcel Gagnon. It’s a gallery plus a restaurant and guesthouse but you can’t drive by without noticing. Here’s why.

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We both kept seeing these odd rock shapes along the water’s edge. I tried to zero in with the binoculars but because we were driving I couldn’t get a good focus. The top of the rocks seemed to curve upward. I had a hunch but wasn’t sure until we found a spot to stop.

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My hunch was right! There were seals resting on the top of rocks at low tide.

We also saw quite a few whales today when we stopped for our daily picnic lunch. Always exciting!

The Pointe-au-Père lighthouse was a surprise (unusual design) as was the submarine (the first Canadian submarine open to the public).

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We learned at this stop that during WWII, German submarines came into the St. Lawrence. As a result, special radio transmission stations (Marconi once again) were set up along the shore and blackouts were established in all the coastal communities.

My favourite spot was definitely Bic National Park. We pulled into a small cove just off the highway and entered another world. Beauty in all directions, and so peaceful.

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Tonight we’re in Rivière-du-Loup and the forecast is for 100 km/hour winds and heavy rain overnight. Happy to be inside, dry and warm. Hopefully, the storm will have blown over by morning.

Day Twenty-two: Ste-Anne-des-Monts

Looking back on today’s journey, I think I’d describe it as a rollercoaster ride. A lot of ups and downs, literally.

First we hiked up to Cap Gaspé.

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It’s a point of land in Forillon National Park that juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s a four km hike, mostly uphill, especially the last half km. The cliffs in the eastern side fall 700  feet to the ocean but where the lighthouse is located, it’s about 300 feet above the crashing waves. It’s also where the Appalachian Mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean and is the head of the Appalachian Trail.

The Mi’kmaq called it Gaspeg meaning Land’s End. From the lighthouse, we took a trail down the cliff through the woods to a lookout point.

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We saw a whale, seals, and many seabirds.

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In the distance, we even saw this.

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It was easy to imagine Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain was sailing past, and we had slipped through a gap in time.

Hiking back down, the foliage was brilliant.

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Snuggled into the trees I spotted a sleeping porcupine.

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As we were driving out of the park, we saw something unusual crossing the road and so we stopped for a closer look.

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It was a lynx!

The rest of the day was spent driving up and down high mountain roads and deep valleys. I can’t count how many times I have said “Wow!” on this trip. Every turn offers a new feast for the eyes.

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One of our many detours was along a dirt road that climbed steeply upward.

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Suddenly the road took a sharp turn and head straight down toward the ocean. It took my breath away.

Our destination was yet another lighthouse (Pointe-à-la-Renommée) but of greater interest was the building where Marconi set up the first maritime radio station in 1904.

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The northern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula is far more dramatic than the south side. The mountains are steeper and more rugged, the wind blows harder, and the coastal villages seem to hug the shelter of the coves more tightly.

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In one community, we found a covered bridge.

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And in another, we came upon a 115 foot sailboat in the harbour.

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We chatted with the owner who is waiting for a break in the weather so he can sail it to Lake Ontario.

After that we had a long stretch of road with mountains on one side and crashing ocean on the other.

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We’re now officially on our way home, having turned west after leaving Cap Gaspé and Land’s End this morning. Still a few more days to go and places to discover!

Day Twenty-One: Cap-aux-Os

You never know what the day will offer.

This morning at breakfast, we were chatting with a couple from France. They told us about a boat tour around Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. It was a beautiful morning – clear sky and sunshine – so we decided to do it.

It wasn’t until we had bought our tickets and were approaching the boat that I questioned my sanity. The boat was bouncing up and down at the wharf like Tigger having an exuberantly happy day. My stomach lurched and I reached for gravol (which I carry in my purse just in case!)

Getting on the boat involved two men pushing a passenger on board in perfect timing as the edge of the boat rose with the swell to meet the wharf…and two other men catching the passenger on the other side.

The swells increased as we headed out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence but the photo opportunities were worth it (although we nearly froze even with all our warmest layers on). Thankfully, the gravol helped!

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The view of Percé was extraordinary and as we passed Bonaventure Island, we saw grey seals and a huge gannet nesting area. All the photos are on my good camera though and I haven’t had a chance to download them yet.

We dawdled around Percé all morning, checking out historical buildings, and wandering along the shore.

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Then we continued our drive along the coast. Once again, the view was awe-inspiring – mountains in every direction and more hues of orange, yellow, red and green than I dreamed possible. We certainly lucked out with our timing for this trip in terms of seeing the peak of the fall foliage.

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As we came around the other side of the bay, I was able to capture one more shot of Percé Rock with an abandoned house in the foreground.

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The City of Gaspé is nestled into a mountainside on the Bay of Gaspé. It’s a picturesque spot with great views in all directions including these tidal flats.

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Tonight we’re staying in a former school in Cap-aux-Os, about 20 minutes east of the city of Gaspé. The bedroom appears to have been a classroom with the original wooden cupboard doors in one corner, and big windows overlooking the playground. Funny how schools always feel like schools no matter how they are repurposed.

Tomorrow we get to explore Forillon National Park. And it looks like another nice day.

Day Twenty: Percé, Québec

We started and ended today in the fog. The drive began in Bathurst, New Brunswick which I am sure is beautiful in the sunshine and the summer.

As we drove to Campbellton, the colours in the trees were stunning in spite of the foggy conditions.

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We crossed the bridge at Campbellton and arrived in a new province and a new time zone.

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As the day progressed, we travelled through history once again. This mural, in the shape of a Canada goose, captures the life of people in the Carleton-sur-mer region and celebrates the 250th anniversary of the community.

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The fog finally lifted for a while and we were able to get some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside as we headed east along the Gaspe Peninsula.

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We climbed Mont Saint-Joseph in the hope of getting a better view. Instead, we found snow and entered an even thicker fog bank.

 

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In Bonaventure, we stopped at the Quebec Acadian Museum to see a display of work by two local rughooking artists. Unfortunately the museum was closed for lunch. So I took this photo instead.

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A little further along the coast in Paspébiac, we came upon a series of buildings that had been built between 1783 and 1900 by fishing companies from Jersey.

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Paspébiac was Quebec’s first cod fishing port. It has Basque roots and the residents’ accent is different from the rest of the region.

In Chandler, we took a walk along the beach to stretch our legs and enjoy the crashing of the waves along the shore.

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And tonight we’re in Percé. Although we can’t actually see the Rock because of the fog. Since it’s past the tourist season, very few restaurants are open. We went to one that was recommended but we were turned away because it was fully booked by a large group. We went to a pub that only offered drinks, no food (although we were told we could go to the grocery store next door and bring some food back to the pub).

We ended up at a small bistro where we were the only customers. The menu was limited to four items (end of season) but it was just what we needed.

Here’s hoping for clear skies tomorrow!

 

Day Ten: Newfoundland!

We started our day in Labrador with a long hike along the coast outside L’Anse-au-Clair. The trail took us to the remains of a house built by settlers from Jersey in the Channel Islands between Britain and France. They arrived in the 1800’s and settled along this barren coastline for the seal and cod fishing.  Beautiful as the area is, I can’t imagine coming here 200 years ago and creating a life from scratch.

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Then we drove a few minutes along the highway into Quebec at Blanc Sablon. The ferry to Newfoundland leaves from there.

It was a 1.5 hour ride across the Strait of Belle Isle. No whale sightings today.

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We meandered up the coast from St. Barbe, stopping to check out a couple of hiking trails.

The first one led to a series of unusual bun-shaped “rocks” that are actually among the earliest life forms on Earth. They are called thrombolites and are rare. The only other place they are found is in a place in Western Australia.

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After that we wandered through an area of limestone barrens where 118 of the 300 known rare plants in Newfoundland exist. Many of the low trees and shrubs are several  centuries old.

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I saw a stark contrast in the landscape between Labrador and Newfoundland. In Labrador, the terrain was mountainous with tall black spruce and tamarack. In Newfoundland, the land is very flat along the northwest shore and into the interior. The few trees tend to be scrub brush and you can see for miles.

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Further east, the land becomes hilly and mountainous and the trees grow a bit taller but the variety is different.

On our way to L’Anse-aux-Meadows, we stopped at The Daily Catch, the only restaurant that’s open in the area at this time of the year. The haddock had been freshly caught just off the coast of L’Anse-aux-Meadows and the partridge berry pie was delicious.

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I have it on good authority that the bread pudding with Screech rum sauce was good too 😉

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This is the sunset that greeted us as we turned into L’Anse-aux-Meadows where we will stay for two nights.

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We’re eager to explore the Viking archeological site tomorrow.

Day Five: Labrador City

This afternoon we arrived in Labrador.

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But let me back up bit.

It’s September 27th, and we had our first taste of…snow! It is cold and we were pretty high up but I thought it was rain blowing in sheets across the mountains. Wishful thinking!

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The next surprise was a spot where the road split into a divided highway with a grass-filled median, a sidewalk along one side, and openings for driveways…but no houses. In fact, no buildings at all.

This was the site of the former town of Gagnon. It was a bustling mining town of 4000 between 1959 and 1985. It had a school, churches, a hospital, stores, a mall, an arena, a curling rink, an airport and much more. And then the mine closed, all the jobs were lost, people moved away, and the entire town – all of the buildings – was demolished. All that is left now is a flag and three memorial plaques beside the river.

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It was a stark reminder that nothing is permanent.

When we reached Fire Lake, another mining area, the road changed from paved to the same slippery muddy clay we had experienced a few days earlier. This time I was whiteknuckling it as we curved up and down, across railway tracks (11 crossings on the same road!) and came way too close to washed-out ditches for my nerves.

I’m sure many of the truck drivers who saw us today were shaking their heads at the sight of a Mini navigating these roads!

I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the mines here. Photos do not capture the size, or the layer upon layer of tailings.

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We eventually made it to Fermont, another  community built around mining.

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The town of Fermont is known for The Wall. The Wall integrates shopping centres, apartments, schools, a library, cinema, daycare and a sportsplex so that people never have to go outside in the winter.

You have to look closely in this photo, but you can see the long line of red, brown and white building joined together to create a solid “wall”.

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And tonight we’re in Labrador City. We entered a new time zone when we crossed into this province (one hour ahead), and the language changed from French to English.

We headed out for a lovely walk around Tanya Lake, savouring the sunshine, although the wind was strong and cold.

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Tomorrow, Churchill Falls as we continue the journey north and east.

 

 

Day Four: Relais Gabriel

Today has been…interesting.

As we headed north from Baie Comeau to the Daniel-Johnson hydroelectric dam, the road was well paved with wide shoulders. We saw a number of logging trucks heading south (and they do move fast) but none came up behind us. In fact, there were very few vehicles on the road for most of our 4.5 hour drive.

We did watch for moose (none seen) and gas station signs, but what no one mentioned was the importance of stopping at the two or three port-a-potties randomly located at the side of the road. We didn’t stop…

The scenery was spectacular in spite of the heavy rain.

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When we arrived at the dam, we hoped for a tour but the season ends August 31. It’s the highest multiple arch and buttress dam in the world. It’s hard to convey the size in this photo which was taken from the road near the top of the dam. It is overwhelming.

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After that, the road deteriorated. No more pavement. Just sand, gravel and mud.

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For over 20 km the mud was about 4 inches thick, grabbing the wheels as we continually turned up and down steep hills. But our trusty Mini (and my trusty driver) handled it all like a pro.

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It was an isolated drive. There are signs for SOS phones periodically (and Bell telephone booths with a satellite phone when you get to the spot). There is no cell coverage at all.

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We did pass a rental van and trailer (carrying a car) in the ditch along the way. We stopped but no one was around so they must have been picked up. It was a sobering moment.

And now we’re at Relais Gabriel, a truck stop with rooms for the night, a small restaurant and a gas bar. And we’re watching American football in French, on the only tv channel.

We have another 4 hours to go to Labrador City tomorrow. Curious to see what that drive will be like 😁

Oh and did I mention we crossed the 51st parallel today?

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Day Two: Tadoussac

We arrived in Tadoussac late afternoon by ferry. It’s a free 10-minute ride across the Saguenay River. Apparently, you can sometimes see whales in the fjord near the ferry.

We didn’t but the scenery was picturesque.

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Before dinner, we followed a short hiking path that took us out to large rocks overlooking the St. Lawrence.

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And then wandered back through the town to find a restaurant for supper.

It’s a quaint community with a long history: a hotel that was originally built in the 1800’s, a chapel with a cemetery dating back to the same era, and a Protestant church built by pioneers. So many of the buildings are white clapboard with red trim.

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Near our B and B I saw several barns that were evidently very old. Oh, the stories they could tell!

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As we walked back to our B and B after supper, the full moon rose over the hills, casting an orange glow on the town below. The colour reminded me of the changing leaves we have been seeing along the way.

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I wonder what surprises tomorrow will bring.