LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
It's only our family that could get everything backwards! (or @r$e first, as the legendary Chubby Brown would say). After years spent driving coaches around Europe loaded with countless Americans searching for their roots, I never realised that in order to search for my roots I'd have to cross the Atlantic too - only in my case to go to the Western shore. Whatever prompted my ancestors to return to Europe once they'd made a successful escape is a matter for conjecture, but the reasons must have been pretty powerful to make them leave such a land of opportunity and adventure.
So this is a pictorial story of my visit to Canada 27 Dec 2001 - 4 Jan 2002, my exploration of places I'd always wanted to visit, the great time I had, the old cars I saw, the relatives I met (including 3 I'd never even seen before) and finally, my great-grandfather's grave in Mount Royal Military Cemetery
The car I hired was a white Chevrolet Cavalier registered FF62052 from Budget Rentals at Dorval (Dollar let me down for the first time ever so I didn't get my Neon or my upgrade to a Cruiser - but the Cavalier was quite acceptable). It was fitted with a CD player too - so much for the collection of tapes I took with me! However, a good excuse to upgrade the CD collection!
So, what was the music?
Here are a couple of photographs of my plane, that will serve to set the scene.
First thing that I have to say on arriving at Heathrow was upgrade. Yes, I was upgraded to intermediate class. First time ever. That was impressive. It quite bouyed me up on the long walk out to terminal 4 gate 23.
But the fact that terminal 4 gate 23 was miles from anywhere weighed me down. There was no coffee machine here, and I'm already nervous.
When I finally arrived at the terminal, all I could do was to sit here staring at it.
And still no coffee. And 7 hours 20 minutes to Dorval, unless someone decides to set fire to his shoe in the cabin. Then 8 minutes and 20 seconds screaming as we fall 39,000 feet into the sea.
In fact, I hate flying and the thought of looking at this plane for an hour with no way to get a coffee fills me full of fear
Is it any wonder I had to be carried off the plane after my first long-haul flight!
Having said all of that, the flight was pretty uneventful. I was sitting next to a nice girl who was on her way to visit her father somewhere in Ontario. We had quite a pleasant chat and the journey just flew by. It seemed like no time at all before we arrived at Dorval.
Here at Dorval, it was snowing! And how! Landing the plane on the runway produced a shower of snow that was impressive in itself. As we taxied up to the terminal, all the snow gave us a very good idea of what the weather was like. This was what I had come here to see.
Next problem was actually getting in to Canada. We had to wait for what seemed for ever to get through customs and immigration and I was wishing I had a guitar. I felt rather like Graham Nash trying to enter the United States back in the 1960s
" Hey let me in, Immigration Man"
"Here I am, with my immigration form,
big enough to keep me warm
when the cold wind's blowing"
Eventually, I was interrogated by a cute-looking girl who looked about 12, with very long hair and glasses and dressed in Immigration Service uniform, and that was that.
After a great mix-up over the hire car (Dollar had forgotten I was coming, so they had to fix me up with a rival company) I eventually set out through the snowdrifts at a steady 30 mph (50 kph) and did the usual fallback trick of driving through the city and out the other side (always drive through the city to the opposite side to the airport) until I saw a motel sign. Leave the snow for the daylight.
I stayed at the Motel Metropole at St. Leonard, on the north-eastern edge of the motorway heading in a Quebec-like direction. It was basic and low-budget but it was also $65 CAN (£29) - no complaints from me. Food was another matter. I found a take-away pizza restaurant in the neighborhood advertising "two for the price of one" - yet they flatly refused to sell me one for the price of one. That was weird. I had a good walk around though, found lots of interesting shops including a place selling an endless pile of second-hand CDs. Of course, it was closed.
Next morning we had one dirty-looking Cavalier - and that was with driving about 20 miles. What will it be like in a week's time? The snow had stopped (grrr) - in fact there wasn't to be any more until I arrived in the mountains of New Brunswick! Freezing cold (good-oh)! Over the road to the petrol station, big hot fibre mug full of piping hot coffee and a quick call to my aunt in London - and then to the shops at Repentigny. Only one place in the world better than a Walmart or a Sears - that is a Walmart or a Sears with a sale on!
One thing that I couldn't grasp though - it was absolutely freezing cold (and I mean cold) outside, yet they had the temperature blowing full on in the mall. So I struggled from the car though the well-below-zero temperature dressed up like Nanook of the North into the mall, and in no time at all I was totally melting and it was so uncomfortable.
My jacket was too heavy to carry, so in the end, I went back to the car, dumped the jacket, and ran back to the mall dressed in shirt sleeves. And then, of course, shopping over, ran back to the car in shirt sleeves again. Why couldn't they turn the temperature down in the mall?
After that, it was back on the highway heading inexorably north-eastwards. I passed by Trois-Rivières and its spectacular bridge, as well as by Québec (I hadn't yet got back into the swing of this photography business), and continued onwards into the dusk and gloom.
This photograph represents the first view of the frozen Saint Lawrence estuary about 40 miles northeast of Québec. The main highway had left the banks of the Saint Lawrence after Québec and headed off over the mountains. As the traffic thinned out, I found myself driving alone through the dusk and into the night through the remains of the previous day's snow. The full moon was probably the brightest I'd ever seen anywhere, and as I crested a hill somewhere along the road, there was this spectacular view of the moonlight reflecting off the frozen river that had suddenly come into view. There cannot have been any more spectacular view than this
"oh yes there is"; he replied to himself."After all, I have seen the script!""
and it is really disappointing that the photograph just can't do justice to what I saw.
I carried on through the evening along the shore of the Saint Lawrence, and by now, I was totally alone. I don't remember encountering another car from here on. I remember driving past a small town and then climbing a long hill. A glance in my rear-view mirror showed a beautiful view of the streetlights reflecting off the river, and I was tempted to go back for a visit, but I was far too comfortable in the warmth of the car for that. It was perishing outside.
The crew of the Saguenay Ferry a short way up the road told me that there was no ferry north of here that crossed the Saint Lawrence at this time of the year - a fact confirmed by the guys in the petrol station in Tadoussac a mile or two further up the road where I fuelled up.
I'd already driven through Saint Simeon (about 20 miles south) where I noticed that the ferry over the Saint Lawrence estuary to Rivière du Loup still had a couple of days to run and that there was a crossing next morning. The presence of a respectable motel at a respectable price here at Tadoussac together with a little local restaurant open up the road meant that this was a better place than anywhere else to call it a night.
After a meal up at the restaurant on the main road, I went for a walk around the village. It's a typical North American rural village - Church, Post Office ("what's one of those?" I hear British rural dwellers ask) Police Station (ditto) Petrol Station doubling as village shop (ditto), and wooden houses. All lit up for Christmas.
Here are the two best - very good but not a patch on Long Island.
There wasn't a soul out on the streets. I reckon in rural North America there must be some kind of communal battery powering all the inhabitants, and that at nine o'clock at night someone switches it off. At first I thought it might have been the television but after seeing 100 satellite channels with absolutely nothing to watch except banal drivel, it can't be that! Maybe the presence of a stranger drives them all indoors seeking shelter. But I definitely felt that I was completely out of place here just walking around here sightseeing.
And if you think that this is bad, just wait until you see what happened at Bar Harbor, over the border in Maine. I could see what Springsteen was on about when he received his message "back from the great beyond - fifty-seven channels and nothin' on".
From here, I had a walk down to the estuary, and then along the beach and round the point, where there were these houses. Just about here was the site of one of Jacques Cartier's first camps on the Canadian mainland. When he left here to return to Europe in 1534, he left 15 of his sailors behind to spend the first winter here. When he returned in the spring, there were only 6 still alive. It seems that serial killers are not a new phenomenon in North America!
I read somewhere (and I can't remember where now) that there was an attempt to colonise here in 1600, but it failed.
Anyway, back to tonight, and the moonlight was so bright that I was able to walk along the bay, take the coastal path around the headland and climb the rocks back to where I started, without the least difficulty.
Next morning, I was up and about early as I had a ferry or two to catch. The Saguenay Ferry wasn't too much of a problem because it ran quite frequently across the river just here. The Saint Lawrence ferry,however, was another matter, as crossings were fairly infrequent, and in a day or two there wouldn't be any at all. This was no time to be lying stinking in my pit.
The view from the main road across Tadoussac Point and down the Sageunay river to the Saint Lawrence - well, what can you say about this?
Watching the sun rise over the opposite bank of the Saint Lawrence was probably one of the most memorable moments of the holiday - it was really hypnotic. What was I saying about spectacular views earlier? It's a real pity that this photograph cannot do justice to what it was that I saw, but that was the story of the photographs and of the holiday. This particular photo has to be one of the best that I took of the entire journey.
Anyway, I turned my attention back to the ferry, as one of the boats was carving its way back through the ice towards the Tadoussac side of the river, and it would be here in a minute.
I actually arrived on the other side late the previous evening, and if you've never been here before, you'll have no idea of how confusing it can be. I was driving along this little narrow road with no-one else in sight when all of a sudden I came across this sign that read "attention - congestion". Being puzzled as to what congestion one could expect here at nine o'clock at night, I didn't really pay it too much attention - although I wished I had when I rounded the next bend - when I noticed that all of a sudden there wasn't any more road.
Luckily, what there was was a ferry, already waiting with its ramp down in the harbour. And a good thing too, otherwise my subsequent sideways slide across the carpark could well have resulted in both the car and myself taking an "early bath". Instead, we had this almost-immaculate slide and drift right up the ramp and onto the ferry and to a standing stop in the correct lane. I thought it was all so impressive, and I was the one who was driving.
But, of course, I could tell that I was in a French-speaking part of the world, as no-one seemed to have any sense of humour. I was standing next to someone as I took this photograph the following morning, and I said to him "I hope there's enough space in the lifeboats!" He looked at me with a puzzled expression so I gave him a clue "You know - the Titanic" but he just gave me a strange look and moved away.
You would never believe that the ferry left here 15 minutes ago. But it was cold this morning for a European (minus 10°C - and it was going to get well colder than this before my journey was over) so I wasn't in the least bit surprised. In fact, the cold was such that the Pizza I had left over from the previous night to warm up in my 12-volt oven (great places, Walmarts) had frozen solid, as had the water I was going to use to boil up in the 12 volt kettle (thanks, Paul) to make some coffee.
So having made it back over the frozen Sageunay, I took a nice easy drive up to Saint Simeon. This was where I was going to catch the ferry to take me across the Saint Lawrence.
THE SAINT LAWRENCE
I arrived in Saint Simeon with planty of time to spare. I think I was the third or fouth car in the queue. This nice early arrival meant that I could watch the ferry from Rivière du Loup on the south bank pull up to the terminal. As you can see, she's not the biggest ship in the world, and the St. Lawrence has a history of sudden storms causing great loss of life, disappearing ocean liners and a massive death toll of local fishermen. But What do you think I am, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?
I also had time to check out the ferry terminal too, such as it was. There is a simple ramp descending to the loading ramp, with a small office with an information point, a few seats, a payphone (I gave my friend Paul a quick ring from here to tell him I was still alive) and a coffee machine, the coffee of which wasn't too bad for a machine. Fairly minimalist conditions I have to admit, but there again, the price was fairly minimalist too!
So, load up the cars, find the purser to pay him (yes, you pay at the kiosk on board the ship), and bye bye North bank. Now off to the restaurant to have one of the strangest eating experiences I've ever had. In the cafeteria, there was this enormous communal table in a "U" shape, and everyone sits around the outside of it. The serving wenches are on the inside, and they wander around and slap a mug of coffee, a plate of toast ("Rôties" as they are called here) and a dollop of baked beans in front of you. And every time you take a sip of coffee - you get a refill. It was just like something I'd seen in a bad B-feature "wild west" film.
I can't remember how much I paid now, but the value was excellent.
So, once I'd eaten my fill, it was back topside to admire the view, despite the absolutely freezing weather. I reckoned we weren't far off being in mid-channel by now.
And this is the view of the Saint Lawrence - looking west i.e. in the direction of Quebec, or inland. It's no wonder then that Jacques Cartier really thought he had discovered the North-West passage when he sailed up here in the 1530s. This was just so impressive in real life. It's really hard to credit that this is in fact merely a river and we are already God knows how many hundreds of miles from the mouth.
This ferry took 75 minutes to cross over, just like the Dover - Calais ferry. However the main difference is that Seafrance or P&O or Eurotunnel want £200 for a car and passenger, yet this company here wanted $40 CAN (about £18). Eat your hearts out you Channel-crossers. How can the European companies justify charging you £200 for a similar crossing, particularly with the volume of traffic that crosses the English Channel?
I mean, the only way to get across the Saint Lawrence otherwise is to drive back to Québec and cross over, and then drive back up the south bank of the river, which is probably not far short of 100 miles. This ferry company has no competition yet it charges only £18. There are endless means of taking a car across the English Channel, yet, strangely enough, they all charge a near-enough identical extortionate fare.
It's hard to think that, looking at this photograph, the ferry left here just 4 hours ago. This is a tidal estuary yet it was certainly cold enough to freeze all the water around the ferry terminal. I bet you didn't believe me when I told you how cold it was just here.
So, now we had arrived on the south bank of the river. Where to next? The map said the quickest way to Centreville, New Brunswick was up and over the mountains and across the Québec - New Brunswick border at Edmunston. So, to the music of Johnny Winter's "Rock and Roll Hoochie-coo" the car and I set off.
Through the town of Rivière du Loup (a nice, compact small waterfront town that would be worth a little exploration at another time) and out into the mountains. Then a warning sign!
"Road between Cabano and Dégelis closed due to snow".
"Not for me it isn't" (well, not until I'd had a good butchers, anyway). "In for a penny, in for a pound. I've come here all this way to experience this".
As it turned out, the road wasn't that difficult to pass, and it was well worth the effort I made to drive through it. Strange names (like St Louis du Ha Ha!) to make the mind boggle, beautiful rivers and lakes. I just wish it had been safe enough to pull over onto the side of the road to take a few photographs, but there was that much snow on the banks that you never know what you are going to be parking on. This was one of the most beautiful roads I'd driven (I hadn't found Highway 2 at this point). Then over the border into New Brunswick, and it started to snow again as I began to descend the hill.
NORTHERN NEW BRUNSWICK
And just look at this. Isn't it amazing what you find at the side of the road? Well done that man there - it is indeed a Lancaster bomber. It's parked up on a corner of Edmundston Airfield - on the border between Québec and New Brunswick. It's a wartime version, so the sign said - one of only 3 left apparently - but all its military gear has long gone.
I've never seen a Lancaster in the flesh before, so I was impressed to see it, even if it was a symbol of a genocide, mass murder, and war crimes. As Winston Churchill said in a memo to to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Air Staff, dated 28 March 1945
"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed"
Comments such as these have a rather ironic ring just when the USA and the UK, the main protagonists of this genocidal terror bombing of 1943-45 are denouncing "terror bombing" committed by other people.
What I did notice was the size of it. It's nothing like as big as I expected it to be, as you can see if you compare it with the Cavalier in the photograph just here.
Lancasters flew at a height of 18,000 feet, which is just over three miles high, and at a speed of about 240 miles per hour. Now I've no idea of the muzzle velocity of one of Kammhuber's 88s, but it must have taken a few seconds to hurl a shell over 3 miles high in an upwards direction. If you say 5 seconds, for example, then the aircraft has advanced about 1500 feet in that time. There were no computers, so the gunners were predicting the range and likely course by a mix of visual contact, primitive sighting arrangements, logarithm tables, sextants, and the position of the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. And all the time someone was dropping bombs on their heads.
One author describes the difficulties of the British anti-aircraft gunner earlier in the war with less-sophisticated equipment "By the time the sound locator had tracked the target and established its course, the predictor had calculated its future position, the gunner had set the fuse and aimed and fired the gun and the shell had taken a full minute to reach its destination, a bomber could have travelled six miles in any direction".
In the period 1943 - 1945, the Royal Air Force lost about 5,000 bombers on operations. Some were shot down by night fighters, some ran out of fuel or had mechanical problems, some were involved in collisions, some were hit by bombs dropped from above and at least one was hit by an aircraft falling out of the sky on top of it, but flak certainly accounted for more than a few. One book on the subject reckons that flak accounted for between 1.25 and 1.75 per cent of all sorties, regardless of other operational losses. And given the foregoing, that is absolutely remarkable.
This reminds me of an anecdote told to me by the navigator of a Lancaster bomber. Whilst on their way to bomb Germany, they came under attack from a German nightfighter and the rear gunner was screaming out instructions to the pilot on how to evade the fighter.
"Have no fear" said the pilot, a rather religious boy. "The Lord is with us"
"He might be up there in the front with you lot" retorted the gunner "but he's not down here in the back with me!".
Now the story behind this particular Lancaster, number KB882, is that it was built sometime in the spring of 1945 and flew 7 combat missions over Germany as well as several assimilation flights, all of which were undertaken with 428 Squadron, RCAF. It was then laid up for several years before being converted to a photographic reconnaissance role. From 1952 until 1964 it was with 408 Squadron and involved in the project to photograph the High Arctic regions of Canada. Upon retirement, it was bought by the city of Edmundston in 1964 at a cost that was rumoured to be 1500 dollars, refurbished, and then flown to the airfield.
Some advertising blurb I saw states that the aeroplane "has been in good hands ever since". It only needs a quick glance to see that they are joking, even though the condition of KB882 is no laughing matter. There are stories that it was still flying until the 1970's, but close inspection made me wonder how that could have been possible. One thing is certain, and that is that it will never leave here under its own steam ever again.
It absolutely amazes me how people can just abandon something like this and let it rot away particularly as it's such a rare machine. Pretending it's doing something useful while it's sitting here quietly rusting away is shameful, if not downright deceitful. The latest news - summer 2006 (some 4 and a half years after I saw it) - is that even the owners now privately admit that it has deteriorated badly and that many items from the aeroplane have disappeared. Apparently they are are going to spend some time on it and
They are also going to install a donation box to help them with their "restoration plans" - by this they presumably mean they are going to save up so that they can take off the engine cowlings in another 20 years, if there's anything still left of the aeroplane by then.
I personally reckon that everyone else ought to install a collection box so that someone else can buy it from clowns like these who have no idea at all of what it is they are supposed to be doing. They are simply going to end up totally destroying a rare, if not unique, piece of aviation history simply because they don't have a clue. Forty-two years it's stood on this site, and in that time it's been transformed from an airworthy flying machine into a pile of derelict scrap, and it's been twenty years
I've been trying to interest a few other aircraft museums in taking on the restoration work, and I know some people in Chama, New Mexico who will take good care of it. This aeroplane ought to be somewhere like this rather than in the hands of rank amateurs who have no idea how to look after it. What has happened to this aircraft while in the hands of the city of Edmundston is a scandal and ought to be a national disgrace. It is a piece of machinery with a history, and deserves to be treated with respect.
So, if you feel as strongly as I do about the scandal of KB882, don't sit seething in silence but write to the communications office and to the city council offices to register your protest. But I hope you have more luck than I do as they don't reply to me whenever I write. But at least my web page has provoked a response from somewhere.
Next stop was Edmunston shopping mall. I had some errands to run, seeing as I was going a-visiting. And once we had sorted out the shopping and after I had hit the highway again, my stomach was telling me that the next stop ought to be lunch, and fairly soon too. If I remember correctly, it was already after 3 o'clock but I wasn't worried about the time - I was worried about making progress.
So I pulled off the highway and into the nearest town that looked like it might sell food, and organised for myself a vegetarian sandwich and coffee at a "Subway". The town was called Great Falls - or Grand Sault, and this in the photograph are the great falls. This is what you call impressive, what, even iced up.
Then back southeastwards along Highway 2, the Trans-Canada Highway, racing a diesel-powered train all the way to Florenceville. I was nearly at my destination. Centreville was only a stone's throw away