Sunday, July 28, 2013

THE TRIP TO LADYSMITH



This young lady was my great aunt, who gloried in the name of Glencoe Pretoria Ladysmith Andrews.  The Boer War, ongoing at the time of her birth, must have given rise to the latter two of her given names.  We don't know why Glencoe, and since her father left her an orphan at the age of two, we probably never will.  All the same, Glencoe has been passed down the generations in the family, as has Pretoria.  If I'd been thinking at the time, I could have saddled Emily with Ladysmith, but I didn't. While watching the weather report the other day,  I discovered  that there is a place called Ladysmith in Quebec, just across the Ottawa River. Because of the tenuous family association, I said idly.  "Hmm...I should go there one day, just to see what it's like".    The chance came up on Friday to go and check it out!

The Pontiac, The Outaouais.  I'm always hearing them mentioned on the news and weather, and they ARE just across the Ottawa River from here, but to me they've always had a mystique. They're nebulous, unlikely places, pockets of anglicism in a francophone province.  With Anglo names like Shawville, Bryson, and Morrison's Island,  they were settled in the days when enormous pines lent their extravagant pagoda shapes to the rough hillsides, and the mighty rivers were the only highway into the woods.  When I say "the Pontiac"  I can see in my mind's eye the woodsmoke drifting up from hidden cabins in those blue hills.

But now, it was time to see what the north shore of the Ottawa is like in the here and now!  As we neared Renfrew on Highway 17,  the first red granite outcrops made me feel right at home.  You can take a Northern Ontario girl out of the north, but you'll never take away the longing for feet on granite, the crisp oxygenated air, and the taste of blueberries on her tongue.

We crossed the river on the hydro dams at Portage-du-Fort.  Five impassable falls were here before the river was dammed. That explained the "portage" part of the name.  Whether or not there was a fur post here in the days of the voyageurs and the fur trade is in dispute.  There was most certainly one up the river at Fort Coulonge.


  As we entered the village, I could see that it had been here for some time. (in fact, as I learned later, they'd just celebrated their 150th anniversary)   The main buildings were of limestone, rough faced with many chipped out dimples, just the way I like them.  An open green separated the lower street from the one on which the church sat.  The backhoes digging up every street in town rather destroyed the illusion, so we didn't tarry but headed north through Shawville to our destination, 20 km to the north.

We were soon out into the countryside with rolling fields of glistening barley, fat cows, and  belts of dark green woods surrounding enclaves of rich farmland.  Refreshing!


We reached our destination in no time, where we were greeted by a surprised young fox with a hairless tail.  Of course, I did not get his picture, as he melted into the grapevines by the road in no time flat.  So I took the town sign instead.






Ladysmith herself was a demure, somewhat decrepit gentlewoman who had fallen on hard times.  Never more than a cross-roads village, she still had a church with the white rose of England emblazoned on the portico, a pleasant hillside graveyard, a hotel, a former hotel, and a depanneur, which was once a store.  After exploring all that the village had to offer, we thought we would go to Fort-Coulonge, and I, tired of the garbling of place names by the feckless Brit who lives in our gps, went in to get a map. (If he converted Chemin de L'Ile to Church de la Lylee one more time, I was going to have to pull the plug on him).





The woman behind the very busy counter looked at me, sized me up, and then said  "Hello!" in English.  "How do they do that?"  I wonder every time I go somewhere in Quebec. " How do they know I'm not francophone?"  She turned out to be a German immigrant, so perhaps she instinctively recognized a fellow "tête carrée".  She didn't have a map, but gave me very explicit instructions on the best way to get to Fort-Coulonge.  The most important of these was "about a mile out of town, stay straight!"

The feckless Brit driving the car chose to ignore her instructions and sided with the advice of his electronic countryman, but that is another story!  Having achieved my objective, I was happy to go wherever we went.  As we trundled along a summer road through a nature preserve, hoping like heck we wouldn't meet anyone and have to back up for several kilometres, I was thinking....I wonder how many OTHER Ladysmiths there are.  Gotta catch 'em all!




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