Maine's north-western outpost, Jackman is a gateway to Quebec and citified delights.
Funny to imagine Jackman as a suburb, but it sorta is. Maybe more of a "ruburb." I grew up thinking of the tiny town on Wood Pond as a frontier outpost, the end of known civilization, the last place in northwestern Maine, beyond which is the North Woods for miles and then arctic tundra. You know - remote as could be and all the better for it. Benedict Arnold could have told me otherwise, but I didn't know any better.
Then my wife and I took our first trip to Qu`bec City, and I discovered that while Jackman is indeed a Maine outpost, it's not really much of a frontier at all in the broader scheme of things. Travel not too far beyond its rural domain and you're in French-speaking suburbs. Two hours after paddling the Moose River you could be sitting in a delicious Thai restaurant surrounded by fashion-forward hipsters overlooking the St. Lawrence River. You could be - as we have been several times since - tucked into one of the world's best hotels, pampered by the black-clad staff, and surrounded by jaw-dropping architecture in every direction.
Since we discovered the city of 528,000 we've been going back most every winter. We prefer to visit at the holidays when Qu`bec often has snow that Maine doesn't, and the avenues and lanes and boulevards of Seventeenth-century shops look positively Dickensian with their Tudor frames and twinkling lights. But a lot of other Mainers like to be in Qu`bec during the winter carnival. This is one of the highpoints of the Quebecoise year and the place is supposedly a rollicking snow-filled festival of fun.
|Homeland Security rules effective January 31, 2008 require those crossing the US borders to Canada or Mexico to present a passport or, once they become available, an enhanced driver's license or border pass card. Otherwise, both a regular driver's license and a birth certificate or other citizenship document will be required. The rule applies to those age 19 and older.|
There's a lot for a Mainer to like, especially one like myself who digs history and antique architecture. I'm something of a hillbilly - a Registered Maine Guide, a Baxter Park ranger - and I don't have much use for cities now that the internet has come along. (I can get whatever books, movies, and music I want; I can take virtual tours of art museums; I can explore just about anything I have a curiosity about without having to put up with the noise and traffic and throngs and fanciness of contemporary urbanity.) But somehow Quebec has grabbed me and put me under its venerable spell, grips me with Francosis.
The place is just plain cool. There are few cities in North America that can claim to be celebrating their quadricentennial. No other municipality north of Mexico is walled and fortified the way Qu`bec is, and, from the dominating Chateau Frontenac to the Parliament Building to the little coffee shop on the corner, the architecture is almost overwhelming. There's simply streets and streets of the stuff, history at its most beautiful, and everywhere you look is a fantastic Classical Revival building or a neat double-sloped roof. I could spend weeks walking around and not see enough of it.
And that's just the surface. Qu`bec has fantastic restaurants. We've been to several outstanding museums, like the Musee de la Civilization, and the new Parc Aquarium du Qu`bec, with its polar bears and walruses, is pretty great even though it's still young. The funicular is fun, as is the toboggan run right in the center of town. The city has its own version of Rockefeller Center with its outdoor ice skating rink, Patinoire de la Place d'Youville. My kid likes the giant toy store, my wife likes the boutiques. We've been to Qu`bec several times now and still leave every time feeling like we've so much left to do.
People can laugh about Canada being another state of the U.S., but when you're in Qu`bec you are very definitely in a foreign place. The signs are different. The language is obviously different. The products in the stores are completely different. Still, we share a lot, and that's probably why Mainers feel so comfortable in Qu`bec and visa versa.
The Abenaki, of course, knew no boundaries and used rivers like the Kennebec to travel back and forth to Qu`bec; they'd be followed by Qu`bec loggers who traditionally worked in the Maine woods, and Benedict Arnold, whose disastrous march to the city through the woods of Maine will always tie the two places together. (You can find signposts about his trek in both locales.)
In the early nineteenth century, Maine farmers developed a trail along the Kennebec - the Old Canada Road - to bring their products to market in Qu`bec, and more than a million French Canadians and Irish would use the route in the other direction to relocate to Maine. They'd take jobs in the woods and in shoe and textile mills, in places like Lewiston and Biddeford. Many of the folks in Aroostook County still speak French and enjoy the same crepes and poutin (something that's celebrated when Jackman and Qu`bec snowmobile clubs enjoy their winter rendezvous.) The state of Maine and the province of Qu`bec officially recognized these sorts of connections when they banded together in 1997 to promote the Kennebec-Chaudiere International Corridor as a single tourist destination.
I don't like to think of myself as a tourist, but I guess that's what I am. My wife and I went to Qu`bec the first time because it's often referred to as the most European city in North America, and at the time we couldn't afford to go to Europe. Back then we could throw loonies around like they were play money, and, of course, it's much more expensive to visit now. But now we're smitten.
Andy Vietze lives in Appleton and regularly blogs his musings about Baxter State Park, Daicey Days, for downeast.com.
- By: Andrew Vietze