TERREBONNE, QC - The street names in this sleepy little bedroom community located about 25 kilometres north of Montreal awaken my curiosity to its past.
Rue McTavish ... Rue McKenzie ... Rue
Doyle - very English names in a very French town.
Terrebonne’s history dates back 300 years – when Scottish immigrants arrived to set up trading posts here. It’s also where international singing star Celine Dion owns an exclusive golf course called Le Mirage.
This city of 84,000 - 10th largest in Quebec - is also home to a number of present and former Montreal Canadiens' hockey stars. One visit to this charming town tells you why so many celebrities like it here – it’s a mini-Quebec City, minus all the tourists.
We follow Rue St-Louis into the heart of this neatly kept city - past the old Anglican church, which years ago stopped serving its intended purpose and now is an architect's office. Some schoolgirls dressed in tartan skirts gather outside Ecole St-Sacrement, a large gray-stoned school that was formerly a convent.
The huge silver spire of the city's old church acts as our beacon; we can hear rushing water on our right but some giant oak and maple trees hide the source from our view.
On Rue St-Pierre, we are stopped in our tracks by the sight of men and women dressed in period costumes. They are headed toward a wooden bridge that joins Ile-des-Moulins - a little island packed with a lot of history. We decide to follow.
The sound of the rushing water intensifies as we cross the bridge and head toward a group of old stone buildings where much of this city's history is stored. We finally reach the source of the noise - the rushing rapids of the Riviere des Mille Iles.
A number of plaques line our route and present images of the people who were instrumental in this city's early success - including the handsome Simon McTavish. The words on the plaques are all French but a kind bilingual Quebecer named Heather offers to translate.
"Simon McTavish was the seigneur or main landowner in Terrebonne from 1802 to 1804," said Heather, as she began reading a plaque located outside the baker's mill McTavish once owned.
"His primary occupation was that of a baker. He would make the hard, dry biscuits that were the main staple of the fur traders. The coureurs de bois (as the fur traders were known) set out from here on their long treks to the Great Lakes," Heather continued reading.
"They would soften the biscuits by dipping them into the rivers and lakes. I'm not sure they would want to do that today, though," she laughed. "They would then return with their boats laden with furs and pay McTavish off with pelts. He moved to Montreal in 1804 a very prosperous man."
As she finished reading, Heather told us that Terrebonne offers re-enactments of the past during the summer months in the basement of the old mill. "Last summer they offered them in English, too, but I don't know if that will be the case this year," she said almost apologetically.
Terrebonne's old streets offer travellers a smorgasbord of chic dining spots, many of which are housed in old renovated homes on Rue St-Pierre, Rue Ste-Marie and Rue St-Francois Xavier. The Steakerie Le Ste-Marie, located on the street of the same name, is our favourite. It offers all the traditional Quebecois delicacies - the real reason English Canadians love travelling through this province - in an old house built in the mid-1800s. Watch your head on the low beams as you enter. Le Jardin des Fondues across the street also comes highly recommended by some locals as does the McTavish restaurant a few doors away.
After our delicious meal, we stroll down a few side streets until we come to city hall - it looks more like a fire hall, but the pretty park that sits across the street and is crowded with old oaks and maples, makes the red brick building look a lot more appealing. We wander the streets a bit longer and are amazed at how clean and neat everything appears. Those winding, exterior steel and wooden staircases that Quebec is so famous for, dominate the city's architecture.
We find ourselves back at Ile-des-Moulins, which has been classified a historic site since 1976. People are sitting at the outside bistros on the island, enjoying a glass of wine in the summer sun while admiring the skills of some kayakers and canoeists trying to navigate the rushing waters of the river.
A man named McTavish would be proud.
- Terrebonne has its own Web site www.vieux-terrebonne.com. but all the information on the site is in French.
- For information on tourism in Quebec, go to www.bonjourquebec.com. There are no hotels in the city so it would be best to stay in Montreal and head to Terrebonne for a day trip.