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Village Lamplighter's Pre-Gathering Tours
May 13 - 14, 2009

by Bob Bogart
Co-President of the Heritage Treasures Collectors Club of Long Island

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bon Jour! My ears, although they do not understand French, always react the same way to that greeting. I never heard it said in a gruff or unfriendly manner, but always with a lilt in the voice –indeed, a song, a friendly, welcoming song that was to be repeated throughout the gathering. On this particular occasion, Anita Poitras, who quickly became our go-to person whenever a question arose, spoke it. Anita was gathering us together for today’s tour of Greater Montreal. She and Village Lamplighter Club president, Mario D’Arcy, were to serve as our tour guides for the day. I had concerns that there might be language problems during the gathering, but today demonstrated the pattern – everything was presented in both languages without exception. Yes, it slows things down, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Our first stop was to the Olympic Village Area from the 1976 games. What do you do with an Olympic Village when the games are over? Make it into a cultural and athletic venue! Montreal did a superb job in making this transition. The Olympic Tower, which was not finished until ten years after the games, is now an observatory for a panoramic view of the city and its environs. A funicular transported us up the 45-degree slope to the observation decks, which are 175 meters (575 feet) above ground level.

Returning to the base of the tower, we next enjoyed the Biodôme. This is housed in the Olympic Velodrome, which was the venue for bicycling and judo events. Today it houses four environmental areas, the Tropics, the Laurentian Forest, the St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem and a Polar World, with both Arctic and Antarctic represented. The Biodome is a zoo, an aquarium and a botanical garden all in one, and it will be high on my must do list when we return to Quebec.
Leaving, the Biodôme, our next stop was the Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden). There we enjoyed the Exhibition Greenhouses, with separate display areas for different environments, from Tropical to Arid and everything in between. Again, much more time could be spent here enjoying the flowers and plants. We did not have time to take in any of the outside gardens – Chinese, Japanese, Alpine, Aquatic, etc. Maybe the next time! We enjoyed our first picnic of the year outside the Botanical Garden. The sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable and the box lunch delicious.

We re-boarded our bus and headed into Old Montreal, where we toured the Notre-Dame Basilica. Although the parish dates back to 1642, the present Gothic Revival building was not constructed until 1824 – 1829. The interior was inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, and was completed in 1880. While enjoying the beauty of this Basilica, the Church organist was giving a lecture – demonstration to a class, so we were thrilled to hear the magnificent pipe organ in use.

Across the street from the Basilica is Noel Éternel, a Christmas shop and a major seller of Department 56. Needless to say, the shop was busy this afternoon!

We once again re-boarded our bus, and had a driving tour of Mount Royal Park. Montreal for the most part is flat. Think Iowa flat or Nebraska flat. The exception is this one area, Mount Royal. Fortunately, much of the area is preserved as a park, for the enjoyment of all. Our last stop took us to St. Joseph’s Oratory on Mt. Royal. This Basilica stands at the highest point in Montreal (856 feet above sea level) and there are 233 steps to take from street level to the Crypt level of the building. Our bus took us up about half way, but we climbed the rest of the steps to the sanctuary level. We later found out there is an escalator! We returned to our hotel, tired from the day’s activities, but glad we had signed up for this tour.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Today brought cloudy, cool and rainy weather. Not the best weather for a sight –seeing tour, but tour we would! Heading toward the Laurentians, the flat farmland and small villages would have been charming on a prettier day. Or maybe I was just in a grumpy mood. The ride took us to Ste. Marcelline village, where our first stop was the Michael Bourgeois Boutique. We were greeted warmly, offered refreshments, and allowed to shop for Department 56 items as well as other goods. In a better frame of mind, we headed for lunch at a maple sugar shack. Originally, sugar shacks were the mess halls for the maple syrup workers. Think lumberjack and you will be on the right track for the amount of food put in front of you. The food was simple, but tasty. Calorie wise the last straw was the dessert – fried dough that got doused with maple syrup and maple syrup sugar pie – talk about sugar highs!

We headed back to Laval (site of the gathering) where we were given a guided tour of the Cosmodome, a museum devoted to the history of spaceflight. A space suit, a shuttle engine and a moon rock are on loan from NASA. Accurate models add to the display, all of which nicely recalls the history to which we have been witness.

Our next stop was the flower growing greenhouses outside of Laval, where we briefly toured several of the greenhouses of the Les serres Sylvain Cleroux Company. Their greenhouses cover 600,000 square feet, and provide plants and flowers to many dealers, in Quebec and much of the northeast of the United States.

Our final stop of the day was to Chateau Taillefer Lafon. It seems this area of Quebec has a microclimate that allows the growing of grapes, and the Chateau is actually the tasting rooms of a winery. Now I’m definitely in a better mood! We were led into the beautiful French style Chateau and up the curved staircase to a tasting room. Samples of the winery’s red and white wines were served to all. Some chose to purchase a few bottles for later, and we all left happy!