Inland Cruise Sailing the Waterways of North America's History

By Jordan, Shirley | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

Inland Cruise Sailing the Waterways of North America's History


Jordan, Shirley, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Leaning against the rail, I watch the massive lock open slowly, revealing the narrow waters of the Erie Canal. Beside the gatekeeper's hut to my right, a great blue heron soars upward as if leading our way. From inside the passenger lounge come the sounds of a guitar and voices swelling on the morning air:

"Low bridge, ev'ry body down. Low bridge, for we're comin' to a town ...

"And you'll always know your neighbor, you'll always know your pal,

"If you've ever navigated on ... the Erie Canal."

With 90 other passengers, my husband Dean and I ply the waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Erie Canal and Hudson River aboard Grande Mariner, the newest yacht-like cruise ship from American Canadian Caribbean Line. We see no other ships as large along the 150 miles of the historic canal. The Grande Mariner's easily removed pilothouse makes passing under the canal's bridges possible.

Boarding four days earlier at Quebec City, we quickly recognized why Charles Dickens called this city the "Gibraltar of North America." Indeed, the name of the city, and its province, comes from the Algonquin word kebec, meaning "where the river narrows."

Eons ago, a huge continental glacier carved out the St. Lawrence River, leaving tall granite cliffs along the riverbank. From these cliffs the British and French blasted each other across the St. Lawrence with a bitter exchange of cannon fire in 1759. England wanted the region for its fine lumber and had 40,000 cannonballs with which to assert its claim.

The French had inferior weaponry. Their artillery could sink ships with a direct hit, but lacked enough fire power to hurl cannonballs across the waters of the river, about one mile at the narrowest point. The Brits prevailed and Quebec remained part of Canada.

Dean and I found ourselves captivated by Quebec City's Old-World charm. We trudged happily up the city's narrow streets that wind up from the waterfront Lower Town, then penetrate the encircling walls of Upper Town. Quaint shops and sidewalk cafes dot the way, and street entertainers gather crowds at most corners. On the highest cliff stands Chateau Frontenac, a luxury hotel well worth walking through.

Late afternoon found Grande Mariner continuing along the 100 miles of watery border the United States shares with Canada. At dusk we reached our overnight port, Montreal, where the ship's energetic cruise director, Isa, pointed out harborside night spots for those not ready to call it a day.

The next morning we rose early to tour Canada's largest city, including Old Montreal, the cradle of Nouvelle-France, Olympic Park and the spectacular Notre Dame Basilica.

The third day, pushing south up the St. Lawrence (and it does take some getting used to when a river on our continent flows north), we soon came to Upper Canada Village, a personal favorite for Dean and me. The St. Lawrence Parks Commission operates this carefully reconstructed town of historical buildings hugging the seaway.

In the late 1950s Canada and the United States joined efforts to construct a 90-foot dam at Cornwall, Ontario, which would inundate more than 20,000 acres of Canadian farm land, several communities and many historic landmarks. Five hundred buildings were relocated to higher ground. Upper Canada Village evolved as a pre-1867 town using some of these historic buildings, plus additional artifacts and documents.

In 40 carefully restored buildings, docents of all ages portray life in the village - at the woolen mill, sawmill, bakery, schoolhouse and various shops, showing the rural way of life and portraying trends in religion, education and entertainment.

A visit to Cook's Tavern gave us a glimpse of 1866 Canadian hostelry. There a traveler could enjoy a comfortable bed in the best room for $1 per night, plus 35 cents for the evening meal and another five cents for hot water. Open each year from May to October, Upper Canada Village represents a true step back in time. …

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