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A Day in Vermont I: Another Québec

August 31, 2009

I’ve seen quite a few states over the past years. Some of them I liked (Arkansas comes to mind), some of them I didn’t like. But Vermont remains, by a more than fair margin, my favorite state. Maybe it’s the similarities with Quebec; maybe it’s the atmosphere as a whole. Whichever it is, if I had to move to the US, Vermont would almost certainly be it.

And, since I had some free time before school picks up again (and felt like going to remote-ish places), and since I was convinced my mother needed to get out of her daily routine, I talked her into a day trip southward, toward the old loyalist towns of Quebec, and into the Green Mountains of Vermont .

We leave Beloeil (as usual) an hour maybe before noon. I won’t bore you much with the details of the trip through the Québec plains, because ’tis a plain, so boring. Also because you’ve probably seen it already in part of 1 of A Journey to New Haven. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Also also because it is going to be covered a lot more extensively in one of my “…and back again” story one of these days, because, y’ know, as far south as Saint Jean is what I conside my home area.

Soon enough, the plains begin to give way to the rolling valleys of far southern Quebec, and the Route-des-Vins (Wines Road). As the name implies, the region is known as Quebec’s sole grape-growing region, and has grown a local industry of winemaking (one of the nearby vineyard has a rather nifty rosé, too). The region also produces ice cider, (which isn’t so much nifty as excellent).

One of the many rolling hill valleys around Frelighsburg.

The rolling hill valleys of extreme southern Quebec.

Our first destination, Frelighsburg, is at the eastern edge of the rolling valleys, just before the Appalachian mountains begin. Overlooking the town to the east is the first hill of any significance (ie, above a thousand feet) of the Appalachians, the Pinacle. We go through the village and make for the summit first instead.

A view eastward toward the Pinacle

A view eastward toward the Pinacle

The Pinacle has the immense advantage of being remote enough from the rest of the Appalachians as to offer a good view of them from its slopes. From there, one can see the heartland of the Green Mountains rising out, ridge after ridge after ridge, the further the paler, from the dark blue-green of Jay Peak, only a few miles away, to the almost faded out pale blue of a mountain more than fifty miles away, with the whole range of blues in between, covering Cold Hollow Mountain, Belvidere Mountain, Burnt Mountain and probably a dozen others whose name I never heard. And then there’s the middle of it all…

(Yes, I'm aware of the slight blur). View south from the Pinnacle.

(Yes, I'm aware of the mismatch between left and center). View south from the Pinnacle.

The panoramic view is not what you’d see, walking or driving along that road. That’s because it does absolutely no justice to how powerful, how majestic the center portion of it all, due south, truly looks. It doesn’t show how the view instantly goes to one of the faintest, remotest mountain on the horizon, because of the way it towers over everything else despite being so remote. It shows, when you’re actually there, that this mountain is in a whole other league compared to most of Vermont – the 4000ft+ league. (Actually, there’s another four thousander visible from the Pinacle, but far more remote: Camel’s Hump, Vermont’s #3).  That mountain is mount Mansfield, Vermont’s #1, the mountain I tried (and failed) to photograph both from the Vermonter and from Mont Saint-Hilaire. And this is hardly all we’ll see of it today.

Third time's the charm: Mount Mansfield (Camel's Hump is the faint one to the right)

Third time's the charm: Mount Mansfield (Camel's Hump is the faintest one to the right)

Descending from the mountain, we follow a small river – Pike River – back toward Frelighsburg. It’s not a large river: one of those shallow, narrow stream with only a few inches of water over a rocky bottom that, as often as not, surfaces from the river. This isn’t to say it’s not a pretty river: just that compared to the Richelieu (which I may have described elsewhere…) it really is small.

Really little more than a stream.

Really little more than a stream. But pretty anyway.

The town itself belongs to a very different Quebec than the plains of the Saint-Lawrence (eg, home): here, the land was settled by (former) Americans, back when they invented one of the most time-honored traditions of American politics (Moving to Canada when you don’t get your way), and it was settled under British rule, as opposed to the plains, settled by immigrants from France, under French rule. The land division is different (townships rather than seigneuries), the naming traditions are different (english names names derived from cities in England and settlers name, rather than French names derived from parishes names)….

The town retains many of its older buildings, if not always in their original use. We start with the tourist information bureau (formerly local Masonic lodge meeting place, formerly formerly the grammar school); and the neighboring Town Hall. Both were built in the mid-nineteenth century (although the town hall was extensively modified since).

The Frelighsburg Town Hall (left) and the former Grammar School (Right)

The Frelighsburg Town Hall (left) and the former Grammar School (Right)

In a typical French-Canadian village (or the town and cities that grew around them), you would expect the Catholic Church to be right here, at the heart of the village (and more often than not, to give its parish name to the village); it’s not. Instead, in Frelighsburg, the Protestant church is practically outside the village, on a small plateau overlooking it, at the end of a minor street. It’s the more recent of the two, because the original (which was the first protestant church in the Eastern Townships, ie around here) burned down and was later rebuilt. (Also the better lookign of the two).

Frelighsburg's CoE Church

Frelighsburg's cute CoE Church.

Catholic presence in the village is not by any definition a novelty, though, and another street in the village lead toward the slopes of a hill, where the Catholic graveyard and its church are located.

Across the street from the church is the local Elemental School – an old (1914) convent converted to secular public school when the government took over education in the 1960s. I have to say, it may just be the sort of school I would have liked going to as a child.

I've got to say, that is a pretty elementary school.

I've got to say, that is a pretty elementary school.

We wander through the town – a village, really – for a while. It has only half a dozen streets, a population in the very low four digits (if even there), counting the surrounding farms. That’s precisely a large part of what’s lovely about it – I like cities well enough (though there’s definitely such a thing as “too large”), but villages and the countryside have a lot to be said for them, largely in terms of atmosphere.

One of the major streets in Frelighsburg

One of the major streets in Frelighsburg. The closest building is the former general store.

Ultimately, though, as is often the case with smaller places, you run out of things to do. For the time being, at least; if we had thought to take a cooler with us, there are plenty of small farms and stores offering local goods – foie gras and various other sort of paté, probably some local cheese, and of course all the wineries and orchards (not to mention a store in town that purports to offer home-smoked salmon).

Fortunately, Frelighsburg is all of three miles north of the American border, leading into Vermont. But that will be for another part of the story, found here

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