We woke up to another rainy day this morning, so after breakfast rather than spend outside getting wet, we went to the Musée de la Civilisation de Québec, conveniently located directly across the street from our hotel.
It’s housed in a modern stone and glass building, cleverly built to mimic the old Normandy-style buildings that surround it. Devoted to history of the province, there were two special exhibitions that made the visit quite worthwhile.
We started with the Age of Discovery exhibit, jointly produced with the British Royal Museum of Natural History. Tons of examples of flora and fauna collected during the 18th, 19th and early 20thcentury by European natural history scientists. Included was a 1stedition copy of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” and one of his original logbooks. Among the butterflies, fossils, skeletons and pressed botanicals were a Moa skeleton, a saber-toothed cat skeleton and an original Audubon plate. My favorite display was a stuffed Dodo, a quite poignant example of that sad, lost species. There were also three short and entertaining videos running on the walls, of Dodos and a Moa running around the museum, and of an Ichthyosaur swimming alongside a porpoise.
Next was a permanent exhibit of the history of Québec featuring 500 years of artifacts and antiques from the Paleoindian era through the modern day. There were several nice models showing the original buildings of Québec City and clever animation depicting the changes to the environs. Unfortunately, it was difficult to concentrate in these galleries because of a horde of running and screaming schoolchildren, totally unmonitored by their chaperones. The Native American experience was next, an unflinching look at the modern era treatment of the original inhabitants alongside various arts, crafts, and cultural items produced by the local communities. I was taken by a small reconstruction of an Iroquois long-house village back to a project I did in 4th grade, the inside of the dwelling complete with balsa wood bunkbeds, a firepit and an Indian in Mohawk dress.
The second special exhibit was called “Venom” and was a historical and scientific study of venoms and poisons in the natural world, and how mankind has used/abused them. Starting with snakes and insects, the displays moved on to poisonous frogs and fish and then the use of natural poisons in hunting and war, ending with the use of chemistry in finding creative ways to kill people. I actually learned something in this exhibit, the difference between “venomous,” producing their own poison for the purpose of killing or defense, and “poisonous,” becoming dangerous by eating toxic things. Snakes, fish and some insects generally fall in the former category while tree frogs and other insects fall into the latter. Several live examples were included in the exhibit (jellyfish, pufferfish, tree frog, snake, scorpion, Gila Monster) and I got a bit of a chuckle when I came upon the live display of a Black Widow Spider. Odd to come all this way to see what I’ve probably killed about 2-dozen of in what has been a prolific summer for their kind.
We dropped off the goodies purchased at the gift shop at our hotel before heading back down to the waterfront. The weather had not improved, so out came the umbrellas which were thankfully not being turned inside out like they were yesterday. The was a substantial cruise ship parked at a dock across from the museum. Not the same one as yesterday though, as apparently Saint Lawrence cruises are a thing. We continued along the waterfront past a large stand of grain silos and a tugboat parking lot before forced to turn back into the neighborhoods by a yacht basin. Ending up at what the guidebook referred to as a “local artisan market,” now abandoned, we turned back towards our hotel and took a break from the rain again at Cafés de le Soleil with coffee and croissant. Despite the weather report that promised clearing skies by 3PM, it was now raining harder, so after our break we decided to walk back to the hotel to wait out the weather.
On the way we stopped to look at the giant balloon head that is stuck between two buildings. I’d taken a photo of it on our first night here, and today I discovered that there is a second giant balloon head right behind it. A little yellow kiosk informed us that the piece is called “Fin de Partie,” an installation by Canadian Artist Max Streicher who works with large, kinetic inflatables. Part of a 12-piece program of public art called “Passages Insolites,” in reading the brochure I learned that the bust of Louis XIV in a snow globe is also part of the program and titled “Eternal Snow,” created by artists Lucy Bulot and Dylan Collins. Mystery solved, and funny what you find out when you’re not even trying!
Around 5 PM the sun made an appearance so after checking in for our flight we decided to climb up to the upper old town. And by climb, I mean climb.
First, we followed the winding road past the tromp l’oeil building which took us to the first plateau. Then we climbed the upper half of the 1989 iron stairs, made even more interesting by the water left behind from the afternoon rain. At the top of those, it was back onto another stone ramp up to the circle in front of the Hotel Chateau Frontenac, the iconic hotel that appears on every Québec City postcard. We stopped to look admiringly at the statue of Samuel de la Champlain and then wandered off to walk along the Terrasse Dufferin, the boardwalk that runs at the edge of the escarpment. The view was spectacular – skies were clearing, the sun was going down, autumn trees on the far side of the river glowed brightly, a container ship was sharply illuminated by a sunbreak, and a tugboat was just arriving to steer the cruise liner on its way. There was even a half of a rainbow. We strolled to the end, taking a moment to look at the 100+ year old toboggan slide the runs from the Citadel down to the boardwalk. Not frozen at the moment but waiting for the first cold snap and its coating of ice.
And then the clouds won the battle with the remaining sun and it started to rain again so we took a quick detour through he lobby of the Frontenac, enjoying the posh surroundings before heading out the far side and back down the hill. For whatever reason, the rain was better on the north side of the hotel than on the south, so we took a look in a few of the shops before winding back down the iron stairs and the twisty road to our hotel.