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A popular oasis in the heart of Canada

Never judge a city until you’ve visited its insectarium. Any other criteria is small-minded, says Kevin Galea. Factor in sucrose too.

Lotus flowers.Lotus flowers.

Part of the Montreal Botanical Garden in Canada, opposite the Olympic Stadium, is the Montreal Insectarium. The largest in North America, it used to have an annual Insect Tasting Day. On the menu were zero fat, ecologically important yellow mealworms, various larvae and miscellaneous nits. The museum is divided into continents.

As we headed towards the South American arthropod section our guide said: “May I introduce you to one of the world’s hairiest and most seductive huntresses.” In front of us was a lady looking into a vivarium at an over-sized furry spider spun around as if it was a personal introduction.

The Coeur du Quebec Province is not Montreal. It’s along the St Laurence River and up in the mountains. The main ski resorts are Mont Tremblant, Sainte Savour  and Gray Rocks.

But perhaps the most culturally significant and most Canadian of activities is maple syrup making.

The country’s flag, after all, is a maple leaf. Canada owns over 80 per cent of the world maple syrup resources.

Mont Rigaud, 30 minutes from the international airport, is a ski centre. But it is also a recognised heri­tage site and home to La Sucrerie de la Montagne.

This is an old, probably even real sugar bush (farm) with its own sugar shack or rustic sugar boiling shed.

Here one is introduced to a lot of maple syrup harvesting paraphernalia. And get to meet ‘an evaporator’, which, as tripadvisor.com would say is a unique and quite unforgettable experience.

The word ‘sap’ comes up quite a bit. As does ‘contaminants’.

In le cabane a sucre one finds out that one tree can produce 12 litres of sap a day, enough to cause immediate teeth enamel erosion in 20 people in one day.

This trivia is delivered by burly staff wearing convincingly Canadian TV testcard checked  plaid shirts, authentic big bushy backwoodsman’s beards and very believable man-size backwoodsman’s bellies.

Frontiersman fodder is served on real Canadian trestle tables. La Sucrerie on Candy Mountain affords you the chance to live an experience of authenticity.

You’re given mountain dweller’s pea soup with crusty bread of the peasant, followed by wood-fired baked beans construction, with a side order of country sausage stew pellets and old-style mash.

As your enzymes meet the local enzymes you hear that, like fine wines, fine maple syrup demands tasting notes. To the discerning palate (if you can reach it through your  lengthy ZZ Top beard) maple syrups can be described as floral, spicy, ligneous (woody) and, bizarrely, forest humus.

There’s even such a thing as maple syrup snobbery. Quebecoise syrup is considered Grand Cru. Ontario Amber is laughed at.

“Sirop de poteau!”, laughed our host scornfully. “Pole syrup.” You had to ask. Pourquoi? Because it tastes like it comes from telephone poles.

There was no more waffle left.

The garden is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world due to the extent of its collections and facilities.The garden is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world due to the extent of its collections and facilities.

Oiseau (The Bird), by Paul Borduas, situated in the Botanical Gardens’ Shrub Garden, the painted-steel sculpture was designed after an illustration by Vittorio.Oiseau (The Bird), by Paul Borduas, situated in the Botanical Gardens’ Shrub Garden, the painted-steel sculpture was designed after an illustration by Vittorio.

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