Social media is chock full of posts from people heading to Nova Scotia, hitting the province’s de facto travel hub in the town of Truro, and turning left toward Cape Breton Island and the Cabot Trail. And as well they should – there’s a reason it’s been called one of the most scenic drive routes on the planet. But as my family and I planned to visit Nova Scotia this summer in a Ford F-250 Lariat Diesel, we realized that we didn’t know very much at all about what we would find if we turned right at Truro instead and explored the southwest portion of the province.
Quebec City changed me. I’d never been a fan of winter. Aside from the few times each year my daughter would beg us to bundle up and take her ice skating, I’ve long made a habit of sitting under blankets drinking tea and waiting for the coldest months to pass. In Quebec, though, you’ll hear a well-known line from a song by Quebecois poet Gilles Vigneault: « Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver. » My country is not a country, it is winter. It encapsulates a beautiful aspect of French Canadian culture, a deliberate commitment to refuse to put life on hold but instead to fully embrace this unique aspect of northern life.
Is it worthwhile to pile two adults and two kids into a car and take a road trip to Canada’s most isolated province? Full disclosure: for me, it was always going to be. With both our girls about to start grade one, they were old enough to make memories with us that would have an impact. So, we packed up a BMW X1 and hit the road.
The Magdalen Islands — les Îles-de-la-Madeleine in French — are among our most precious hidden gems. Remote, exotic, and utterly beautiful, this tiny archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is a popular French Canadian destination but is virtually unknown outside of Quebec. You can even get there with your own car and, with a bit of ingenuity, camp out in it and take in the islands up close and on the slimmest of budgets.