The St. Lawrence River Chronicle
Travel and tourism
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Inspiration and Dedication
We never know, when we make them, which new memories will turn out to be the significant ones. When I was 15, I made a memory – more of a mental snapshot, really, – that profoundly influenced my life some 40 years later.
It was the summer of 1963, and my father and I were passengers aboard the ocean liner Franconia, on our way to England for a holiday. My mother had arranged the trip, but she was a nervous traveler and opted not to go.
At that time, the Cunard Line provided regular transatlantic passenger service between Montreal and England. By today’s standards, a ship the size of the Franconia would be considered puny, and the idea of spending a week to cross the rough North Atlantic would probably not attract many travelers. However, ocean travel was still the way to go in a year that had much in common with the post-war ’50s.
We sailed from Montreal on a July morning. I explored my tiny cabin and the rest of the ship, discovering several lounges, a shuffleboard area, a library, ping-pong tables, a movie theatre, a souvenir shop, and an outdoor swimming pool not much bigger than a bathtub. I hung out for a while with a school friend who luckily happened to be on the same crossing.
Then I went out on deck to watch as we steamed slowly down the St. Lawrence River on our way toward Quebec City. I clearly remember what I saw: the puffy summer clouds, the blue water, the narrow strips of green farmland stretching back from the shoreline, and the villages, each one dominated by a church spire. This landscape was Quebec’s historic legacy. The narrow divisions of the fields dated back to the days of colonial New France, when the habitants, or farmers, needed easy access to the river for transportation. The tall spires symbolized a society in which the Catholic Church was central to people’s lives.
From afar, the shoreline still looks much the same today, although it is less rural. Many more homes overlook the water, and industries have expanded many of the towns. The churches are still there, of course, but their congregations and influence have declined.
So what did that image mean to me? For many years it was just one of those random memories that stuck in my mind’s eye. But while I was writing my book about the St. Lawrence River, that image served as an inspiration that helped me to persevere. When it was finally published, I dedicated it to my father, “with whom I first sailed down the St. Lawrence River aboard the Cunard liner Franconia in 1963.”