Road Trip

About a week back my wife and I took a short vacation, traveling up to the province of Quebec. We spent about half of our time in Quebec city and the rest in Montreal. It was great to be in a place where my command of the language was poor and I had to struggle to make myself understood. Of course, many Quebecois speak English just fine (even more so in polyglot Montreal), so I tend to feel somewhat embarrassed at my poor French. Though I ‘studied’ French in school for 7 or 8 years, up until the 11th grade, any vestiges of the language left in my head have either been overwritten completely by Japanese, or by the smattering of archaic French carpentry terms I have been picking up through my study of that topic the past couple of years. While I can passively read a lot of French, I am unused to making many of the sounds in that language and thus the French I manage to croak out suffers from poor tones, and utter incomprehensibility on the part of those poor folks who must suffer through my attempts. I learned quickly that the best course of action was to keep quiet and let me wife do the talking. She has a better grasp of non-carpentry specific French than I do – it is actually more useful, funny enough – and had been brushing up by listening to language tapes in the car for the past couple of weeks. She makes the tones beautifully.

We had a great time and we definitely plan on making a return trip. It’s less than a day’s drive from where we live. Quebec City is one of those rare cities  – perhaps due to its smaller size – where people walking down the street or past you on a walking trail are as likely as not to throw out a friendly bonjour as they go by.

Quebec City is famous for its architecture, and that was one of the main things I came to see. Of the pictures to follow, most are pictures of roofs, and none are from buildings built within the last 100 years. It does say something about the state of the profession of architecture that is really has little which can compete with these older works. Will the tourists of 150 years from now be flocking to places like Quebec to gape at today’s modern concrete and glass cages? I doubt it.

Here are three tower roofs, all planted on the same building:

The bullseye dormers are common to all three tower roofs:

One of the intriguing things I noticed was the slanted placement of metal interlocking roof shingles – here are a couple of examples:

As you can see in these first cluster of pictures, silver is a popular color for roofs in Quebec City:

Another one:

A bulbous dome with gold paint, on a house:

Another playful tower roof:

One of my favorite buildings in the city – love the verdigris patination:

A very handsomely done copper-clad campaniform roof on this tower:

A pair of classic French conical tower roofs:

I love coming across little structures tucked away from view that were made with attention to detail and care, like this garden shed:

The Chateau is perhaps the most famous edifice in the city:

One of the more unusual forms of dormer I have seen:

An unusual hexagonal tower with hipped roof:

We also spent a day up in Jacques Cartier National Park, about 40 minutes’ drive north of the city. A beuatiful slice of nature! We went on a 10 km hike up to a viewpoint – and well worth the exertion:

As a result of Hurricane Irene from a few weeks back, not only were lots of trees down in the park but the array of colorful fungi sprouting up was truly astonishing:


This one is like a white rose:

Speaking of astonishment, at the beginning of the trail as we were beginning our ascent up a 20 meter section of trial, walking single file on the single track, I could hear up ahead on the trail some noise. I figured it was some hikers scrambling down or someone running down the trial. I looked down to watch my footfall, and when I looked up again a moment later I was confronted with the site of an enormous moose barreling down on us! It was running right down the trail, looking every bit as large as a runaway locomotive. I’ve never come across a moose before – I was quite startled and instinctively threw both arms in the air and yelled, “Holy Shit! It’s a moose!” My wife told me later that her initial thought when I said that was that I was pulling her leg (she couldn’t see the moose at first as I was standing directly in front of her).

Now, with some animals, like Grizzly Bears, it is thought better to play dead if you come across one running at you. With others, like Cougars, it is suggested that you should fight like hell and make a lot of noise. The moose however is an East coast phenomenon, and I had no idea what to expect when I threw my arms up – like I said, it was purely instinctual in a moment of shock. Fortunately, it appeared to be the right move, as the animal skidded to a halt immediately and then veered off to our left, crashing through the undergrowth as it made it’s way down the hill past us, about 50 meters away. Not sure why it was jogging – maybe that’s what moose do in the bush?

As we recovered from the excitement and continued walking up, we could see from the skidding hoof marks on the trail that the moose had been running down the trail for some distance. I guess it appreciated the convenience of a cleared thoroughfare.

Interesting carpentry connection, of sorts, in regards to moose – when talking with our French-Canadian hosts later in the day we learned that the term for the antlers is les bois – the “wood”. Interesting!

Another highlight from my trip was going to Laval University, also in Quebec City, and visiting their Rare Books room, where a copy of Nicolas Fourneau’s L’Art Du Trait De La Charpenterie was archived. This fabulous 3 volume set was published in 1767 and they actually let me look at it and thumb through the entire thing. It’s a rare text which I had only heard of (it has never been re-printed) and had thought I might only find in France. I was astonished to find it was every bit as sophisticated as the Louis Mazerolle work I have been digging into, which is from 1860 or so. It caused me to recalibrate the entire development of French Carpentry drawing. They were simply light years ahead of everyone else in the world in the 1750~1900 period when it came to these drawing techniques, or ‘stereotomy’ as it is termed. I’m planning a return trip in the next month or two so I can photograph that book and its wonderful drawings. Impressive too was to see that a book some 250 years old could last so well – I think the pages must have been made from linen or hemp-based paper.

That’s my show-and-tell for today – thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.

4 thoughts on “Road Trip

  1. Hi Chris,

    Its been a while since I was there, but I recognize some of those details of Quebec City. Thanks for posting.

    Although slightly further afield than QC, if you ever have the chance you should visit Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. While the architecture may not be as visually exotic as what Quebec City has to offer, the fact that it is 18th century French and was reconstructed from the original plans as faithfully as possible (a rather amazing feat in itself given what remained of the place before it was rebuilt. And not only the buildings, but all the articles one would have found there originally were made by hand from scratch using authentic methods), there is many a day's study (and wonderment) to make a trip well worth the time. You can also take a turn around the Cape Breton Highlands which are a scenic delight, particularly wearing fall colours.


  2. Steve,

    thanks for commenting. Cape Breton is definitely on my list as is Newfoundland! Thanks for the info – when we go, I'll make a point of checking that Fortress out. Thanks!


  3. Chris

    Glad the most interesting blog on the net wasn't trampled into the mud by a rogue moose! It behooves you to be careful of hooves… et le bois!


  4. Tom,

    from what I have learned, moose are not aggressive except during rutting season, however they do have poor vision apparently. I wonder what might have happened if I had simply stood there? Would the moose have noticed us and made evasive moves, or simply run right on into us? Glad I didn't have to find out – 30' was close enough!


Anything to add?