Today, I set off to see the spots in Edmundston, New Brunswick and Fort Kent Maine that my Grandfather had stayed at. I knew going into these spots that neither place still existed, but I was excited to see the towns that he had visited. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was the incredible scenery along Route One and Route 161 that I got to experience today. While there was construction for the first ten miles of my route today, which was a tad stressful, I was just amazed by the big rolling “hills”, the fields of multiple shades of green, and the brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds Finally in Cyr, I pulled off to the side to take a picture, which does not do this beauty justice whatsoever. The amber grain whistled in the light wind as I looked over the green fields and hills that framed this area. I think this is my one regret of the trip – that since I am the driver and only person in the car, I can’t easily take pictures. And I am not even sure my photos would adequately capture the beauty of this part of the country. While the rides today, were again pretty desolate in spots, the natural beauty was simply amazing. There were so many shades of green – from the green of the pine trees, to the green and white flowers of the potato plants, and to some sort of crop that was kind of lime green, it was all stunning. The bigness of the sky was something that also took my breath away. Whether it was vistas from each side of the road, or when I traveled up to the top of a big hill, it just took my breath away.
The other surprising thing was the steeples that I could see from miles away. I found this interesting because in one of my Grandfather’s letters, he wrote: You have asked me whether or not I had been to church since I had left, well no dear for these towns that I had stopped at had no Catholic church, so I had stayed at the hotel. And these steeples that I saw, where not just simple steeples. They were majestic in so many ways and I didn’t even get a photo of all of them. I had found out from the 1937 Maine Guide Book, that Fort Kent is described as a town having “simple one and two-story buildings that are overtopped by the spire of the Roman Catholic church. Most of the population speaks a provincial French and being strongly religious, observes the church feasts and fasts faithfully.” (p.248). In the same book, Grand Isle is described as “a village that, like other small ones in this area, is notable for the ornateness of its church.” The St. David’s Church in St. David was also beautiful, as was St Luke’s in Frenchville before getting to the magnificent St. Luke’s Church in Fort Kent. Not directly on Route One, but over the river in Canada was the immense and spectacular Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This area of the world is predominantly Catholic, so I found it interesting that my Grandfather had written that there were no Catholic Churches when there were many and they really stood out. Interestingly, in Presque Isle, the Catholic Church is not as spectacular as the other spots.
The other surprises of the day was the lack of food choices in either Fort Kent or Edmundston. I was excited to grab a tea and a treat from a French Bakery and eat it in the beautiful City Hall Square Park (the site of the New Royal Hotel until 1985). But to my dismay, there was nothing open. One little bakery was completely closed and for sale, and another one said it was open on Mondays, but the door was locked. I was thirsty and luckily found a pizza place open that I could buy a bottle of water. In Fort Kent, I knew that a “ploye” was a product that was traditional to the area. At the closed bakery in Edmundston, they had ployes on the window. Ployes are a French-Acadian buckwheat type of product, and during Fort Kent’s 150th anniversary, they are having a Ploye Festival. So, when I got to Fort Kent, I first looked for a bakery to no avail. I went to Rock’s Family Diner with the hope that maybe they had a ploye. They had something called a Poutine, which sounded French to me. I asked about the ploye and the waitress told me that no, there was nowhere in Fort Kent to get a ploye. She told me that Dolly’s in Madawaska (20 miles south on Route One) served them and that there was going to be a Ploye Festival as part of the 150th Fort Kent Anniversary, including making the World’s largest ploye. Since there was no ploye to be had, I decided to ask and try the poutine. Poutine is a dish that includes french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It originated in the Canadian province of Quebec. So, out with my chicken burger ( a fried version, not quite what I expected, was a mass of French fries smothered in gravy and cheese. I did eat several, but it was too rich for my liking.
Another big surprise is how fast people drive up here. I am not sure why us in Massachusetts always get the bum rap for being aggressive drivers. There was a construction zone with a 25 miles per hour speed limit. People were flying by me at about 60. On the rolling hills, again, it was a speedway. I wanted to relish the view and pulled over multiple times to let others fly by.
So, that’s an overview of Day 2. I had no issues with customs (although the U.S. side was tougher than the Canadien side. I am sure the U.S. Customs Officer was underwhelmed with the search of my trunk (a bag of social studies books). I will be off to Houston tomorrow morning and then on to see some friends in Milton NH (and taking the highway for a part of the way!). I will leave you with a few excerpts from my Grandfather’s letters
From Fort Kent: Tuesday Evening:
This will probably reach you Thursday and I will have left for the Eastern part of the State. From my window, I can see Canada and also the first bridge heading there. The boys in this hotel are all feeling happy tonight, I believe it must be some sort of heavy water they must have drank; I have not as yet. Just the same old Joe
(There were two letters in this envelope. One was written while in Canada and the next one was written in Caribou and mailed in Caribou.)
Thursday evening: Tina dear – Here I am in Canada for the night, not for pleasure either, but for strictly business. Tina dear, this noon I received both of your wonderful letters that you had written Monday and Tuesday, you will never realize how happy and contented they made me feel. I waited in Fort Kent for your letters and also my check until twelve thirty. Your Tuesday’s letter came in the first mail but my check was still missing so I thought I would wait until one thirty for the next mail and there was your letter of Monday and also my check. Mind you I had not done a bit of work as yet and I had a thirty-five mile drive with a day and a half work to do, in a half day. Well I just got through, it is now after nine, so you see I had to work like the devil, with my clothes just sticking to my body from perspiration. O do not believe that I had ever worked so fast in all my born days – came into a store, put in a display, and hurry right to my next stop. I am just exhausted and can hardly see straight. I am going to get up at six a.m. tomorrow and work my way to Caribou for Friday night. 135 miles.
Friday evening. Tina dear, the first page was as far as I got last night, for my eyes were so sore I thought I would rest them, that was necessary as I fell asleep and did not wake up until six a.m. this morning when I had to get dressed, have breakfast and wait for the fellow on the American side to come for me, to take me across the river to my car. You see I have a commercial vehicle and that means a bit of trouble and red tape to take it across the line, so I had a garage man take me across in his car. I was going along at about fifteen miles per hour when my steering post snapped by the steering wheel and the car went out of control. Well, I applied my brakes, thank goodness that there was not anybody on the road or I would have driven into them. This was about one p.m. and I had already had completed my days work and going to start on a part of tomorrow’s, well it was just five p.m. when I was ready to start on my journey to Caribou. It is ten p.m now and I am quite drowsy again for tomorrow. I am going to clean up Caribou and start Sunday for Calais, which is another hundred and eighty miles from this town. Getting nearer to home, aren’t I dear? You have asked me whether or not I had been to church since I had left, well no dear for these towns that I had stopped at had no Catholic church, so I had stayed at the hotel. Well Tina dear, I will bid you good night until tomorrow. Love, Joe