Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Ontario Great Lakes

The Inukshuk looks like a pile of stones marking a trail — but the stones are stacked by size in a way that gives them a human form.  Traditionally used by the Inuit to mark trails and to commemorate events, the Inukshuk is currently used all over Canada as a symbol for events such as the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Inukshuks also prevail on the top of rocky cliffs on the northeast shore of Lake Huron in Ontario.


Beach with MobiMat at
Cobourg Marina
After following the St Lawrence River from its mouth in the Atlantic to its source in Lake Ontario, we headed toward Sault Ste Marie, as croissants turned into cakes.  We traversed the north shore of Lake Ontario, passing by the lake-front town of Cobourg.  The marina had flat, paved trails, and the beach had a MobiMat — offering access from the parking lot (or at least a couple of feet from the parking lot) to the sandy beach.  


At the west end of Lake Ontario, we headed toward Toronto. I had wanted to travel across Lake Huron by taking the ferry from Tobermory (at the top of the peninsula northwest of Toronto) across the lake to Manitoulin Island (connected by bridge to the north shore of the lake), but the ferry was full for the next 2 days, so we drove along the north-east  shore of Lake Huron to Sudbury instead.  Topsoil was scarce, but beautiful rocks were plentiful, and the road was bordered on both sides by low rocky cliffs with flat tops covered by armies of Inukshuk.

Boreal College
Student Residence
In Sudbury, Ontario
In Sudbury, we lucked into an overnight stay in the student dormitory of the Boreal College — part of a a network of student residences at colleges that opens to the general public for lodging during the summer. (  Our spartan yet accessible suite included 2  wheelchair-accessible bedrooms with a twin beds and roll-under desk; a  kitchenette with a full fridge, microwave, sink, and table; and an accessible bathroom with a small roll-in shower, a raised toilet with grab bars, and a roll-under sink with a tilted mirror. Bedding, towels and some dishes were included. If you could stand the spartan furnishings, the small separate beds, and the small group of students acting like (well-behaved) students, then this is an amazing find -- cheap and  accessible.

Boardwalk trail along 
Lake Huron on
Manitoulin Island at
Providence Bay

After Sudbury, we drove along the north shore of Lake Huron, where we crossed the bridge to Manitoulin Island (the world’s largest island in a freshwater body of water). 

Providence Bay
Beach and playground
On Manitoulin Island
On Manitoulin Island, we spent some time in Providence Bay, where we were surprised with a beach covered with accessible beach mats and fronted by an accessible boardwalk. The MobiMats did not go into the lake and did have gaps near a couple of the connections, but they ran the length of the playground and went fairly far toward the lake on the sand. The lengthy boardwalk, built to counter sand erosion, had several platforms looking over the lake, and it went past a store that sold ice cream.

Bridal Veil Falls near
Kagawong on
Manitoulin Island

We also drove by the town of Kagawong and and Bridal Veil falls, which had good wheelchair access to the falls overlook.  There was an easy trail along the river to the falls, but I’m not sure if it was wheelchair accessible.  We then left the island and continued along the north shore of Lake Huron.

Village Inn Motel in
Iron Bridge

We stopped in the town of Iron Bridge, where we couldn't find an accessible motel, but The Village Inn motel had very concerned and helpful owners, offering a room that was accessible with our usual means (use our ramp and take off the bathroom door).  

The next day, we continued westward along the north shore of Lake Huron, taking short side trips to see the beautiful viewpoints at Thessalon and Bruce Bay on the lakeshore and  Richard's Landing on St Joseph Island.   Then we drove to Sault Ste Marie, where Lakes Huron and Superior meet. 

Large cargo ship passing 
through locks at
Sault Ste Marie

The MI (southern) side has large locks, so that cargo ships as long as to 1000 feet can go between the iron ore mines of northern MN and the Midwestern steel mills.  

Run-away bridge on
quieter Canadian side
of Sault Ste Marie
On the Canadian (northern) side, however, there is only a small lock for pleasure craft…

Sault Ste Marie rapids between
Lakes Huron on Superior

… and the rest of the area has been left in a more natural state -- the water is still wild with rapids, 

Accessible trails on 
Canadian side of
Sault Ste Marie

and the land boasts a series of (accessible!) trails of dirt and boardwalk, with views of the rapids, the “bridge to the US," and wet-lands with their flora and fauna.  

Whitefish Island at
Sault Ste Marie

There is a network of trails on St Mary’s and Whitefish Islands there — most of them accessible.

Accessible trails on
Canadian side of
Sault Ste Marie

The trails are in varying condition (some parts were under water when we went), and AllTrails does not list them in the “wheelchair friendly” filter, but we were able to hike most of the trails with a wheelchair, and I really enjoyed the views and location.  

In addition, the John Roswell Hub Trail is a paved 25km multi-use trail through the city, and at least the east-side waterfront boardwalk is accessible.

US-Canada border crossing

After a few weeks in Canada, we crossed over the bridge to America. 

Lock at Sault St Marie (MI)

On the MI side of Sault Ste Marie, we went to the viewing platform (the second floor is accessible via a ramp) and watched as the giant ships were raised or lowered between lakes.

Hotel Ojibwe in
Sault Ste Marie (MI)

We stayed at the Hotel Ojibwe on the Michigan side.  It was an older hotel situated on the main street of town, right next to the garden and park fronting the locks, so we could watch the big ships right from our room. We got the accessible room, which was recently remodeled in one of the upper rooms with low, slanted alcove ceilings with sky lights (I only bonked my head once, but it was something to remember at all times).  The room had wide doors, space for a wheelchair on one side of the bed, and a spacious bathroom with a roll-under sink and a tub/shower with grab bars and shower chair.  Unfortunately, there were no side grab bars by the toilet.

A short, pleasant stay in a small, pleasant town, and then we were on our way to the US and its highways and people.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Montreal

Montreal city-scape from namesake hill (Mount Royal)

In her murder mystery series, Louise Penny depicts the city of Montreal as a foil to the orderly Quebec City, and to the peaceful village of Three Pines.  In these Inspector Gamache books, Montreal is big and scary, full of shady characters and sketchy areas inhabited by drug addicts, poverty, and crime.  As a matter of fact, when we arrived in Montreal, it was late in the evening, and we immediately noticed the dirty streets and the crowds of people, some of whom were distinctly separate from the well-dressed, purposeful, fast-moving flows.  And yet I can’t wait to return! 

Acrobat near University
of Quebec in Montreal
One of the reasons must be the magic of the circus. Montreal is the home of the national circus school and of many circuses, including the famous Cirque du Soleil.  It bills itself as the North American hub of circus arts; in fact, we arrived on the last night of the annual Montreal Completement Cirque festival, where there were free circus performances just blocks from our hotel. These performances were absolutely stunning, and the professional acts were framed by music, lights, and drinks, which kept the crowds lively and the streets magical until late in the night. 

Pedestrian Mt Royal street

Another reason was the outdoor scene. Making full use of the short summer season, the city was bustling with outdoor restaurants, cafes, and bars. Most of the outdoor areas I saw were wheelchair-accessible.  The outdoor spaces on Rue St Denis went on for blocks, starting in the heart of the city, then heading out to the suburbs.  On the plateau, streets were often blocked off to vehicles, with outdoor cafes, restaurants, and bars lining the sides, interspersed with artwork and gardens.  Many even had spritzers every few bocks, for walkers and cyclists to get some heat relief.  

A final draw was the food. Montreal is home to several world-class restaurants. Because of the pandemic, we did not sit down inside any; but, we did frequent the outdoor options, the produce markets, the delis, cafés and patisseries. Montreal is famous for its bagels, so we tried all competing versions. Unfortunately, the Kouign Amann bakers were on vacation, but we sampled various breads, pastries, and croissants.

Bike lane going by
Montreal’s Old Town

Interestingly, we practically avoided the old town and its buildings, which are probably one of the main draws for most visitors. Instead, we spent our time exploring the various neighborhoods and their culinary offerings.

Rue St Denis is lively
all day, but it is
especially alive at night

We took advantage of the proximity of Rue St Denis, joining the lively crowds of outdoor revelers to enjoy veggie sushi and Canadian beer.  Nearby parks hosted festivals until late at night.

Cirque du Soleil on the
Of course we saw Cirque du Soleil one night.  It’s one of those attractions described as “expensive, but worth it” in guide books.  There are many cheaper options in this circus town, so I’m not sure I agree 100%, but the waterfront location makes it difficult to top.  The waterfront is easily reached by bike lanes and is itself an expansive flat area with lots of activities and people. Cirque du Soleil has accessible seats and a separate section of accessible restrooms,

Sunrise from Mt Royal

One day we drove up Mount Royal, for which the city is named, for a spectacular view. Ted hiked up there at sunrise another day to capture colorful photos.

We also went to the Jean Talon market in Little Italy. The market is very accessible with long rows of fruit, flowers, vegetables, and other food.

Under a spritzer on
Mt Royal Street

We ended up wishing for more time on the Plateau pedestrian streets, especially Mt Royal Street, where we explored the neighborhoods, sat outside and watched passers-by, and sampled the atmospheres of the cafes and wares of the boulangeries-patisseries. Favorites ended up being Joe laCroute, Boulangerie Toledo, and Boulangerie Premiere Moissan.

Huge new ramp to access store

The question of accessibility depends upon location. As with Quebec City, Montreal is an old city, and the process of retrofitting old construction with lifts and ramps is visible, but gradual.  

Many of the neighborhoods that we explored had curb cuts on the sidewalks of main roads, through these were often hacked-down corners of sidewalks.  

In general, the sidewalks were worse than those of my home city, Seattle (where sidewalks are not great), but Montreal is full of bikes and bike lanes.  Utilizing them made traversing the city much easier. I would just join the throngs and line up with them at stop lights.  

Only some of the subway stations have elevators, so it bears checking the information carefully. Fortunately, the university station near our hotel was accessible, and it looked as though they were retrofitting the station on the plateau to include elevators so it would be accessible.  That would save a lot of time and shenanigans, since we had to use the accessible station beyond the plateau and then travel across trails and sidewalks back to the plateau. 

As mentioned, several of the streets on the plateau were closed to traffic, allowing me to wheel freely down the street.

Completement Cirque
Circus Fest in the
Festival Quartier
We stayed in the Quartier des Spetacles.  I was a bit apprehensive about this location, but it turned out to be perfect for our stay — centrally located, near the circus performance, Rue St Denis, and university subway station, and lively .  Our hotel was accessible, but the rooms were not.  In the future, I would try the nearby Fairfield by Marriott Montreal downtown (seems as if they must have accessible rooms) or the Hotel de l’ITHQ, in the same building as the tourism board (according to Cory Lee’s travel blog, the rooms are very nicely accessible) and not too far away (it was closed for remodeling while we were there).


***Cafe on Montreal Plateau

Alternatively, I would like to stay (and wanted to stay) on the plateau, but all I could find there were Airbnb’s rather than hotels, and they were not accessible. Maybe, with the change to an accessible subway station this will change as well?

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac in Old Town, Quebec City

Quebec City,
on the bluffs 
overlooking the
St Lawrence River
Is Quebec City accessible?  Well, more than you'd think. This walled city was founded as a French settlement on bluffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River in 1608, so accessibility has to contend with history and geography. Buildings and sidewalks are old, and some of the streets are paved with cobblestones. In addition, much of the Old Town is on top of the bluffs, while the neighborhoods of the Lower Town are down at river level, with a steep transition between the two.  

 Ramped entrance
 to Library

Given the multiple challenges, Quebec City has done an impressive job of addressing accessibility, adding ramps and elevators, paving roads, designing accessible bypasses, hacking sidewalk corners to create curb cuts, etc. 

Curb cuts

Signs showing accessible entrance

Bike lanes along

With careful route-planning and creativity, such as using bike lanes (the hacked up sidewalk curb cuts, while admirable, are steep and chunky), the city becomes even more accessible.

By far, the greatest attempt at uniting the upper and lower towns for the swarms of tourists of all physical capabilities is the existence of two contraptions between the two regions: the Old Quebec Funicular and the Flaubert Ascensor (elevator). 

Funicular between
Petit Champlain 
Dufferin Terrace

The funicular runs between Petit Champlain below and the Dufferin Terrace above.  It is wheelchair accessible, as long as the wheelchair user follow the signs detouring to an accessible entrance below.  On the lower end, there are cobblestone streets surrounding the entrance, but the upper end at the terrace is smooth and flat.  The cost is free for wheelchair users, though there is no wheelchair access in winter months, and  I have read accounts of wheelchair users being denied access, even in summer.  

Flaubert Ascensor
(elevator) between
St Rochelle and
Upper St Jean Baptiste

The Flaubert Ascensor (elevator) runs between the neighborhoods of St Rochelle below and St Jean Baptiste above.  The elevator is wheelchair-accessible through the cafe in St Rochelle, which is entered after a steep hill climb on a paved road with a bit of cross slope at the end.  The top at upper St Jean Baptiste is accessible, with one paved street running parallel to the elevator and one cobblestone street going up to St Jean Baptiste. Despite the challenging street access, the entrances are accessible, and the elevator is free.

Rue St Joseph
in St Rochelle
We stayed at the  Best Western Hotel in St Rochelle, which was only one block from Rue St Joseph (a pedestrian only street at night and on weekends in summer, with lots of stores, restaurants, bars, and outdoor eating and drinking). It turned out to be only two blocks from Le Croquembouche Boulangerie, which our guide book says is the best in town (we had pastries along with our Ile d’Orleans strawberries at least every morning for breakfast).  

Best Western Hotel in
St Rochelle 
The location and amenities of the Best Western made it a  perfect base for our stay in Quebec City.  Our “Disabled room” had 2 queen beds, wide doors and spaces, a roll-under sink, grab bars near the toilet and shower, 
and a roll-in shower with a hand-held shower head.  There was parking nearby in a (gravel) parking lot with two designated disabled spots near the sidewalk. From the hotel, it was just a short walk/roll on streets and sidewalks to the elevator up to the upper St Jean Baptiste neighborhood and the Plains of Abraham. A combination of bike lanes and sidewalks allowed a walk/roll to the lower Old Town at St Jean Baptiste street, the waterfront, the neighborhood of Petite Champlain (with the funicular up to the Old Town at Dufferin Terrace), and the paved steep hill streets leading to the upper Old Town.

Rue St Joseph in
St Rochelle
We spent much of our time exploring the neighborhoods and figuring out how to get to them, watching people, and eating well. 
In the summer, many of the neighborhood close off the streets, so that they are pedestrian-only at all times or at least during certain hours.  The streets, paved with either blacktop or flat stone, are generally lined with stores, restaurants, cafés, and outdoor seating, making them pleasant ways to explore the city. The outdoor seating areas offer varying degrees of accessibility, but I encountered many with ramps.  

Montcalm neighborhood

St Rochelle neighborhood

Upper St Jean Baptiste

I especially enjoyed people watching in upper St Jean Baptiste (not lower!), lower St Rochelle, and the gentrified Montcalm neighborhoods. For a truly Canadian (or, perhaps, Canadian tourist) option, there are several locations of Poutineville, where you can create and eat your own version of poutine.  There are also many acclaimed restaurants — often away from the touristy areas.


The waterfront was flat and relatively smooth, with bike lanes leading to the views and ferries (although I couldn’t find any good restaurants there).  

Plains of Abraham

Also, the Plains of Abraham was a nice, big park with a fantastic river view and paved paths.

After midnight in Old Town

Interestingly, I spent little time in the upper or lower Old Town. I loved the feel and the view when I rolled home from the chateau bar after midnight, and I would do that again.  However, the daytime and evening hoards of tourists made it too crowded
 to be enjoyable. Most streets were paved, and sidewalks had curb cuts, but the crowds and crowded sidewalks made the Old Town my least favorite section.  

Petit Champlain

The cobblestone streets, crowded sidewalks and bad touristy restaurants of Petit Champlain countered the quaint architecture of that section for me as well.

Small musical stage in
Old Town for
Fest D’ete

Coincidentally, we happened to be there during the annual two-week Fest D’ete, a multi-stage music festival that brings in big name entertainers and large crowds.  We watched one free concert and enjoyed the atmosphere, but tried to avoid the crowds.  Regrettably, we missed the Museum of Civilization, which appeared to be interesting and accessible. 

Chateau Frontenac

We met friends at the 1608  bar in the Chateau Frontenac in the Old Town.  The hotel is a symbol  of  Quebec, so visiting it is kind of mandatory, and the hotel bar is accessible, but crowded.  There is a ramp to get into the hotel and the women’s restroom has a large wheelchair-accessible stall.

Old Town skyline from
Levis waterfront at sunset
One of my favorite activities was actually not in Quebec City itself. From the harbor on the Quebec waterfront, we took a ferry across the St Lawrence River to the town of Levis in the evening.  The Levi waterfront offers a stunning view of Old Town Quebec and its skyline.  It seemed like an entire town was out, gathering at the waterfront park to enjoy the sunset, the views, the 160 water jets, the nightly sound and light show, and the big chairs.

Montmorency Falls
We also spent an enjoyable afternoon outside of the city at Montmorency Falls, which tumble 272 feet into the a bay on the west side of the St Lawrence River, north of the city. If you can ignore the carnival-like atmosphere and the crowds, you can get a wonderful view of the falls and a roll over a high suspension bridge at the top of the falls  You pay for parking at the top (although I’ve heard of people parking for free higher up) and extra for tickets to ride the cable car, experience a via Ferrara course, and ride a zip line.  

Once in the park, however, you can view the falls from the (accessible) suspension bridge (wheelchairs should approach the bridge by going behind the back of the main building and then going down a gravel/dirt path for a bit).  At the lower end of the falls, is a 3 mile out-and-back wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.

One of my persistent memories of Quebec City is the crosswalk buttons; I never did figure them out. Next time (and I hope there will be a next time), I want to understand the crosswalks and to visit the Museum of Civilization, and the Ile d’Orleans.  And, of course, I want to eat more croissants, strawberries, and cheese.

Next stop Montreal…