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More Than Just Leaf Peeping — A Canada Cruise is Full of History and Culture

Each summer travelers cruise to Canada and New England to take in the picturesque lighthouses and rugged shorelines. In the fall guests visit to get a peek at the stunning scenery as the leaves change color and the mountains light up with red, orange and magenta hues. Beyond the beautiful backdrops, however, Canada boasts a rich history and combination of cultures that are a joy to discover.

GATEWAY TO A NEW WORLD: THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER

The name “Canada” originated from the Huron-Iroquoian word “Kanata,” meaning village. The Iroquois inhabited the region for about 10,000 years. Like the rest of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Huron Nation relied on an oral tradition to pass down their culture and history, and lived in familial villages in longhouses. The first Europeans to touch down in the area were Vikings in about 1000 A.D., who set up short-lived settlements before they were on their way. In the 16th and 17th centuries, as interest in “the new world” soared, Europeans began to settle along the North Atlantic shore, and to explore deeper. The explorer Jacques Cartier claimed Canada for France, called the region “The Country of Canadas” and began to make his way through the St. Lawrence River — which he also named — as he searched for a passage to Asia.

In the early days of North American exploration the St. Lawrence River became a gateway to Canada.

In the early days of North American exploration the St. Lawrence River became a gateway to Canada.

The St. Lawrence River became a highway for explorers, missionaries and fur traders. At the time fur was high fashion, and beavers were depleted in France and England. As a result, North American fur became all the rage in France and England. The fur trade boomed and for years this business provided a common goal for the French and natives that lasted for years before going sour as a result of land disputes. The Saguenay & the Heritage Route tour allows you to visit the first established fur trading post and learn about the historical importance of the Saguenay Fjord and St. Lawrence River. Today Holland America Line cruises the very same route visiting cities that were established along the way.

A MIX OF CULTURES: QUEBEC CITY

In 1608 Samuel D. Champlain arrived at the north shore of what the natives called “Kébec” and officially founded what is now called Quebec City. Years later Quebec was the site of the historic battle where the French surrendered to the British in 1759, and you can now tour National Battlefields Park — also known as the Plains of Abraham — a beautiful 250-acre park with hills, gardens, monuments and artillery artifacts, along with other UNESCO Historic Sites. From Cap Diamant there are spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River, Lower Town and surrounding countryside.

Shortly after the battle there at the end of the Seven-Years War, France ceded Canada to England in 1763. A fabulous way to see the city is to take the Historic Walk & Horse Carriage Ride. There you’ll have a chance to explore the cobblestone streets, ride the Quebec Funicular and check out Notre-Dame des Victoires, the oldest standing Catholic church in North America.

Quebec City maintains a colonial charm.

Quebec City maintains a colonial charm.

MONTREAL: CITY OF A HUNDRED STEEPLES

Also along the St. Lawrence, Montreal is both a city and an island. First named Ville Marie, the city was officially established by the French in 1642 and named for its mountain peak, “Mount Royal.” French missionaries moved into Montreal with hopes of converting the nearby Iroquois to Catholicism. You can see the strong religious influence in the surrounding architecture. Mark Twain once noted this on a visit to Montreal, famously remarking,

“This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window. Yet I was told you are going to build one more … ”

The French colonized the city for 117 years before the British took over in 1759. The French worked for the British Empire, who were later joined by colonists from Scotland, England and Ireland. In the 19th century English-speaking merchants arrived in Montreal and soon the main business language was English. The colonists intermarried and today most Montreal dwellers have British or French names. Old & New Montreal is a tour that offers a view of historic Montreal, along with a glimpse of the city’s bright future.

Montreal is famous for its churches and is nicknamed "The City of a Hundred Steeples."

Montreal is famous for its churches and is nicknamed “The City of a Hundred Steeples.”

HALIFAX: A MARINER’S STORY

Halifax, a laid-back yet cosmopolitan call on Canada and New England cruises, is known for its strong military tradition. Halifax was established as a naval base for the British to hold their claim in the new world. Over the years Halifax has served an important strategic position for Canada, even as powers changed hands. Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is the most-visited historic place in Canada. Experience Halifax, both historic and new, through its fascinating 250-year history with The Heart of Halifax tour. You’ll travel with a kilted guide on a deluxe motor coach tour and take a 250-year journey through the streets of Halifax past old buildings and National Historic Sites. Halifax was a progressive city, as the head of the first public library and the first newspaper in Canada.

Halifax also boasts a strong maritime tradition as a navy base and commercial center. Visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic for a glimpse at Halifax’s historic past, or check out Peggy’s Cove & Titanic Combination, where you’ll visit Fairview Lawn Cemetary and hear the tale of the great ship Titanic and its ill-fated maided voyage. Discover the true identities of the unknown child and J. Dawson, both recovered from the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Their stories are part of a legacy that continues to fascinate visitors more than a century later.

Halifax has a strong military tradition.

Halifax has a strong military tradition.

Whether you’re visiting Canada as a guest or traveling within the country as a citizen, these tours offer an interesting and in-depth look at the histories briefly outlined above. Looking to explore the beauty of your own backyard? From Wednesday, Feb. 18 – Sunday, April 5, 2015, Canada residents can take advantage of the Canada Super Sale featuring savings of up to $2,699 on select summer 2015 cruises, including itineraries that explore Canada & New England, Transatlantic, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, and more.

Remember, you can pre-book your shore excursions online to save time onboard and ensure that you don’t miss your tour of choice!

Do you like to research the history of a region before you travel? Let us know what fascinates you most in the comments!

December 2015 UPDATE: Take Advantage of View & Verandah
We want to make your dream cruise even dreamier with our new View & Verandah promotion. We’re offering stateroom upgrades, up to 10 percent off shore excursions and up to 25 percent off Collectors’ Voyages on 2016-2017 sailings when booked by Feb. 29, 2016. Check out the offer to see if your dream cruise is included and book now!

2 Comments
  • Linda Naidoo

    love to visit Canada I live in Australia

  • Liz and John Woodhouse

    We enjoyed this cruise in October, lots of lovely sites and loads of history too.

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