One source of entertainment on a long road trip like this is noticing the interesting place names along the way. You can often get a tiny glimpse of the history of a place based on its name. A few years back I was traveling in New England with a friend from southeast Asia and she was surprised that nearly all of the towns we drove through were named after towns in England. “Well, it isn’t called New England for nothing,” I reminded her.
Driving across Quebec the past couple of days has added a degree of difficulty to the endeavor in that all the names are in French. Fortunately, many towns have the French word for city (ville) or lake (lac) or river (rivers), so we could sort of figure them out. And since the province is predominantly Catholic, many are named after patron saints — Saint-Hyacinthe, Saint-Dominque, Saint-Bernard-de-Michaudville, to name a few.
But the best name we came across today, and maybe the best name ever, is the delightfully named town of Saint Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!
Yes, you are reading that correctly — there are not one, but two (!) exclamation points in that name, and here’s a picture of the sign to prove it:
My sister, ever the photographer, had her camera ready to snap the road sign as we drove by. We of course scampered over to The Google to find the story behind the name. Might he be the patron saint of comedians?
In 2012, Ken Jennings (of Jeopardy fame) wrote an article for Conde Naste Traveler about this humorously named town. Here’s what he has to say:
Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! is a small community of 1,300 souls located on the Trans-Canada Highway in eastern Quebec, just 20 miles north of the Maine border. Toponymists—collectors of funny place names—have long prized Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! as the world’s only town to boast not one but two exclamation points in its name.
Today, Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! celebrates its unique appellation with a monument in front of the town church, and many visitors stop to take photos of its unusually jovial road signs. But locals tell different stories about the origins of town’s overachieving name. In the most common version, “Ha! Ha!” is what French trappers said when they founded the town, an exclamation of joy and awe at its beautiful surroundings. By other accounts, it’s a corruption of the Huron word ahaha, meaning “road.”
The truth seems to be simpler: In the 17th century, a “ha-ha” was a word for an unexpected obstacle, like a hidden trench in a garden. French writer and horticulturist Dezallier d’Argenville wrote in 1709 that a trench like this “surprises the eye upon coming near it, and makes one laugh, Ha! Ha! from where it takes its name.” (Well, I’m not sure I get the joke, monsieur, but I also don’t find Jerry Lewis as funny as your people do.) The “ha-ha” in the case of Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! is nearby Lake Témiscouata, apparently a deep and formidable obstacle for early travelers in the region, who had to portage around it.
We arrived in downtown Ottawa on Sunday just in time to witness the ceremonial changing of the guard on Parliament Hill, a daily occurrence during the summer months. Lots of pomp; lots of circumstance!
This was my first visit to Ottawa since 1982 and it was as gorgeous as I remembered.
Here it is, the route of this year’s road trip from St. Paul to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We’re hopping into Big Red and driving east until we run out of land; until the next piece of real estate is Iceland (did someone say Iceland?).
Our original plan had been to return to the the northern US and Canadian Rockies, but the heat, drought, and fires out there forced us to look east for a place that none of us have never been: the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
P.S. Today is my dad’s birthday; he would have loved this trip. And our first stop of the day will be at a DQ to (as we do every year on his birthday) eat a Dilly Bar in his honor.
When I lived in Beijing, we often had a weather forecast that was just one word: Smoke! It was usually in the fall, when the peasants in the surrounding provinces of Shandong and Hebei were burning the fields after harvest. The city would be shrouded in smoke, with off-the-charts bad air quality until it rained or the winds shifted to the north.
On Monday it was Minnesota’s turn. Smoke from wildfires burning in northern Saskatchewan descended on our fair state, making the air quality in Minneapolis worse than in Beijing.
There are more doughnut shops per capita in Canada than anywhere else on the planet. Canadians eat more doughnuts than any other country’s citizens. Although the doughnut is often seen as an American icon, it has become Canada’s unofficial national snack. The popularity of the deep fried treats has to do with Canada’s love affair with coffee, reports CBC’s Beth Harrington. Coffee and doughnuts go hand in hand. And since coffee is Canada’s number one beverage, its partner in crime, the humble doughnut, ranks up there in popularity.
On our first morning in Canada a couple of weeks ago, in Moose Jaw, SK, we noticed a long line of cars in the drive through of a fast food joint called Tim Horton’s. “Hmmm,” we wondered….”just what kind of a joint is Tim Horton’s to attract such a crowd so early in the morning?”
By the time we got to Medicine Hat, AB, our curiosity got the better of us and we pulled into a Tim Horton’s for a break in the drive. Sure enough, it’s a doughnut shop. They also serve soups, sandwiches, and some mean breakfast sandwiches. We grabbed a few doughnuts and got hooked. For the next few days of our drive through Canada, the first thing we did when we pulled into a town was to find the Tim Horton’s.
We’re back in Dawson Creek, BC now, ensconced in a motel across the street from the first Tim Horton’s we’ve seen since leaving Whitehorse, YK. Guess where we’re going for breakfast tomorrow.
Now, I wonder what it would take to get a Tim Horton’s to open in Minnesota. Probably nothing, since Krispy Kreme couldn’t even make it there. For some strange reason, Minnesotans are not big doughnut eaters.
For more on Canadian food, check out this great article (and slideshow) on the 50 “Most Canadian foods” in The Huffington Post, which includes such delicacies as maple syrup, french fries with gravy (!), bacon, and cod tongue.
Ok Canadian readers….this is your chance. What would be on your list of quintessential Canadian foods? Leave a comment with your answer.