Chez Gill

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange and his wife usually celebrate their October anniversary with a trip to Canada, where they see very few tourists from the States.

(Lange) It’s surprising that more New Englanders don’t travel north for vacations. Canada is a vast and barely discovered mother lode of culture, history, and scenery. But most Yankees choose to go to Florida, which is distinguished by none of those attributes.

Last year Mother and I crossed at Champlain, New York, and followed the west bank of the Richelieu River down to the St. Lawrence, following the route of explorers, traders, and warriors from the Hurons and Champlain to General Sir John Burgoyne and the Iroquois.

North of the border, little ethnic restaurants pop up in the middle of nowhere and with no visible base of support. They can be excellent, and we often cruise for as much as an hour to find something interesting. This year we spotted one labeled “Suisse.” Strauss waltzes, marches, and polkas in the background. Tidy little tables for two. A sturdy blonde waitress with a single long pigtail. Austrian atmosphere, Swiss discipline. I startled the waitress visibly by not ordering soup but she rallied and in short order brought my sauerkraut, beer, and a variety of sausages, ending with a fantastic cup of coffee.

Sunday morning, driving down the St Lawrence, we found again Chez Gill, the Canadian fish house we’d stumbled upon a year earlier, near the end of a cul-de-sac among the river islands. Some of the other customers had arrived in a lovely cat-headed Dutch ketch tied up at the dock. We all ate at long tables, conversing in rudimentary French, and I had my second annual Kit Babalou, a breakfast running heavily to fried eggs, baked beans, and sausages.

Four days earlier, I had spent an afternoon in Charlestown, New Hampshire, at the reconstructed Fort at Number Four. This is the frontier settlement to which Robert Rogers and his Colonial Rangers retreated after their epic raid on the Indian village of St. Francis in October of 1759. Now, after breakfast on Sunday, we went to church in the Anglican chapel in St. Francis, on the Odanak First Nation Reserve. Rogers’ raid ended the fighting that had plagued the Connecticut Valley for about a century, and colonial settlement exploded northward immediately afterward. The raid is remembered here in Odanak at least as well as it is in the Connecticut Valley.

The priest at the mission is becoming a friend, and our arrival felt almost like a homecoming. It was a real homecoming for several natives who had left the reserve long ago for Connecticut and were back for Canadian Thanksgiving. They stayed over for the Monday holiday. We headed south again, across the amazingly flat river plain, through plumes of aromatic smoke from smokehouses. One more night in Canada, down near the border, one more inn — Provencal this time — one more early morning walk, and home. It’s like living next-door to Europe.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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