Pembroke’s Hidden Treasures

(Pembroke, Ontario, Canada)

From the Château Montebello, it would have been a fairly easy drive back home to Kingston.  However, we were looking forward to seeing some old friends near Pembroke before returning home…so we took a long drive on the north side of the Ottawa River.   After passing through Thurso (birthplace of Guy Lafleur!), our progress became quite slow.  We didn’t want to go on the Autoroute, but construction and congestion were the order of the day.  Finally, some distance west of Ottawa, the road opened up.

Downtown Shawville, Quebec

This seemed like a somewhat forgotten corner of Québec.  There were few towns and I don’t recall seeing a stop sign or traffic light until we reached Shawville.  Although Shawville was clearly the largest town around, even it was very quiet.   After stocking up on some Québec-only provisions, we crossed the mighty Ottawa River back to Ontario.

Wildlife in downtown Pembroke

Our first impressions of Pembroke were lacklustre.  The skies were grey and the main street was under considerable construction:  perhaps because of this, there were also some vacant storefronts.  Just over a block away from the main street, we saw a fox relaxing on a pile of gravel!  We weren’t expecting this in a city of 16,000 people, especially at the beginning of rush hour.

The Nook Creperie in Pembroke, Ontario

However, our concern soon dissipated.  We walked by the waterfront campus of Algonquin College (see photo at the top of this post) and saw signs of life.  Then, returning to the main street, we saw a lot of locals entering a restaurant called “The Nook Crêperie”.  We were assured by a couple of patrons that this would be a great place for dinner.

One of the crepes at The Nook

They were absolutely correct.  Our crêpes were appealing inside and outside; the soup and dessert were both also excellent.  We never would have found this place if we had followed our initial instincts to avoid the downtown construction zone.   We then found our B&B:  just a few blocks from downtown, it was a charming Victorian red brick home in an equally charming neighbourhood.

Our B&B in Pembroke

We met our friends the next morning…and made only a small dent in the huge amount of spruce beer (biére d’épinette) that we had each stockpiled in anticipation of this day.   The strange obsession with spruce beer is a long story.  It has its roots in a long-ago Ottawa River canoe trip from my friend’s house to a general store in nearby Fort-Coulonge, Québec.  I don’t think either one of us particularly likes it, but the tradition has taken on a life of its own.  If you ever want a soft drink that is ridiculously high in calories, cloyingly sweet, and redolent of Pine-Sol, then spruce beer is the beverage for you.

Biére d’épinette: available in name brands AND store brands!

And that seems like a fitting way to end our summer vacation.  We saw a lot of Québec, enjoyed a lot of sports, and ate very well…or at least had fun with our food.  How can you not have fun with pizzaghetti?

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a special report on a very special event!

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