By Louisa Benatovich, ECS Student Reporter

The Canadian province of Quebec is home to the only fortified city in North America. Encircled by a wall, one might think that the Quebecois would be snobby and standoffish. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ellicottville Central School French students partnered with Brocton High School for the trip of a lifetime. Little did they know that their journey would break down more walls than the city is known for.

Though coach bus 302 was an hour late to the pickup point, our driver made up for it with his charisma and hilarity. Chaz, an exceptional DJ, kept the entire bus entertained for the 12-plus hour bus ride. Upon arrival in Quebec, we were greeted by Steeve, our tour guide. Quebecois to the core, he regaled us with tales of his homeland that never ceased to bore. When asked about his name, he informed us that a spelling mistake must have occurred long ago, and, being an easy-going people, the Quebecois stuck with it.

After a good night’s sleep at the Hotel Clarendon, us weekend trippers were ready to go. Armed with umbrellas and good walking shoes, we took on Old Quebec. We toured with Steeve for several hours; he explained the history behind the churches and statues, and we listened as best we could without being too distracted by all the new sounds and smells. As we explored the upper and lower parts of this magnificent city, we also experienced some muscle soreness. Quebec was built on a very steep hill for military protection. As we lunched in the Lower City, I asked Alex Hunt if he was enjoying himself. “My favorite part of the trip is learning about Quebec’s history,” said the ECS freshman. “I enjoyed beating the other school’s history buff to the guide’s questions. Quiz Bowl abroad!”

After visiting Quebec’s citadelle and attempting to move a cannon, we journeyed to the mall. Two small Nalgene water bottles and one stuffed owl later, we were back on the bus.

The Sugar Shack, a maple syrup farm and dinner destination, welcomed us with fiddle music and fun. We dined on meat pie, chicken, egg, soup, baked beans, sausage, and crepes. Adam Silvernail, a freshman, particularly enjoyed his time. “The food definitely wasn’t lacking,” said the ECS 9th grader, “and could be improved by the addition of maple syrup. Jamming on the spoons was enjoyable. The line-square dancing less so. It was a good meal with a good fiddler entertaining the lot of us.”

I found the traditional French-Canadian dancing quite exhausting and a possible cardio workout alternative. We drove back to the hotel with disco lights and music blaring.

The next day, we breakfasted at Chez Marie, a small rural establishment known for their exquisite homemade bread and maple butter. We visited St. Anne’s Cathedral, admiring the beauty of its stained glass windows and mosaics. It was haunting to see the ceiling-high shelves filled with crutches, cancer treatment masks, and wheelchairs.

Afterwards, we journeyed to a family owned copper workshop. Operated by sisters, it keeps the magic of copper art alive. We all drew an image on a thin sheet of the metal and extruded it with tools. Boasting our new creations, we drove to the Montmorency Falls. This chute of water is 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls. We stood on the bridge, watching the brown water rush into white froth. It was anxiety-inducing.

After some free time (and lots of shopping) in Old Quebec, we were taken to a tower reenactment. Two women, dressed as British captains, treated us as new army recruits. We split into four teams, playing various games to earn points. Simon Lin, a game participant, remarked that the reenactment was a very educational experience. “The actors were a little over the top,” said the ECS sophomore, “but they were nice. The activities made sure that we were not bored, and I learned a lot about British torture methods.” Lin had been the lucky demonstrator of what happens to an insubordinate in the army.

After a lovely dinner and nighttime ferry ride, it was time to say goodbye to our beloved tour guide. “As many Quebecois, Steeve, our guide, shared his love and pride for Quebec,” said Dolores Whistler, Ellicottville’s French teacher. “His love of the history, as well as the land, seasons, and culture showed in every minute we were fortunate to share with him. His au revoir message to our group was learn a language so you can meet and know new people, and make new friends.”

Practicing French, after all, had been the purpose of the trip, and many Ellicottville students had taken advantage of the opportunity. Rylie Aldrich, a senior, put all six years of her learned French to use. “Being able to speak French outside of the classroom is an enjoyable experience,” she said. “When I was able to understand the questions of the shopworker, and they could comprehend, as well, it made me feel excited to learn more. When you can speak a language of a country, it makes the time that you spend there feel a little more genuine.”

And genuine our time truly was. As Ellicottville exited the bus, hugs and tears were exchanged with the Brocton students. Forever friends had been made, and the memories would never be forgotten. Quebec, the accent of the north, had changed us for good.