East Coast Exploring

OUR 15-DAY EAST COAST EXPLORER DRIVING TOUR through the Canadian Maritime provinces this past September was a fun-filled experience for everyone in our group. Partly because it was actively being planned for more than two years, and the plan evolved with input from our group members.

First intended as a May-June 2020 adventure, COVID-19 pandemic restrictions at the time made that impossible. So we shifted our focus to September 2021, hoping against hope that restrictions would ease sufficiently to allow us to travel, stay at nice places, eat well, and do interesting things together along the way. As it turned out, September 2021 was likely the earliest possible time we could have done this, as travel restrictions eased over the summer with increasing vaccination rates.

This driving tour ended up being organized rather differently than other multi-day UCR tours you might have joined in the past. First, all our group members were provided with the information they needed to reserve their own rooms and ferry rides. This allowed group members to easily “step out” of the tour, if they wished, to see family and friends along the way, for example, with no fuss whatsoever. And one couple in our group did just that, to visit for a couple of days with their granddaughter who had just started at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.

Second, the one unifying principle of the tour, aside from driving safely, was that, almost every evening, we would gather as a group for dinner and share our stories — true or not — from the day and our potential plans for the upcoming day. With our final destinations set each day, each Porsche was free to plan its own activities and schedule for the day, driving route, pace and driving companions. As you might expect, on particular days, we might drive as a couple of groups on alternate routes, or scatter in groups of two to four cars to engage in different activities, such as whale watching in Tadoussac or birdwatching in Percé. Great freedom to pursue each member’s interests.

The instigators and “early adopters” were Lesley Thouret, and Cal and Sue Balcom, who first encouraged me to put together a Porsche group trip after hearing about my own driving trip to the Gaspé area in the summer of 2019. Over time we added Peter and Susan Blake, Greg and Beth Boehmer, Richard and Suzanne Lang, Oliver and Lucie Collins, and Peter Hoffman. My original plan for the tour had been just 12 people in seven to eight Porsches. This was based on my experience organizing one- and two-day tours in the past, where small numbers allow a much wider choice of group venues and activities than one can arrange when 20 to 30 cars are involved.

We ended up with 13 people, seven Porsches and one BMW. Now, before you express your outrage, hear us out. Lesley had been a frequent participant in PCA UCR driving tours over the years, in her 2008 911 S cabriolet, but it was destroyed in a road accident — not her fault and she walked away — in late 2020. She had placed her order for a more-up-to-date replica (a reincarnation?) of her former car, first scheduled for delivery in July 2021. Then the microchip shortage intervened. She may now not get to drive her new toy until sometime in 2022.

After exploring all other options, it came down to a choice of driving a loaner Cayenne, a generous offer from a friend, or bringing her other toy, a very capable M-tuned BMW. After the group heard her impassioned plea to join us with her BMW, at a pre-tour gathering hosted by the Balcoms in August, the group approved — so long as whenever we drove as a group, the BMW would be the last car in line. Lesley served expertly as post-sweeper for much of our tour.

Our tour covered a lot of territory. But our longest day’s drive was just 345 kilometres, from Percé, Quebec, to Bathurst, New Brunswick, with a stop in New Carlisle, meeting long-time family friends of mine at a local auberge for coffee and delicious pastries; we then moved on to their farm for a short tour. Several days covered less than 200 kilometres. That said, the “official start” of our tour was the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie, which is about 900 kilometres from my home in Etobicoke. The return trip from Halifax was roughly 1,800 kilometres. Many among our group spent time in Montreal or Quebec City before starting with the group, or tarried in Nova Scotia after our final dinner in Halifax. All told, this may have been the longest UCR driving tour in our region’s history — over 15 days duration and, “officially,” covering a little over 2,500 kilometres, from La Malbaie to Halifax (we all drove further, with individual side trips). All of us added over 6,000 kilometres to our odometers on this trip; or, thinking of it another way, when you add up our combined distances travelled, we more than circled the globe.

Starting with the Fairmont hotel in La Malbaie, many of the places we stayed overnight offered us a dedicated, reserved parking area for our Porsches, often a treat for their guests. The Fairmont even added a red carpet from our prime spots right next to the hotel entrance. And the Great George Hotel in Charlottetown, the group’s favourite hotel on this trip, even assigned a staff member to watch over our cars the two nights we were there. No real need, but a sign of the great service this hotel gave us.

COVID-19 regulations and guidelines (and behaviours) varied substantially from province to province and evolved during our trip. As a group, we were watching this very carefully prior to departure; at one point during the summer, PEI was only going to start allowing visitors from outside the Maritime provinces on Sept. 15 — and our arrival was planned for the 17th. Our experience in Quebec was similar to what we knew from Toronto, with diligent attention to masking, capturing contact info, and checking vaccine documentation, for indoor dining and other activities. Yet, in New Brunswick, masks were optional everywhere and no vaccine documentation was required, however, that changed before we returned from Halifax.

PEI required us each to have arranged a PEI pass online prior to arrival and, as we came off the bridge, we were ushered to a testing tent where each of us was swabbed for a rapid test before being sent on our way. If any of us had tested positive, we would have quickly received a telephone call, after which we would have had to quarantine or immediately leave PEI. Entering Nova Scotia, we again had to show a “Nova Scotia pass” document we had obtained earlier before we were allowed to proceed, but no test.

Further, related COVID observations from our trip: Just as in Toronto, restaurants during our travels were often hit hard in terms of staffing, especially servers and kitchen workers. Several of the hotels at which we stayed had closed their signature dining rooms and had only sufficient staff to offer their coffee-shop service; and, even here, we could often see staff trying their best to keep up with the number of guests wanting a meal. Our group overall was just appreciative that we could get a meal at times.

We had some wonderful dinners on this trip. One of the highlights was in Baie Comeau, in the Charlevoix region, known for its terroir and cuisine. We dined at La Cache d’Amélie, a restaurant just a short walk from our hotel in a large old house where we were given a private room for our group. Good thing, as our group could get boisterous. While we all ordered separately, the general consensus was that we were each treated to one of the best meals many of us had ever had, whether in Toronto or from our other travels. Truly superb.

Another dining highlight was a “Fireworks Feast” at the Inn at Bay Fortune in Souris, PEI, about an hour’s drive from our Charlottetown hotel. Friends of the Balcoms, who live part-time in PEI, had recommended the event as a bucket-list experience and we started our campaign to get a reservation for our entire group many months in advance. Cal and Sue Balcom took on the task of getting us all in (the facility would initially allow only 10 of us to dine there at all, not just a question of being at the same table) but their persistence paid off, and we were able to all sit together in a second-floor, private room overlooking the kitchen below. Here’s why it was so special: The experience started with a talk from Michael Smith, a celebrated chef and owner of the farm and restaurant complex, followed by a guided tour of the farm. Everything served to us that day and evening came from the farm or from the adjacent bay — fresh fish and oysters included. The farm tour was followed by another talk from Michael Smith and then visiting a collection of appetizer stations in the garden, including several different preparations of oysters, house-smoked salmon canapés, mushroom canapés, and grilled pork bellies on skewers. Each station was staffed by a young, enthusiastic person who explained the provenance of the ingredients and how each was prepared. Then, into the dining room where our group sat together at a single large table, at the head of which was our PCA flag on the wall. The courses just kept coming, with a choice of entrées: fresh-caught, seared tuna from the bay, or house-smoked brisket from the farm. Capped off by toasting marshmallows on the bonfire outside. All excellent, another memorable experience.

Another of our experiences, which we could not have done with a larger group, was sailing Bras d’Or, North America’s largest inland sea, on a 42-foot catamaran, skippered by Paul Jamieson of CBI (Cape Breton Island) Sailing. While the boat was licensed to carry 14 people, Oliver and Lucie Collins skipped this experience to visit with their granddaughter in Antigonish, so Paul was able to bring a crew member to help sail. Peter Hoffman and I are both experienced sailors and had offered to help. A young woman joined us as well, Michelle, a singer, songwriter, restauranteur and municipal councillor, a busy person, who sang to us for our entire voyage. Brilliant sunny weather, with a nice breeze to fill the jib, music in the air, and a lovely lunch aboard — who could ask for anything more?

Such a long driving trip, with vehicles of varying ages, can mean repairs are needed along the way. Oliver Collins, on a prior trip to the Maritimes, had to transport his car by flat-bed truck back to Toronto for service. Not wanting to repeat that experience, he took on the task of searching out qualified Porsche repair facilities along our route. While Porsche Canada was consulted, it would not offer any guidance other than to visit the Porsche dealer in Halifax, so Oliver found a Porsche owners’ website (PCarShops.com) that identifies repair centres in various cities across Canada that have demonstrated skills working on Porsches. Little did I suspect that I would be the one needing help.

With the newest car in the group, a 2017 911 Targa 4S, I left Tadoussac shortly after filling up at a small gas station there, from the same pump and with the same grade of gas as two others in the group. My car soon displayed the message, “engine control fault, consult a workshop, driving permitted.” I suspected bad gas but the others reported no problem and while my car seemed a little less responsive under acceleration, it continued to perform well. The next two-day stay on our route was in Charlottetown and the website identified Wendell Taylor’s Garage as a qualified repair facility. Calling ahead, I was told they had a two-week waiting list for repair jobs but they kindly agreed to try to help me as soon as I arrived. Long story short, they charged me a very reasonable inspection fee to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be a seized turbo waste gate, apparently a common problem with Porsche, Audi and VW turbos, which has since been re-designed. They disassembled and repaired it at no charge. But the best part came when I spoke with the mechanic who fixed the problem, about how I might avoid this happening again. Looking me straight in the eye, he said, “Don’t baby the car. You need to accelerate forcefully on a regular basis.” When I told the rest of the group, they were quite amused, given my habit of passing cars, when required, as quickly as possible. We all wondered how that advice might play if I was ever stopped for speeding (I never was).

Each night when we gathered for dinner, we considered nominations from the group as to who had contributed the most, recently, to the group’s enjoyment or entertainment. The nomination process was often rowdy, with help from the rest of the group about the nominee’s qualifications for a prize (a PCA UCR hat with our new logo). Our first winners were Greg Boehmer and Peter Blake, for their foraging efforts to support an impromptu wine and cheese party on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, next to our Baie Comeau hotel. Another notable winner was Richard Lang, who often, unasked, squeegeed the morning dew off our windshields before we all started for the day. By the time we reached Halifax, all our group members had won a hat and we could therefore all be “in uniform” when we met with the PCA Acadia Region members for the final dinner of our adventure together. I gave Joe Treen, the Acadia Region president, one of our hats, to thank him for his hospitality and for his advice while I was planning the trip, on roads for us to take that would be particularly interesting. And we invited all of the Acadia Region members to let us know when they might be visiting our area, so that we might include them in a UCR social activity, in return.

We found friendly, hospitable people all through the Maritime provinces. And, driving as a group of Porsches together at times, we attracted fellow travellers when we were all stopped for road construction, which was frequent especially in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, or waiting to board a ferry. Having the chance to spend time with local residents, particularly in Quebec and Prince Edward Island, was very interesting, especially during the period leading up to the federal election. It was very clear, as we travelled through Quebec, that the contest was between the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois; no other party seemed to have deployed campaign signs. But the most memorable experience in this regard, for a small number of us, was visiting Fredericton on the way home from Halifax. I had mailed a letter to the woman who is the current owner of my grandparents’ former home there and asked if I might have a tour when I came. As soon as she received my letter, she telephoned me and we chatted for about 30 minutes, at the end of which she said, “I’ll not just give you a tour, I’ll invite some people who knew your grandparents and your parents and we’ll have dinner together.” That evolved into an invitation for any of our group who were with me, to join her for a barbecue in the garden. Well, what the Langs, Collins, Lesley Thouret and I found is that she had arranged a catered, sit-down dinner in her garden for around 25 friends and neighbours, to meet us. Now that’s Maritime hospitality.

One of the key factors that made this trip so enjoyable was the group members themselves. At a barbecue hosted by the Balcoms in August, in the lovely oasis they created behind their home, some of the group members met each other for the first time. And while I knew most of them from previous driving tours we had done together, I didn’t know how this particular group would “gel.” I had no need to worry. At that gathering, I did my best to set expectations that, despite the long period of planning, it was almost inevitable that something would not happen as expected and that we would need to “roll with it” when it happened. My biggest concerns were, of course, changing COVID-19 restrictions as the Delta variant continued to wreak havoc, and the upcoming Quebec ferry strike which would have meant a long detour if we were to keep to our itinerary. Thankfully, our biggest hiccups were occasional challenges in getting access to restaurants, in places where we had not been able to reserve for our group in advance. That said, the group proved very resourceful in creating its own fun as we travelled, with numerous spontaneous wine and cheese events, and lively conversations. I would travel with this group again in a heartbeat. </>


Sept. 8 — La Malbaie, Quebec — kick-off reception and dinner

Sept. 9 — Tadoussac, Quebec — whale-watching, Saguenay River exploration

Sept. 10 — Baie-Comeau, Quebec — Charlevoix region, foodie haven

Sept. 11 — Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Quebec — ferry to Matane, visit to Jardins de Métis’ (Reford Gardens)

Sept. 12 — Percé, Quebec — coastal drive around the Gaspé Peninsula, boat tour of the Rock and Bonaventure Island

Sept. 13 — Bathurst, New Brunswick — stop in New Carlisle, joining locals there for a late breakfast and farm tour

Sept. 14 — Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick — largest tidal range in North America

Sept. 15 and 16 — Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island — across the bridge with our PEI passes, Prim Point Lighthouse visit and lunch, group “Fireworks Feast” at the Inn at Bay Fortune

Sept. 17 — Glenville and Mabou, Nova Scotia — by ferry from PEI, lunch at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (with live music), tour of the Glenora Distillery

Sept. 18 and 19 — Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia — Cabot Trail, golf at Keltic Lodge

Sept. 20 — Antigonish, Nova Scotia — group catamaran cruise of Bras d’Or, out of Baddeck, Alexander Graham Bell Museum

Sept. 21 and 22 — Halifax, Nova Scotia — “Porsche parade” through campus of St. Francis Xavier University, day trip to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg, dinner with PCA Acadia Region members

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