SAINT JEAN DE PORT JOLI, Que. – Port Joli is made of cute. No, really. Someone gathered up all the cute from all of Quebec and planted it here. Fortunately, one can harvest enough cute fruit to export some to the rest of the province. But never forget that this is where it’s grown.
We had driven the 45 minutes from Notre Dame du Portage to visit the motorcycle museum, but the bikes weren’t the highlight of our day. Tourist info in The Cutest Town in Quebec sent us to a maritime museum several kilometres west of the village, where we toured an icebreaker, the Ernest Lapointe, and Canada’s only navy-built hydrofoil boat.
The hydrofoil, 400, was built in Sorel, Que., between 1964 and 1968 and tested until 1971. It had two speeds: cruising at 30 km/h to search for subs, and, with the hydrofoil going and its nose in the air, 100 km/h. The program was plagued by cost overruns ($13 million ballooned to $53 million) and mechanical problems.
The 400 and Ernest Lapointe tours were fantastic because almost nothing was off-limits. We had run of the boats and could touch and explore to our hearts content. We loved our day at Pointe au Pere, but the Empress, lighthouse and submarine exhibits cost us more than $50. This hands-on experience was $22.
It also took most of the afternoon, leaving us with little time or energy to tour another museum on our list, the Museum of Living History. Instead, we stopped at the Fol Galerie & Jardin Fou. The bright pink private home is surrounded by surreal art: An oven in a manmade lake. Trees topped with computer screens. A fridge used as the base for a toilet. An ironing board balanced on a log, a phone cord stretched its length.
A sign at the front door invited us to walk in and so we did, surprising the artist, Daniel Hamelin. His curly salt and pepper hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail and his breath smelled faintly of alcohol. He wore jeans and an old t-shirt with the arms ripped off. There was red paint streaked along one forearm.
Once he got over the shock of suddenly having English tourists in his midst, he was a gracious host, giving a short introduction to his art before telling us to take our time and escaping to his workshop, leaving us alone in his home.
We didn’t take any pictures inside the house, where the art was mainly laminated wood, holographic paper and plastic children’s toys, but we went crazy outside trying to capture everything and figure how this man’s mind works. He had at least an acre of land that dropped into a valley and featured two small, natural waterfalls. I’ve seen some crazy art in my life, but this guy is some sort of genius. It’s something I’ll never forget.