Passing Through Thetford Mines
The next morning I was up early and had to begin the day by traveling through a few moments of light drizzle, but the weather quickly broke and the day turned out to be nice and sunny. The first town I pedaled through was called Disraeli. It sat on the edge of a long lake that was quite still at six in the morning. Many clouds were still present, which gave the body of water a beautiful steel, gray sheen.
At Black Lake, just outside of Disraeli, I found a small roadside eatery with one of the large ice cream signs adorning the exterior of the building. Seeing that there already had a small crowd inside drinking coffee and eating breakfast, I parked my bike and entered the place. I ordered a cup of coffee, but on this morning I was having an unusually hard time with the language, so a young man, who was seated at the counter, had to bail me out and explain that all the waitress wanted to know was whether I wanted crème in my coffee or not.
Later on, I had an interesting conversation with Jean, who was from the immediate area, but had lived for 25 years in the states. Now he was back in the land of his birth. He was surprised that I had traveled all the way from Boston on a ten-year old Univega. He wished me well and I was on my way to Thetford Mines, an etymological blimp on the landscape of French town names.
I knew I was getting near the town, when I encountered huge mounds of tailings stacked all along the roadside. In fact, calling these deposits mounds is a huge misuse of the English language, for many were big enough to deserve the name of a mountain. From my perch atop my two-wheeler, the machinery that crawled along the ridge of loose rock looked like tiny toys.
After I passed the first sentinel mountains, the tailing piles grew smaller and soon I was cruising down a wide avenue lined with super-sized stores, some of which were extensions of American capitalism, but many that were not. I went first to my favorite, the IGA store, where I bought a muffin, some water and several cold 50-cent sodas from their compliments machine.
Once back out on the commercial strip, I rode past the Walmart, Dollarama stores, Esso’s and Irvings hoping to come across the old section of town, if there was one.
After spending a half hour traversing the boulevard, I came upon a sign directing me to the “Centre Ville”. This seemed like the right place to go, even though it meant a 5 kilometer ride in the opposite direction. Anxious to see the downtown area and perhaps find an internet connection, I covered the distance quickly; and to my surprise was soon face to face with a large and quite unique town center. The mines may be ugly on the outside, but from my vantage point there seemed no denying that at least some of the money had gone into building a large and vivant downtown area.
Not being able to locate the library on my own, I pulled into a bike shop to get directions for the Bibliotheque Municipal, a pair of foreign words that still gave me trouble. However, this French exchange went better than the last and I was soon on my way back to the main drag, which I had just learned was called Boulevard Frontenac.
As it turned out this bibliotheque was just as massive as the mine tailings that were piled along the highway - and the letters that were installed on the front of the building must have been six feet tall, displaying the nature of the edifice in a manner more similar to Post-Revolution Mexico than provincial Quebec.
Part of the reason lay in the fact that the city library shared the building with the city university. For as I wandered around the building, all I could find was sports lockers and a student pool room for the students. Finally, with the help of a curious security guard, I found the library section of the building. To my surprise the library consisted of one large room that could barely hold the giant letters than embroidered the stucco exterior. The summer hours allowed me three hours of computer use and I was on my way.
I pedaled hard for several hours before stopping for a another ice cream twist, as sunset was quickly approaching.