We took a break from the long flights, airport security hassle, and paperwork chases that so often have been a part of our travels: this summer (2009) we enjoyed a week’s cruise across the Great Lakes, followed by a week’s land tour of Quebec.

The CLELIA II is one of the former Renaissance Cruises vessels, now scattered around the globe following that company’s bankruptcy. These small ships have set the standard for boutique cruises, featuring upscale accommodations, high levels of service, and yet an informal atmosphere for about 100 passengers. We embarked in Duluth, a town which has made an attractive destination of its formerly industrial waterfront. Our first target was the Michigan Peninsula town of Houghton which we reached after a silent wait on the Portage Waterway for a thick morning fog bank to burn off.

Our tour of the now-deactivated Quincy mine gave us a taste of what used to be a vibrant copper mining region in upper Michigan. Today, the mine is part historical project, part mining school laboratory. We then headed back West across Lake Huron to check in at Thunder Bay, Ontario. The zigzag itinerary allowed us to dodge the inconvenience of multiple crossings in & out of Canada and the U.S.

Thunder Bay is home to the Fort William Historical Park, a living re-creation of a pioneering fur trading station, circa 1815. A wooden palisade, a collection of eighteenth-century buildings, and demonstrations of traditional activities by docents in costume and character reminded us of Williamsburg and Old Portsmouth, NH. I continue to marvel at the ingenuity and hardiness of the early European settlers.

We transited the storied Soo Locks early in the morning, but not so early that brother Jeff hadn’t already taken up an observation post to watch us step down toward Lake Superior. He then joined us for a beautiful, warm day at Mackinac Island, including an assault of the legendary luncheon buffet at the landmark Grand Hotel. The experience was a taste of an unhurried way of life that has largely been forgotten.

A short crossing of the lake took us to Manitoulin Island, home of the Ojibwe tribe. Known as “First Nations” in Canada, the Native Americans in these regions have been successful in blending their traditions to the demands of economic and technological progress. We were treated to a powwow featuring a smudging (purification) ceremony and a performance by spirit drummers and dancers.

On our way to Lake Erie, it was lunch time on a spectacularly clear day when we cruised down the Detroit River. To me, downtown Detroit sparkled in the sunlight, in incongruous counterpoint to what I know is a very troubled and depressed area. Most of the plants on the US side seemed somnolent, at best, while those on the Canadian side were emitting billows of steam from their stacks…

The Welland Canal connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with a spectacular cascade of eight locks. I supervised the hours-long transit, during which we descended while huge lake bulk carriers were raised in the opposite direction. Kathryn and Mitchel had jumped ship for this transit, preferring an excursion to Niagara Falls.

The few hours between disembarking in Toronto and catching the afternoon train to Montreal gave us the opportunity to take in a superb exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Royal Ontario Museum. Old Town Montreal has become a bustling tourist neighborhood, with the ground floors of the quaint stone buildings now housing mostly restaurants, bars, and fine art galleries all fronting on narrow sidewalks. We put in a few walking miles while in Montreal, climbing to the top of Mount Royal Park, exploring several stretches of the underground city, and checking out the Botanical Garden.

Mitchel, as is customary, did all of the driving of our rental car for a round trip to Quebec City and the coast of the St. Lawrence waterway. We stayed three days at the famous Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City, and took out time to absorb the rich history and visual appeal of the walled city. The defeat of the French by the British in 1759 on the plateau behind the citadel put an end to what until then had been New France, and closed what some historians argue was really the first world war.


The CLELIA II’s itinerary.


On the Duluth breakwater. That’s the CLELIA II behind us.


Captain Philip! We have previously cruised with him on another vessel in Antarctica and in the Amazon.

Quincy Mine

In borrowed miner’s kit, Mitchel is ready to explore the Quincy copper mine.


Ojibwe First Nation drummers performing a spirit ritual.


Kathryn and Mitchel on the suspension bridge spanning Canyon Ste. Anne in Quebec.

The Ship

On deck, as we sail majestically out the main channel.

On deck meal

Great lunchtime buffets on the aft deck.One of us is holding a chocolate volcano.

Brother Jeff

Brother Jeff is test-driving a trademark rocking chair on the legendary 660-foot long veranda of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac.


Kathryn and Mitchel prepared for their cruise up to Niagara cataracts aboard ’The Maid of the Mist’.


We're on the ramparts of the citadel in charming Quebec City. The pile in the background is the Frontenac Hotal, where we stayed.