Disconnected: Isolated in Quebec

By Ester Latifi

This summer, I spent five days in Quebec. The decision to do so was very spur-of-the-moment; all I was told was that we’d be at a lake, we’d have limited phone service, and that we’d be driving up to Ottawa for at least one of the days to see what our country’s capitol had to offer. Having recently returned from a week in LA, I was itching to travel again, and being that I’d never been to the east coast before, I quickly hopped on board.

Upon landing at the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, I was immediately struck by the amount of French-speaking people who surrounded me. I knew I was entering French territory coming into the trip and that our country is bilingual, but being from Alberta, it’s not a language I was ever fully immersed in. I suddenly felt like an outsider, worrying about small things like how was I going to order a coffee if I didn’t know enough French to order in French? This fear was quickly dissolved as I realized that “bilingual” means two languages, and that English was still one of Canada’s official languages (duh). I was able to order my coffee without a problem.

Crossing over the Ontario-Quebec border after being picked up by my friend and her grandpa was a pretty exhilarating experience in that it was anything but exhilarating. We didn’t pass any “Welcome to Quebec” signs—in fact, the only indication I got that we were no longer in Ontario was that all the road signs were suddenly in French as opposed to English. It was at this point that my friend reminded me that there would be limited phone service on this trip and, sure enough, half an hour later, my phone read the dreaded “No Service” at the top that our generation fears. By “limited service,” my friend actually meant that there would be no service at her cottage at all, but once I had gotten past the initial shock that I wouldn’t be able to contact anyone unless we drove into town, it was actually quite liberating. I didn’t have to worry about getting back at people for things or responding to messages.

As we took the pontoon boat across the lake to the cottage, I marvelled at how beautiful and serene the whole setup was. The cottage itself sits on a lot at a private lake that is reserved for people who own the other cottages on the lake and, as such, it was remarkably quiet. Another thing I realized was that it was so clean. I’ve been to oceans and lakes before, but never before had I seen water that was so blue and so unadulterated. I almost felt like an intruder. 

A few hours into the first day, the no-phone-service thing hit me again when I went to go check my phone and realized there was nothing to check. The cottage had a landline, but other than that, there was no way of reaching the outside world. I felt like I was in a little bubble. My friend explained to me that we’d be playing book roulette in our free time—picking a random book from the surprisingly-large selection her grandparents had at the cottage and reading them. This was great for me because reading is something I already do for fun; what I didn’t expect, however, was the speed at which I was reading. I consider myself to be a fast reader as a seasoned English major, but the lack of phone service and being isolated on the lake made it so that we literally had nothing else to do butread.

The one day we actually did have phone service was the day we drove up to Ottawa. Interestingly enough, being reunited with the world within my cellular device was not as big of a relief as you might have expected it to be; driving into town, I actually felt myself getting stressed out at the influx of messages that would be popping up once my service was restored. Sure enough, my phone began pinging once we hit service. I spent about fifteen minutes responding to people before putting my phone away and spent limited time using it for the rest of the day. 

The highlight of our day in Ottawa was the Northern Lights Sound and Light Show. Lights were projected onto the Parliament and I was awestruck at just how beautiful it was. The light show is a story of Canada’s history, recapping important historical events in a timeline with light projections intricately illuminating our history and music in the background to add to the experience. The show concluded with the Canadian national anthem, an experience which left me feeling so proud to be a citizen of our beautiful country. The masses of people who were there concluded the night singing together in solidarity; it was absolutely amazing.

While there were many factors which contributed to making the trip as wonderful as it was—authentic Quebec poutine, the outdoor markets, and Beaver Tails, to name a few—the best part was the fact that I was disconnected from my phone and forced to really be in every moment. This is something I would urge each of you to try out, whether you are on vacation or in town—we really don’t realize what we’re missing when we’re busy staring at our tiny screens.

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