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T&L 100: Quality in Quebec | 2000

A Dog's Life
I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I was about to spend my day—my whole minus-10-degrees-Fahrenheit day—with dogs, real live 100-pound sled-pulling bowsers with names like Nanookand Tiloup.

Denis Montminy has been breeding and working with Siberian huskies and malamutes for 32 years; he owns 162 dogs and knows each one by name. As he and his guide start outfitting the lightweight wooden sleds with pillows and blankets, all at once every single dog starts barking. This clamor is typical working-dog zeal. The dogs are born and bred to pull a sled. In fact, "There's no training the dogs," says Denis. "They train themselves and they train each other. All humans do is socialize them."

Soon the dogs are harnessed and we are being whisked through scenery out of some cheesy Celine Dion Christmas special—except that it's real. Long eggshell-white corridors through the firs. Frozen ponds that look as if they've been dusted with disco-era eye makeup. Ice-encased branches clacking in the breeze.

For a while, Denis lets me drive the sled. There's nothing to it, really. Occasionally you apply the brake. Occasionally you shout a command to turn left or right. But the dogs—bright, ebullient, straining at their harnesses—do the work. We decide on a half-day trip of about 22 kilometers (about 14 miles), but the dogs can easily run 100 kilometers in a day. And the colder the day, the better. "The dogs are more effective at twenty below [Celsius; about four below Fahrenheit] than two above," says Denis.

Later, as I slump over my café au lait and maple syrup­drenched pastry back at home base, I can't stop thinking about the dogs. Driven by instinct, they answer to calls that are literally bred into their DNA. Given the opportunity, they carry out that instinct with passion and pure commitment, with every fiber of their being. Don't you wish you could be more like them?

Aventure Nord-Bec,665 Rue Saint-Aimé, Saint-Lambert de Lévis; 418/889-8001, fax 418/889-8307; rates from $55 for a half day to $95 for a whole day, including meals.

Where to Shop
If you're on the prowl for truly cool consumerism, amble over to Rue St.-Paul, Quebec's downtown strip of arts, antiques, and hip souvenirs. Color's the thing at Vitrine(329 Rue St.-Paul; 418/694-7384), stocked as it is with modern furniture and lifestyle accessories crafted by local designers. As long as you're north of the border, you might as well smoke a Cuban, and you can get a box of them at Le Connaisseur Boutique de Cigares(321A Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-4333). If you had a Canadian grandmother and were rummaging through her attic, you'd probably find the same stuff as they have at À la Capucine(145 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-5318): latch-hook rugs from the thirties, painted but weathered pine benches, tables, chests, and armoires. Not to be outdone, neighboring Le Rendez-vous du Collectionneur (123 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-3099)offers a similar mishmash: moose lamps, oldie-but-goodie toys in their original boxes, and Art Deco sconces. Vintage-lovers will think they've achieved nirvana at Décenie(117 Rue St.-Paul; 418/694-0403), which brims with to-die-for Deco leather chairs, bead lamps, Mickey Mouse phones, even working Westinghouse and Silex appliances. Size matters, but shipping might be costly at Boutique aux Mémoires Antiquités Inc. (105 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-2180), which tempts shoppers with things likea six-foot-tall burnt bamboo Victorian hall tree and its pride: the the the 1870 walnut wheel of a three-masted schooner, one of the few in existence.

On the Town
In a city that Old Man Winter could claim as his headquarters, it's not surprising that there are many places to discover the joys of liquid warmth. At Bar St.-Laurent (in the Château Frontenac, 1 Rue des Carrières; 418/692-3861), cashmere-clad women sip port by the stone fireplace as their male counterparts recount their snowy exploits. When the younger set is thirsty, they go to Charlotte Bar Digestif (575 Grande-Allée Est; 418/647-2000). There they can make eyes across the curvaceous bar, wiggle to live Latin, soul, swing, or jazz, or cuddle up on a couch illuminated only by the silvery-blue light of a 75-gallon aquarium. Housed in the same building as Charlotte, Maurice Discothèque (575 Grande-Allée Est; 418/647-2000) — pink drinks, pulsing techno-pop, a cheek-by-jowl dance floor — is so cool that Mick Jagger stopped by when he was in town. With 200 kinds of beer, a mahogany bar, and a fire that always stays lit, it's no wonder locals love Pub St. Alexandre(1087 Rue St.-Jean; 418/694-0015).

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