Travelling With Pets: On the Road from Toronto to Halifax
Driving through Quebec and New Brunswick with two golden retrievers in the back seat
I do my best to remember that my pets—a couple of golden retrievers, Nestor and Moika—are animals. But I won’t have them carted off, bewildered, in a crate, only to be put in the belly of a plane. That seems cruel and unfair and so, travelling from Toronto to Halifax, I take them with me in the back of my Volvo. The routes I choose are for expediency’s sake but also for the beauty of the road—and the pet-friendly hotels that will have me.
The First-Stretch Rest Stop
In Montreal, the Sofitel at Sherbrooke and Stanley, near the Ritz-Carlton and Holt Renfrew, is one of Nestor and Moika’s choice stops. It’s a brilliant conversion of what was previously an office tower, with bright airy rooms and a convivial restaurant and bar that spills onto a terrace in the summer months. There is no charge for pets, but there is typically a provided basket of treats and even small animal beds.
Another option is the extremely accommodating and stylish boutique Hotel Le Germain, where one furry guest per room is supplied with a bed, “dining area” carpet and a water and food bowl, for an additional charge of $30. I tend to get out of Montreal quickly, though. Despite the McGill University campus and the mountain nearby, green space is not immediately at hand, although Percy-Walters Park, on Redpath above Docteur Penfield, is a pleasant walk uphill and just a few blocks away.
The Beautiful Belle Province
For me, the vacation truly starts when the bridges of Quebec City are in the rear-view mirror and the traffic thins out and slows. To drive along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River between Quebec City and Rivière-du-Loup is to be overwhelmed by beauty.
I tend to leave the 20 at Saint-Pascal, toward the Route des Navigateurs, along Highway 132, that wends its way through what is surely one of the most beautiful stretches of countryside in all of Canada. To the east are green meadows and immaculately maintained old farmhouses; to the west, the immense St. Lawrence and its fascinating outcrops of weathered, bulbous rock formations, wild rose bushes and grasses along the shore.
By the time I’ve passed the SEBKA ecological area and camping grounds in Saint-André, a stop for rock climbers and kayakers where dogs are not permitted, I am revelling in the sight of red-roofed houses and wooden barns catching the golden light of the late-afternoon sun. I keep to the shore as the road forks and takes me through the village of Notre-Dame-du-Portage before finally arriving at the Auberge sur Mer. The staff knows to put us in one of the ground-floor rooms of the motel wing that abuts the old house, a heritage building with a wraparound veranda. I pull open the French doors so that the river breeze flows into the room, as does the sound of the waves lapping at the shore mere feet away, lulling me to sleep at night.
Leisurely into Nova Scotia
From this point on, I do not hurry. After a relaxed morning, I drive the five hours along the Saint John River to the New Brunswick port city of the same name on the Bay of Fundy. Depending on the ferry schedule, I may stay the night along the way in Fredericton at the Crowne Plaza Lord Beaverbrook, which does not charge for pets. The hotel is excellently situated right next to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, a Canadian treasure, so I always try to arrive with time in the afternoon for a decent viewing.
Eventually, I catch the ferry ride to Digby, two hours and fifteen minutes across the Bay of Fundy. There’s a kennel for pets and a movie lounge and free Wi-Fi for their humans aboard the new Fundy Rose.
The Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, along the road from the ferry to the old town, is a former railway hotel perfect for families. It has a series of pleasant cottages where you can stay with your dogs for an extra $25 plus $5 for each additional pet. Once settled in, I head to Water Street, the main thoroughfare of the old town. The view of the Digby Wharf (and, beyond it, Bear Island) is surely one of the prettiest harbours in Atlantic Canada.
Where the Road Ends, Not the Adventure
If Halifax is your final destination, then settle in at the Lord Nelson. Dogs are welcome on a designated floor—local travellers seem especially charmed to meet retrievers in the lifts—and, settling in overnight for $35, mine appear as at home as in a Gainsborough painting. The Halifax citadel is a block away, and Halifax Common is just a little farther. These are not off-leash places for the dogs to romp, but they offer more than a hint of the Nova Scotia countryside.