House exchange in Canada: bigger and better

House and pool

Good deal: we traded a terraced house in London for a large home with pool near Montreal

By Mark Hodson, Editor of 101 Holidays

When I was working full time for The Sunday Times, I wrote several articles about house swapping, but never tried it myself. Then five years ago I took the plunge. A summer holiday in Montpelier followed in the autumn by a few days in Paris and our family was hooked.

After further trips to France and Spain this summer we decided to go big and do a home swap in Canada. We lucked out with a four-bedroom detached house with a large garden and pool in the leafy suburbs north of Montreal. We’re now using it as a base to explore the city and the surrounding countryside of Quebec.

After 12 days in this house we will spend two nights in the remote lakeside Hotel Sacacomie then take a train from Montreal to New York City where we will stay four nights. Yes, it’s a big trip – the first time our family has been away for three full weeks – and that’s partly because my son, Callum, is 17 and this could be his last family holiday with us. Or at least the last obligatory one.

So how’s it going? Well, one week in and in the words of my nine-year-old daughter Helena, “this is the best family holiday ever”. In short, we are loving Canada.

Coming from a small country, it’s easy to dazzled by the sheer size and scale of Canada. Everything from the cars to the meal sizes are big (not necessarily a good thing, of course). But more than that, we’ve been impressed by the beauty of the countryside, the civic pride, the seamless mix of European style and American openness, the easygoing attitude of the people we’ve met and the efficiency of the public transport system.

I’ve been particularly taken with the outdoor attractions. We spent a day this week at Acro Nature, a treetop adventure centre an hour’s drive north of Montreal in the Laurentian hills. We had been to one of these types of places in the UK and enjoyed it, so we knew what to expect. Or at least we thought we did.

But this is Canada. Rather than a few ropes and wobbly bridges followed by a zip wire descent, Acro Nature has built a vast three-hour course high in the forest canopy, including no fewer than 21 zip wires. We were given detailed instructions then told we were on our own: getting around the course was our responsibility. If we got in trouble we could yell for help, but we were basically fending for ourselves. In a real forest.

It was challenging and exciting and fulfilling, and as we made the final descent down a 830ft-long zip wire, we all had huge grins on our faces.

Here’s Helena bombing down one of the zip wires…

In Montreal itself, we went jet boating on the St-Lawrence River. This, I assumed, would be a fun and fast family excursion. But this is Canada. It turned out to be one of the most intense and exhilarating thrill rides of my life.

That’s because these powerful flatbed aluminium boats leave the Old Port of downtown Montreal and travel to the Lachine Rapids, a treacherous stretch of white water that is central to the history of the city. It was because so many ships floundered on these rapids that a canal was built in the 19th Century alongside the river, around which Montreal flourished.

Jet boat passengers are warned to bring a change of clothes and a towel. I confess we didn’t take this seriously, thinking regular rain gear would suffice. It didn’t. We got completely soaked from head to toe as the boat plunged into the foaming surf and huge waves crashed over our heads. It was both absurd and hilarious, and I suspect it would have been outlawed in the UK on health and safety grounds. But this is Canada.

jet boating

Absurd and hilarious: jet boating on the St Lawrence River, Montreal

Also in the Laurentian Forest is Mont Saint-Sauveur, a modest ski resort that during the summer months is turned into a picturesque water park set on a lush mountainside. I have a love-hate relationship with water parks. I enjoy the rides, but I’m not so fond of the ugly concrete structures, the long queues and the bad food.

This one was different. There were trees and meadows, ski lifts to take you to the top of the rides, plenty of places where you could grab a sun lounger and sunbathe. Oh, and some breathtakingly exciting rides. One ride, Colorado, sends you on a raft down some serious rapids. Another, Viking, is a toboggan that descends 1km through the trees at speeds of up to 35kph.

This is Canada. And we are loving it.


The Colorado ride at Mont Saint-Sauveur

* We arranged our home swap through Homelink and booked our flights with Our activities have been arranged by Tourism Quebec. Also see: 10 Things I love about Montreal.

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