Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
WENDAKE RESERVATION, QUEBEC — If you doubt First Nations reservations and their Canadian neighbours can jointly build successful enterprises, the Huron-Wendat community near Quebec City will open your eyes.
It’s home to a luxury hotel that is 60 per cent owned by the First Nations’ band and 40 per cent funded from private industry in Quebec. More than half of the 300 staff members at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations are Huron-Wendat or from another native community. The hotel features a small museum devoted to history and culture of the Huron-Wendat nation as well as one of the most unique fine-dining experiences you can have in Canada.
Chef Martin Gagné heads La Traite and turns out inventive dishes like Seal Meat canapés and Hare and Hazelnut Soup. The recipes include ingredients from northern Quebec and the territories. The Boreal Forest seasonings include rare peppers and unique herbs and spices, like lovage and Rhododendron used in Labrador tea. Beyond interesting, the flavours are savoury and captivating. The seal, as you might expect, is a chewy piece of fat that is gamey tasting and off-putting if you can’t get your mind off the violent way the meat is sourced. It is intriguing, however, to experience Gagné’s way of turning seal — and everything else on the menu — into gourmet fare. The highlight is the Bison Medallion, currently served with Origina gravy spiced with dune peppers. Rich and buttery, the meat is an elegant reminder that La Traite is a first-rate gastronomic experience that fits right in with the rest of Quebec’s finest establishments.
The fact that it’s focused on First Nations cuisine makes it and the property where it resides an attraction that should be on any visitor’s list.
Flavours of First Nations Near Quebec City
Constructed in 2008 to honour the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations sits on the Saint-Charles River (or Akiawenrahk River, if you go by its Aboriginal name), eight kilometres north of the provincial capital’s fortified walls. From downtown Quebec City, it is a 15-minute drive to the reservation that covers 924 acres and is home to approximately 1,350 residents. The hotel is built in the style of an Iroquois longhouse, with guest rooms facing the river. Unlike a traditional longhouse, which would have two dozen or more people sleeping communally, the hotel’s interiors are posh and luxurious, comparable to any other hotel in the Quebec City area. Warm wood, eye-catching stone, and furs and leather decorate the common areas and rooms. The accommodations are large, spacious and comfortable, with fireplaces and graceful decor.
With 55 rooms and two suites, along with plenty of meeting spaces, the hotel offers a boutique experience for guests as well as a site for weddings or other group functions. Unlike most other First Nations communities, the Huron-Wendat home is essentially a suburb, with houses and retail stores lining its streets. Its proximity to the city core allows for easy access to jobs and infrastructure. Meanwhile, visitors who come to the area for the annual Quebec Carnival or any of the city’s other festivals have the benefit of exploring another culture if they add Wendake to their itinerary.
More About Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations
Address: 5, Place de la Rencontre, Ekionkiestha’, Wendake, Québec (see map below for directions from the fortified walls)
Reservations: Telephone 418-847-2222 or toll-free at 866-551-9222; or book a room online at the hotel’s website.
Starting Nightly Room Rates: $149 per night in high season; a current promotion has rates as low as $109 in January 2013.
La Traite Restaurant: Menu prices range from $40 for a three-course dinner to $135 for a six-course dinner that includes wine pairing. A la carte options are also available, and the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and brunch, along with dinner.
Restaurant Reservations: 418-847-0624, extension 2012
Huron-Wendat Heritage: Part of the Iroquois and Petun nations, the Huron and Wendat (or Wyandot) people flourished in the early 18th century in United States and Canada. A large Wendat community was established in Kansas in the 1840s while Huron and Wendat communities sustained in Ontario and Quebec. In Midland, Ontario, the Wendat Village features a recreated outpost that demonstrates what life was like before contact with Europeans.