Sometimes you don't have to go far for an interesting travel experience. I've lived in Montreal for many years, but only recently visited the city of Trois Rivieres for a day. This is a very old settlement on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, about half way to Quebec City, the provincial capital. It is a fairly industrial town, but with a vibrant old city dating from the era of New France.
It's not widely known in the U.S., but New France used to include much of the interior of the U.S. At one time it stretched west of the Appalachian mountains to far beyond the Mississippi River. Prior to the American Revolution, France controlled the Ohio territory which stretched as far as Minnesota. In 1803 the U.S. purchased the Louisiana territory in the interior south and west from France. Today the only remnants of New France in North America are the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, an overseas department of France off the coast of Newfoundland.
The old part of Trois Rivieres is easily covered by walking, though you may have to pay to park near the Musee Populaire--$9 for the day. The Musee Populaire itself is a modern building with rotating exhibits and many kid-friendly activities. At the moment there are items relating to Quebec strong men such as Louis Cyr, 20th century toys, and the history of a French-Canadian family that lived on an ordinary street in the town. Exhibits are labelled in both French and English.
The most fascinating though creepy part of the museum is a prison tour. The prison next to the musem was active from the 1820s until it was closed in 1986. A guided tour, available in both French and English, will show you where inmates lived during their usually fairly short stays, and where a few of them ended their days by being hanged. Conditions were appalling, so it is fortunate that few prisoners stayed more than a year or two.
Admission to this museum costs about $20 Canadian, so be sure to time your visit to coincide with a prison tour if you want to get the most out of it.
Another museum, and totally free, is the Manoir Boucher de Niverville. It is the refurbished home of the Seigneur who controlled the land around Trois Rivieres under the old regime. Seigneurs were similar to European nobility, and were given land grants by the king of France to help in the settlement of the territory. Exhibits here show how the privileged class lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.
If you have any concern with church architecture, don't miss the Cathedral of the Assumption, a neo-Gothic building with beautiful stained glass windows. I was surprised to learn that the windows date only from the period of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, though the church is a lot older. Its size and beauty are a potent reminder of the strength of the Catholic Church in Quebec until the 1960s. Nearby, you can see plaque marking the birthplace of Maurice Duplessis, Quebec Premier during the period of the 20th century many people call "La grande noirceur" or the Great Darkness.
I had just one meal, lunch, in Trois Rivieres at an Irish pub-style restaurant called Le Trefle. A club sandwich with french fries and coffee came to about $18 with tax and tip.
For more on Trois Rivieres, consult www.tourismetroisrivieres.com/en