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Three dam good ideas for a family activity near Montreal

Hydro-Quebec Riviere des prairies dam

Rivière-des-prairies Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

That’s not a spelling mistake in the headline. It’s a hint on how you can spend a few cool hours this summer learning, exploring and discovering something electrifying. Have you ever wanted to see a real hydro-electric dam up close and personal? You don’t have to travel to the North to see one. Hydro-Quebec has opened several hydro dams in the Montreal area to the public and they’re absolutely free to visit.

The daily 90-minute tours are scheduled in French at 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. and are also given in English by request.

The daily tours run until August 30. Arrive 15 minutes before the start of your tour to clear security. Simply make a reservation by calling 1-800-365-5229.


The hydro-electric dams are also open for school tours as of September.

Rivière-des-prairies Generating Station

Address: 3400 Du Barrage Laval, Quebec H7E 5A2

Distance from Montreal : 20 minutes north of Montreal

Located in the middle of the river between Montreal and Laval, the guided tour lets you go down into a turbine pit and walk along the spillway – the walkway along the top of the dam.

Fun Fact: Just one of the plant’s generating units weighs as much as 22 elephants.

Beauharnois Generating Station

Address: 80, boul. de Melocheville Beauharnois, Quebec J6N 0M1

Distance from Montreal : 45 minutes west of Montreal

Beauharnois Generating Station

The Beauharnois Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

This generating station was once one of the world’s largest hydro-power plants and it’s still Hydro-Quebec’s most powerful river plant. Yet, its construction more than 80 years ago was started with a pick and shovel. Imagine doing that today. The Art-Deco style hydro dam is also a National Historic Site.

Fun fact: The generating station is as long as three Eiffel Towers laid end-to-end.

Carillion Generating Station

240, rue du Barrage Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, Quebec J0V 1X0

Distance from Montreal : 1 hour west of Montreal

Carillion generating station

Carillion Generating Station, courtesy of Hydro-Quebec

This hydro dam on the Ottawa River in the Laurentians has a lock feature that allows boats to go right through the dam. A park next door makes for a great family picnic spot.

Fun fact: The Carillion generating station makes enough electricity to power 150,000 households.

Social distancing and extra hygiene measures are in place at all the dams so book your tour several days before you plan on visiting.

Use What You’ve Got & Other Business Lessons I Learned From My Mom by Barbara Corcoran


Penguin Group, 242 pages.

We all want to believe in a magic trick that will make us successful and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.

Barbara Corcoran will have us believe the simple childhood lessons she learned from her mother propelled her to real estate stardom in the Big Apple, gave her the confidence to take-on and win a battle with Donald Trump before he became president and ultimately, made her a multi-millionaire.

Whether mom was that instrumental or not, Use What You’ve Got: & Other Business Lessons I Learned from my Mom is a great read.

How Shark Tank angel-investor made her money

Barbara Corcoran is an investor on the ABC TV program Shark Tank and the founder of The Corcoran Group real estate firm in New York. Realtor to the stars (she’s found homes for Brittney Spears among others), the firm generates over 2 $billion in annual revenue.

Ghost written by journalist Bruce Littlefield, the book starts in the early 70s in Edgewater, New Jersey. Corcoran is a 21 year-old diner waitress when her destiny walks through the door. A handsome man plunks himself at her counter. She falls for him, moves to New York, and he loans her $1,000 to start a real estate company.  He subsequently leaves Corcoran and from the ashes of her half of the business, launches The Corcoran Group real estate company, which she sold for $ 70 million in 2001.  Corcoran remains chairman.

The book is written more as a motivational manual than an autobiography, but we learn about her childhood, family, career, and ultimately, what makes her tick;  not money, status, or power; but pride, hard work, and fear of being wrong. Corcoran goes to great lengths to tell us she’s ordinary.  A ‘C’ student who never went beyond high school, Corcoran grew up poor in a Catholic family with 9 other siblings who shared one floor in a house.

How Corcoran beat Donald Trump in the real estate game

Each chapter is titled after the lesson gleaned from mom (there are 24).  Some are mysterious like Chapter twelve’s, When the clubhouse is quiet, they’re probably not making spaghetti. Each chapter begins with a situation Corcoran finds herself in on the road to success and then flashes back to her childhood and a particular lesson learned. Each chapter ends with how she applied that childhood lesson to a very adult situation.

For example, in Mom’s Lesson #22: You’ve got to bully a bully, The Corcoran Group brokered the sale of Donald Trump’s Plaza Hotel for $90 million in 1994. Trump subsequently tried to back out of $2 million in sales commission. Torn between using an in-house attorney or a litigation specialist, Corcoran flashes back to her childhood. A boy is bullying Corcoran’s younger brother, who’s afraid to play outside. Corcoran’s mother gets on the phone and calls the mother of the brawny boy next door and together the two boys confront the neighbourhood bully.

Corcoran writes: “That day, Brendan Higgins whipped Joey Bunt’s butt and Joey never bothered my brother Tommy again.” Corcoran then brings the reader back to the present where she hires the meanest lawyer she can find. Corcoran ends the chapter with, “We were paid our rightful commission because we spent the money to hire the right attorney. Despite my efforts to convince The Donald to settle our differences outside the courtroom, in the end we had to hire a bully beater so the bully didn’t win.”

If you don’t have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails

Other words of wisdom range from common sense to cutthroat:  Mom’s Lesson # 11: Go play outside’ (the best business ideas take place outside the office) and Mom’s Lesson # 16: Sweep the corners and the whole house stays clean (clean out the bottom 25 percent of nonproductive employees).

Corcoran has come up with an original hook to distinguish herself from the mounds of motivational books out there. The result is an enjoyable and easy read. The last point is an important one for Corcoran who says she’s dyslexic. This same book has been republished under the attention grabbing title, If you don’t have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails.

From someone re-entering the work force after a prolonged absence, to simply being in a rut, this book will make you believe in luck and hard work. As for the spaghetti clubhouse lesson, you’ll have to read the book to understand.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Three-hundred-and-thirty-seven pages. Published by Simon and Schuster in North America.

By the end of the read, I wanted to name the book, A Man Called Love instead of Ove. Because, love and acceptance, although rather begrudgingly, is what this book is all about.

amancalledove_pb_900Backman takes a classic, cranky-next-door-neighbour tale and spins it into a humorous story of acceptance, burying the hatchet and finding new friendships in unlikely places.

I simply couldn’t put it down. If you enjoyed another Swedish book, The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, you will positively relish this novel. The convoluted writing style of Ove is peculiar yet easy to read. In his end notes, Backman thanks his editor for making numerous grammatical corrections and suggestions, and for letting Backman ignore them all.

Ove is the curmudgeon next-door, old beyond his years. Life has not been kind to him and he’s bitter because of the hand he’s been dealt. Ove unexpectedly meets the young new neighbours in his townhouse complex when one of them runs over his mailbox while backing-up a U-Haul. Not the best start to a new friendship but it’s the beginning of the blossoming of Ove.

I chose the word blossoming because Ove keeps a sharp eye on the complex for non-approved greenery and flowers residents might plant. But sometimes flowers show up in unexpected places. For Ove, there are rules and they must be obeyed. Playing by the rules is the only thing Ove knows how to do but his neighbours and their trials and exploits force Ove to look beyond the black and white that has been his life.

I won’t spoil the novel with a synopsis of events but they are at times surprising, expected and always serve as an explanation of how Ove got to be the way he is.

A Man Called Ove is a quick and easy read that will lift your spirits and help you see the best in everyone.

Be a star at the Warner Bros. studio tour in Hollywood

Visiting a Hollywood studio has been on my bucket list since I was a child. Now that I’ve done it – it was everything I had hoped it would be.


Warner Bros. Studio sound-stage

My husband and I along with our teenage son had a blast. This attraction is a top-ten LA must-see.
Located in Burbank, north of LA, it’s hard to get to without a car. We arrived as part of a day-long tour of LA and were dropped off for a couple of hours.
The tour starts with a video presentation and then you board a trolley driven by a guide through the Warner Bros. back-lot.

Along the way, you get off the trolley and walk around the open-air sets designed to look like city streets. There are more brief video presentations along the way. You’re also left to tour some departments on your own.

A highlight for our family was visiting the Ellen set. The sound-stage is enormous and her set, as seen on TV, occupies a small part of the building. You can’t take photos of active sets.

Harry Potter

We also walked around the props building (West Wing Oval Office furniture), costume museum (Harry Potter and DC Comics movies). There’s also an any-town USA street. The cottages are fronts for various production offices.

Friends TV Show

Another highlight was taking photos on the set of the Central Perk Café from the Friends sitcom on Stage 48. Stage 48 is a self-guided tour of the movie process from script and filming to post-production. You can feel like a star and hold a real Academy Award, presented to Warner Bros. for a “best picture” win in the 1930s.

My husband and son enjoyed the Batman-cars garage.

The movie La La Land was filmed on the lot and my husband and I got a kick out of picking out the movie locations. Parts of Jurassic Park (original) were filmed here too (the rainforest close-ups). Yes, there’s a cultivated rainforest on the lot!

Tickets cost about $60 for ages 13 and up. It’s worth the money. Allow three-hours for the tour. The guides are mostly film students and you guessed it, they want to work in the movie business when they graduate. In LA, everyone we met at their workplace said they really wanted to be a ‘producer’ or ‘director’ and that this was just their ‘day job’. It’s a cliché but true. Welcome to LA.

The southern beaches of LA County

If I asked you to name one beach in the LA area you’d probably reply, Santa Monica or Malibu. I bet you’ve never heard of Manhattan Beach or Hermosa and Redondo beaches. The three beach cities of southern Los Angeles County are easy day-trips from LA. They all have that envious mellow beach-vibe that is the quintessential California of our day dreams.


Image from Google Maps

The beaches are located in the southern end of Santa Monica Bay and stretch several miles to the northern side of the Palos Verde Peninsula. Leaving Santa Monica, you come across Manhattan Beach first followed in quick succession by Hermosa and Redondo.

Winter temperatures in the beach cities average about 55 degrees (12 Celsius)and 70 degrees (21 Celsius) in summer thanks to westerly winds that also help keep the smog away.

Along the eastern border of the beaches lies the Strand, a concrete bike path that starts in Redondo Beach and leads all the way to Will Rodgers State Beach north of Santa Monica.


The Strand on Redondo Beach. Image courtesy of Airbnb

Unfortunately, the Pacific Coast Highway cuts the beach cities into east and west neighbourhoods. The west-ends are all about the beach.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is 21 miles (34 km) south of LA on the Pacific Coast Highway and a world away from the carnival atmosphere of Santa Monica. Its clean, wide beach attracts  visitors from around the world.

Along the Manhattan Beach Strand are multi-million-dollar homes that will make you want to run out and buy lottery tickets. Thirty-six thousand residents call this city home.


Image courtesy of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP)

Manhattan Beach is most famous for beach volleyball and is home to the annual Manhattan Beach Volleyball Open held in July.

Manhattan Beach Pier is located at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. and juts out almost 1000 feet into the ocean and is home to the Roundhouse Aquarium.

Lights, camera, action

Manhattan Beach is home to the Manhattan Beach Studios, a film and TV production facility where America’s Funniest Home Videos was recorded and Marvel Movies like Iron Man 2 were filmed.

Things to do in Manhattan Beach

Beach volleyball, swimming, surfing, body-surfing, cycling, shopping, Roundhouse Aquarium.

Hermosa Beach

Just 1.7 miles (3 km) south of Manhattan Beach lies Hermosa City Beach. Hermosa’s claim to fame is surfing. In January, when we were here, surfers in wet suits braved the waves while families tobogganed down a sand dune on surfboards. This unofficial beach sport brought a smile to my face as I had only ever seen people slide down snow-covered hills.

The city is the smallest of the three beach cities. It has a population of about 20,000 and spans 15 blocks from east to west and about 40 blocks from north to south. But within its border, you’ll find many bars and restaurants as well as shops.

The Hermosa Beach Pier is at the end of Pier Avenue, which is a hub of bars, restaurants and shops. At the start of the pier is the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. There’s a statue of a local surf hero and bronze plaques engraved with the names of surfing luminaries.

The restaurant and bar scene seems more alive here than in Manhattan beach.

Things to do in Hermosa Beach

Surfing, swimming, paddle boarding, fishing off the pier, beach volleyball, cycling, shopping, dining and partying.

Redondo Beach

Just one-and-half miles south of Hermosa, Redondo has triple the population of Hermosa and a Mediterranean vibe that is unique among the three beach cities. Palm trees line the Strand and a concrete wall protects the promenade, much like the in the towns that line the Italian Riviera. Million dollar homes line the east side of the Strand and the beachfront is quieter than Hermosa’s.

The wide and flat beach is ideal for playing volleyball and permanent nets are maintained by the city year-round just like on the other two beaches.

Things to do in Redondo Beach


Redondo Beach Pier is full of amusements and dining spots.

The Redondo Beach Pier also juts 1000 feet out into the Pacific Ocean, but unlike Manhattan’s pier, on Redondo’s, you can shop, dine and enjoy amusement games.

Other typical activities include surfing, swimming, beach volleyball, fishing, shopping and dining.

All in a day

We visited the three beach cities in a single afternoon. I wish we had a full day. That’s all you really need to experience the laid-back California beach lifestyle far from the maddening crowd.