For any boat owners and sometime navigators out there, this one’s for you.
I’m sure you’ve had many delightful days on the river and that’s what keeps us coming back, but I’m going to hazard a guess that most of us have had days afloat when everything seemed to go wrong. Whatever the reason, be it motor trouble, weather, a knockdown, man overboard, dog overboard, or stuff getting wet that shouldn’t get wet, I’m betting your worst day wasn’t as bad as these guys’ whole month of December!
Jane and I returned from the west on December 16th fully expecting that the only boats left in the water would be our two faithful ferries, so we were a little surprised to see the Famille Dufour II tied up at the wharf. You’ll remember this craft, a space age looking catamaran that used to do the run between Quebec City and Tadoussac almost daily. I guess that route stopped paying so I heard it was doing a similar run between Montreal and Quebec for a while, and then became a local Montreal tour boat, hence the words “Le Montrealaise” now adorning its upper works.
I dropped down for a look one day but there was no sign of life beyond the distant hum of a generator. Rumors began to fly as rumors do in small towns so I dropped over again a few days after Christmas and got the harrowing tale. Two men were just coming off the gang-plank so I said “Bonjour” in my most convincing Québécois accent and one of them immediately said, “Do you speak English?” Swallowing the insult (one I’m rather used to) I replied, “Yes, rather well, actually.” It turned out he was Australian and wasn’t sure what “bonjour” meant (so it wasn’t my accent after all), and his company was managing the boat. He was not the captain but described himself as the “owner’s representative.” If I were he, by now I think I’d likely be wanting to strangle the owner.
He said the boat had been bought by an outfit that wanted to use it as a passenger ferry between Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.. Plan A had been to motor down the river in November, around the Maritimes and on down the Eastern Seaboard to Panama, and then up the other side. The generators were operating to provide power for the onboard systems that included freezers that contained $7,000 worth of food for the voyage. Trouble was, Transport Canada announced that the motors were not up to the required standard and they were not permitted to proceed under their own power. They tied the boat up in Tadoussac on December 2nd. Then the wait began. This boat, of course, has no insulation in it at all so they were sleeping at Motel Chant-Martin and spending their days on the boat cleaning up condensation and trying to keep the interior both ventilated and warm. One of them had to be aboard around the clock in case of fire or generator trouble. (Some Christmas.)
I dropped back on December 30th and at that point they had decided to be towed to Halifax for the winter. The hope was to fix the engines there, and carry on under their own steam starting in March, but Les (one of the Australians) allowed as how they might also be faced with lifting it onto a freighter for the rest of the trip. Late on the 31st a tug arrived (from Newfoundland) and secured the vessel. However, the insurance people had to inspect the tug, the mooring lines, the mooring bitts, and the boat, to be sure they would maintain their insurance, and they didn’t show up till the late afternoon of January 3rd. And for over a week ice had been forming. Finally cleared to leave the dock after over a month of waiting and wading through paperwork and detail, in rolled a typical January southwest howler filling the big river with waves that they didn’t want to try taking a tow out in. As you can imagine, between two big boats if a tow-line becomes slack as the tow is pushed forward by a wave, it will then snap taut when the wave passes under the tow and slows it down, which eventually could cause dangerous damage.
Today, January 4th, the dock is empty at last. A look on the Live Ships website (www.marinetraffic.com) showed the “Point Vim” (that’s the name of the tug) making 10 knots down off Rimouski so they are finally on their way!
All of which is to say, the next time it rains on your picnic, or you have to bang back to Tad against a northeast chop, or smoke starts coming out of the engine, just say to yourself, “At least I’m not being towed to Halifax in January!”
It has been a long time since we posted a new story on our blog. This blog is not about Tadoussac so I will say that up front. We have just returned from a great trip out to Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with a couple of the Gulf Islands thrown in for good measure. Since our return we have been telling people that the weather was spectacularly bad and the scenery spectacularly beautiful – a good trade off. It is called the “storm watch ” season at this time of year on Vancouver Island so you get what you get!!
We started in Vancouver to be present when Anne, Alan’s sister, received an award from the International Diabetes Federation for her career work in diabetic education around the world. We were very impressed with her talk, her research and with the conference itself. We are so very proud of her.
We stayed with Gwen, Alan’s cousin – Yahoo and had lots of fun walking the trails near her house with Ripley just like we do in the summer. We also had dins with 2 of the Bruemmers – Jennifer and Matthew, and Gwen’s son Chris and his fiancée Lacey.
We headed to Vancouver Island on my birthday!! December 3rd and were looking forward to seeing the islands up close as we went across on the ferry. No such luck – pea soup fog and pouring rain. The ferry was terrific though – had a full breakfast that was fantatstic!
We went to the West side of the Island first – Tofino and then Ucluelet. Everything you have heard about the beaches there are true and then some. Granted we had some rain and fog but this time of year is also billed as one of really big waves and wild winds. It was soooo impressive. We could not believe that people were surfing (Ian Belton Jr. I now know you are crazy to be doing this!!!) and they even had a beginner’s class which looked pretty suicidal to me. At any rate, we spent a whole day just combing the beaches and walking the trails. It was amazing. We walked part of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet later in the morning and it was quite different with craggy cliffs and swirling waves over rocks. Ucluelet also is home to a tiny café called the Blue Café where we had, bar none, the best Seafood Chowder we have ever eaten. I was studying it with every bite to see if I could figure out all the ingredients – I need to go back for further study.
In Tofino we stayed in a neat Motel called West Marine that was also part working fish docks, marina and had its own pub onsite. What a great combo. I have to show you this picture as one of the things we loved best – especially Alan, was all the wooden boats! And there are lots and lots of crazies who are living on them – and you know how I feel about that (Second life, Second Wife!!!)
One of the highlights of our trip was walking the Rain Forest Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park (Forêt Pluviale), near Tofino that my friend Marie Josée Normandin from Parcs Canada recommended. What a beautiful trail amongst the giant cedars. We met not another sole and it was amazing to be in this park all alone. So quiet and majestic. I love walking in the forest – I always have – this was totally outside my experience and it is set up with all kinds of good plaques to outline the ecology of the forest. We learned so much. We have beautiful trees were we are, but they seem like gnarled twigs in comparison to these soaring giants some of which are more than 800 years old.
A bridge made from a fallen tree
Our next trip was to cross over to Gabriola Island. A short 20 minute trip to an island that is farmland, marinas and trails. I think this island would be a good example of the word bucolic and we were told it was one of the original hippie islands that never lost its hippy roots. Very organic, artistic and environmentally conscious. We stayed at a B&B owned by a couple who had emigrated from Britain 5 years ago. Everyone we met was from somewhere else!
Our final island visit was to Saltspring Island. Again a mix of farm and village. We loved this island for very different reasons than Gabriola. One being that we actually had a half day of sun – amazing. Thanks to David Price and Jane Walker for the recommendation we stayed at Maracaibo on the island and spent the better part of the first afternoon exploring the coast around that area.
We did have a day of rain – surprise – and spent a great part of an afternoon in a wonderful book store Black Sheep Books. A throw back to the old days it had towering bookshelves, classical music playing, stools in corners for you to read on and a very quiet ambiance. Ahhhhh
A highlight of our Saltspring stay was to have dinner with Jill Evans another cousin. She opened her beautiful home on Oystercatcher Place and invited a friend of ours from an early parish who also retired to Saltspring. What a wonderful small world it is.
We returned to Vancouver Island via ferry and the ferries reminded us so much of our own. The small island ones are similar to ours in that they are a lifeline. Primary school students stay on island (ie Gabriola, Saltspring and others) but secondary students go to the main island for school. Many work on the main island so go back and forth everyday twice.
Once back on Vancouver island we spent a great day exploring the towns of Duncan and Chemanius before heading to Ladysmith.
Duncan is known as the town of the totems and several years ago the town decided to trumpet its aboriginal history and have totem poles carved and posted throughout the village by local aboriginal families. Each totem tells the story of a family, a family story or tribal history. They are magnificent. I have posted a couple below. They actually have footsteps painted on the sidewalks so that you can follow the steps and go to see each of the over 30 totems. Some as you will see were posted with a wall mural.
Chemanius, in an effort to capture their history, chose the use of murals on the walls of commercial buildings as their creative venue. Each was more magnificent than the last depicting the introduction of the railway, farming, mining and fishing that sustained their community. Brilliantly done and updated to ensure their vibrancy it was like an outside art gallery.
We spent an afternoon in Ladysmith to visit colleagues of mine who moved there 15 years ago when they retired. We spent the afternoon combing over a marine museum of old restored boats and dioramas of the timber and mining history of the village.
The final two days of our trip were spent in Victoria. We were lucky enough to have another cousin just move there – we obviously need even more cousins to spread out across the country. Bill Stephens opened his new home to us and drove us all over the city. He even found more cousins, Tim and Claire Evans who we had not seen for many years, and invited them to join us for a great evening of laughter together. We climbed up the Mt Douglas Trail, drove all around the coastal area of Victoria on a day when the surf was really, really up; visited the Royal BC Museum and a fabulous exposé in the Robert Bateman Museum. We attended a beautiful Victorian Advent Evensong at the Cathedral and then returned home for a lovely glass of wine, or two, dinner and prep for the trip home. Kudos to Bill for a great visit and the drive to the airport at the ungodly hour of 0500!
And then we came home. We spent a night in Ottawa with our close friends Don and Brenda, had tea with Tom, Heather, Julia and girls then spent the night with Susie and George Bruemmer who are our dogs adoptive parents while we are away. Our dogs were happy to see us but not quite as happy as they should have been!! Life is pretty good at the Bruemmer hostel for dogs.
And finally we arrived home in Tad to snow YAHOO, and belugas in the river. We loved our trip but we were so glad to be home again too. The blitz is on now for Christmas. The tree is up, some of the baking is done the rest is a work in progress. We are waiting for this week when Michael and his family arrive with another couple who are long time friends joining us for Christmas.
It is almost the end of the year and we cannot believe we have had yet another year here in paradise. We hope that wherever you are as you are reading this that you have a blessed Christmas and find your paradise wherever it may be. All the best for 2016!
I cannot believe that today is November 2nd. Tadoussac is a very different place than it was even at the beginning of last week. This last week of October is the official “close every last thing” week, and now all boutiques, restos etc are closed. The hotel closed on the 1st and all that is left at the marina are two private boats that will need trailers to haul out, the docks which will be removed Nov 7th and the Coast Guard which usually stays until the first week of December. The bay looks very bare, and after the 8th will be downright empty. There are no more tourists and yesterday in the village you could have gone bowling and hit nary a soul!!
Of course, with the end of the season comes Hallowe’en so all is not lost. Tadoussac made a grand splash again this year and created the “Sentier du Horreur” in the Parc des Ancêtres. This is the park that starts half way up the hill as you walk to church. The entrance has lovely benches and you walk down into the gulley below via the stairs. It is a perfect place for this type of activity as it is a pretty spooky place! It runs along the brook, follows across the bridge behind the hotel, and then up and out of the park at the public washrooms on the boardwalk. At this time of year it is dark and creepy – absolutely perfect.
The planning group decided to do a walk for the school kids in the afternoon and then to repeat, with more horror, for any who dared to do it again in the evening – in the dark, with only torches for lighting.
It took the group – which included parents, the fire brigade, the municipality and some of the teachers almost 3 days to put it all together. The main thing was to make the walkways safe (day and night) and to ensure there was just enough lighting so no one would be hurt – but not so much that people weren’t scared to death. This is of course the main goal. The third morning we added in all the horror bits with creatures hanging from trees and large horrible monsters hiding in all nooks and crannies.
L’Auberge de Jeunesse held an afternoon of pumpkin carving and they created about 30 amazing pumpkins which lined the road from the Caisse up to the entrance. The one below was on the table where we greeted everyone and it is a good example of the intricate designs that many people created – wow.
All the kids from École St. Joseph came for the afternoon. This year they did not wear costumes because they had to walk down stairs and around creeks etc. – plus the wind was howling and it was bloody cold. They were so excited that they were jumping up and down. They were also nervous but it was all cool.
All the older grades went first – 3, 4, 5 and 6. They went in groups of 4 and some thought it was a good idea to have a teacher with them. Some were brave enough – at least at the beginning, to go it alone. Then it was the 1 and 2’s and finally the kindergarten kids. We make a distinct break between the bigger and the little children. I went with the last group of 4 boys of 1 & 2 and told each monster as we passed that it was the kindergarten next. The monsters wave at the littlest ones rather than scare them to death. But sometimes that is still very scary so 2 teachers go with that small group. It was a total success. You could hear the kids screaming all over town and they loved it. I went with a small group of boys, as I mentioned. One of the lads went the whole way going “Je n’ai pas peur! Je n’ai pas peur! ” (I’m not afraid) Methinks he doth protest too much!! By the end three of the 4 boys were clinging to me.
These are some of the creatures they encountered
There were also trolls, baby killers and a cemetery with a grave just the right size for kids!!
All was well in the end. Nadia Gagnon, the amazing teacher and leader for this event, had all the kids come together at the end of the path for two very good reasons. First she asked all the monsters to come meet them so the kids could see them without their masks. This way no one was going home to have nightmares and they could see that the monsters were their parents and neighbours pretending to be monsters. The second reason was to have the kids say thank you to all of the monsters and the helpers who had put the event together. Truly an amazing group of people.
While I wasn’t able to take pictures at night, I just want to tell you that the night time version was also a totally successful nightmare and I say that in the kindest way. The path which was scary during the day, was a real horror at night and the 282 people – yes you are reading that correctly – that went through were amazed. A large group of about 25 adults and older kids came from Les Bergeronnes and there were people from Forestville, Longue Rive, Sacré Coeur and of course lots from our own village. Not to be outdone – the screaming was even louder I have to say. It was a freezing cold night and many people stood for an hour in anticipation. Each person at night was charged a toonie to be scared out of their minds. All the money went to the school for much needed support for a small school that has so few resources. I just need to say that while they have few financial resources they have a dedicated group of teachers and parents that make this school a happening place.
We hemmed and hawed all spring about whether we were going to continue this blog for another year, and then so many people spoke to us this summer about “being with us in Tad” through the blog that we have decided to keep going. We loved the idea of “being together”, even though far away, and we really have appreciated all the comments and emails that we have received – even those less than flattering ones (George) – from people who have forgotten to retire!!
One of our goals when we retired was to take a road trip down the North Shore to the end of the road. We just wanted to see more of our province where we have never explored. So we decided to take a week and explore all the way to Kegaska which is the end of the road – Route 138 – but not the end of the North Shore. The drive between Tadoussac and Kegaska is 850 km or about 9 hours but we wanted to go into all the little villages and bays and take lots of time on beaches and on hikes. We did the trip up and back in 5 nights and 6 days. The weather gods were with us and with the exception of one cloudy, windy day we had rain only one night and beautiful sun the rest of the visit.
So just to orient those who may not know the area here is a map. But I am not sure how readable it will be. Tadoussac is down on the bottom left corner and Kegaska is the last dot on the right above the far end of Anticosti Island. We visited some of the towns on the way up, and some on the way back, but for simplicity sake we have put them in geographically chronological order from Tadoussac to Kegaska.
We started by exploring in our own area. We stopped at the beautiful church in Longue Rive which is actually in the same parish as the Catholic church here in Tadoussac. As is often the case, St Paul’s Church in Longue Rive is right on the highest point of the village on the best property which looks out over the sea.
We also stopped to visit the wharf in Port Neuf sur Mer.
In Forestville we went to the ferry dock to see the log sluice that runs along that road. In the early days of forestry in that area when logs were being brought to the dock to be loaded on ships the foresters sent the logs to the dock by sluice. There were platforms running along the sides of the structures so that workers could prevent log jams and keep things running smoothly.
When I went through the travel brochures prior to the trip I noted which sites I wanted to see and ignored those I did not want to see. Les Ilets Jérémie, for example, boasts a replica of the Indian Chapel at Tadoussac and I thought it would be fun to see that. Because of an unscheduled (and not to be repeated) side trip into the over-advertized community of Cap de Colombier, we missed Les Ilets de Jérémie where we intended to take a pause for lunch. We carried on down the road to find a place called Ragueneau which sounded familiar but wasn’t on my list. It had the symbol for a look-out so we headed bravely off on the side-road thinking no evil. When I saw the statues I remembered why I had left it off the list.
Here is a beautiful and pristine example of the Lower North Shore with all the rugged, rocky beauty of Bon Désir writ large. The wind blowing in among off-shore islets, scrubby vegetation atop low outcrops of coloured granite, unspoiled beauty at its finest.
When one Renald Girard first saw this place he must have been as impressed as I was. But where I might say, “Gee Jane, this place is beautiful,” he was far more imaginative. He must have said something like, “Gee Celeste, this place is beautiful, AND you know what would make it absolutely perfect?” “No,” she undoubtedly replied, because no one on God’s green earth could possibly have guessed what he would then say. “This place just cries out for two full size dinosaurs and a 100 foot obelisk!”
And to our horror, that’s just what he built. The dinosaurs are a symbol for the heart and strength of the pioneers and for the power of the local natural surroundings. The obelisk, plinth, churchless steeple, God’s belly scratcher, (thanks Al Purdy) call it what you will, symbolizes the volunteering spirit among the local people and there are eight little, strange, nondescript circles included around the base giving praise to the MRC and the eight nearby municipalities. Or so says the plaque at the bottom of the obelisk. It needed explanation in my view. Neither Jane nor I, in spite of no small amount of university education between us, were quite on the ball enough to say, “Oh look Dear, two dinosaurs – that must be a symbol for the strength of the pioneering spirit…!”
If I may say a word to the gentlemen reading this (and ladies, I’d prefer it if you skipped this part) one of the things we count on from our wives is to tell us when our latest ideas that we are terribly enthusiastic about are actually hopelessly crazy. I don’t know if our man Renald was ever married and if he was there’s only a very small chance his wife’s name was Celeste. Nevertheless the symbol of the utter folly that resides at Pointe Ragueneau for me will always be some Celeste (God rest her soul) who lacked either the wit or the courage to say, “Renald, that’s crazy and it simply IS NOT HAPPENING!”
Please thank your wives for their continuing good judgement. After all, your wife must have good judgement. She married you!
That said we did stop at Les Ilets de Jérémie on the way back and I must admit that it was a disappointment. There is a smaller replica of our Indian Chapel and a Catholic Conference center attached right next to a native cemetery. It is a pilgrimage center dedicated to Ste Anne (of whom there is a statue) but compared with the imaginative folly of Rageneau, it just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
Jane again: After the dinosaur experience we were giddy with the ridiculousness of it all! From the ridiculous to the sublime as they say… we spent an afternoon in Pointe aux Outardes. All of our bird-watching friends take note of this place name. It is only 2 hours from Tadoussac and apparently there are 240 species of birds. During migration it is considered the top bird watching center of the entire province. As you drive along the road out of Forestville you immediately start to see a large peninsula in the river. This is the Pointe. Much of the Pointe area is a well-developed nature reserve. We took a short 3 km walk that takes you through 5 different ecosystems and we arrived just at the right moment – as 2 busloads of middle school students were leaving the park!! There is a massive salt marsh which is the primary area for observation of migration hoards of snow geese, Canada Geese and myriads of other ducks. They also claim several species of hawks and kestrels. I even took a picture of a hawk of some sort but I am so pathetic at identification, and quite frankly at bird photography, that you will simply have to take my word for it. They also had low sand dunes and beaches , multiple historic plaques and geological descriptors and it was a thoroughly pleasant way to pass the day. We spoke to the rangers and the area is open for cross country skiing in the winter so we may just go back. It looked like a pilgrimage for bird watchers to me. And there was a very cool looking B&B nearby. For those of you that frequent Tadoussac’s Petit Marché every Saturday you will remember the Ferme Dalpalou which sells beautiful wool. Their farm is on the road into the Pointe (so yes, they travel more than 2 hours every Saturday to be with us). Their farm was small but spectacular with a vista onto the water beyond compare. No wonder the wool is so special if the animals have that view all day long!
We spent a night in Godbout just outside Baie Comeau. We stayed in a great Auberge aux Mille Pêcher which was owned by a M. Beaulieu who has travelled the world, lived in Montreal for as long as Alan and I did, and chose to make a big life change 3 years ago and move permanently to Godbout (you see there are more of us than you think!) The Auberge itself is a really old building which he is renovating and decorating with artifacts from his travels. Godbout is a fishing village and also has one of the big ferry terminals at one end of the bay and beautiful sandy beaches surrounding a salmon river mouth at the other. Not a surprise I suppose, but many of the villages we visited were located at the mouth of a river flowing in to the St Lawrence.
Close to Godbout there is a small village called Franquelin. Franquelin was more of a logging/forestry village than a fishing village. They had a re-creation of the original log town that existed but it was not open to visitors. We were quite disappointed by that as many of the museums or attractions had closed at the end of August. We asked a local man in Natashquan and he said that the government grants to help with salary support for summer employees are only granted for summer students and cannot be used to hire locals other than students. When the kids return to college the towns cannot afford to hire other workers. One crazy thing I saw at the side of the road in the village was a local “pure spring water source”. People were actually taking their big blue bottles and filling them at the source site.
Alan – Pointe à la Croix:
Never do this.
After that abortive attempt to visit the museum in Franquelin (closed for the season) we found what promised to be a hiking trail down to a place called Pointe à la Croix. The tour book said this point provided the best whale watching on the north shore, and knowing well our lovely picnic spot on the Saguenay also called Pointe à la Croix, I thought it would be good to see this one. There was no indication in the tour book how long this particular hike was but we had been driving along the sea shore before we got to it so how far could it be? Jane suggested we take some water along but I said not to bother, it can’t be far if they don’t even give the length. (You know where this is going…)
Thinking 1 k at the most we sallied forth with the dogs just loving it. Of course a hunk of geography described as a “point” does suggest that it would stick out a little more than the coast line. And if it’s described as a point on a huge river like the St. Lawrence then even an idiot might guess that it sticks out a lot farther than the Saguenay’s 100 foot long Pointe à la Croix or even than the larger Pointe Rouge or Pointe Noire. Add to which, when you’re in uncharted territory it wouldn’t hurt to bring water just in case, a little food even – I did pack a back-pack so why aren’t I using it?
These were the thoughts I had ample time to reflect on during the forty-five minutes of reasonably brisk pace that it took us to arrive at a sign that said “Pointe à la Croix – 2.6 kilometers.” This was the first and only mileage sign.
To her credit my valiant wife said to press on so press on we did. The country was beautiful – streams running by, the occasional lake, a very manageable path – until finally we emerged at the sea-side and a great big rocky bay followed by a huge Pointe à la Croix jutting into the flat calm Fleuve St. Laurent. There was a rather permanent tent arrangement thereon, and two naturalist-looking people out on the tip of the point with telescopes and cameras. Obviously this was a research project at work because it was the best whale-watching place on the North Shore. Jane suggested we stop short of their location for fear that these two devoted animal-loving science people were also afraid of dogs. Seemed a stretch to me but having nixed the water I thought it politic to keep my mouth shut.
Whales? Seals? A few sea-birds which weren’t that interesting. I’m sure there were whales there but they were all underwater. We waited for them to surface but I think they were hovering ten feet below the surface saying, “I can hold my breath just a little longer! Let’s wait till they leave!”
So we left.
It was a nice hike in the end. It just would have been nicer if we’d known we were going to be walking 5 Ks each way!
This from us both: Pointe des Monts was a very interesting spot with a well developed historical site related to the Lighthouse. On a map it is that central point where the shoreline turns abruptly north and because of that it is the place where the river officially ends and the Gulf of St. Lawrence begins. It is also a weather divider. The weather on one side of it is often remarkably different from the other side. The lighthouse itself is impressive and the light keeper’s house is well preserved. There were cannons out front on the rocks and we were surprised to find that in early days the keeper used them as a fog signal. In the dense fog he would ignite the two of them in systematic 15 minute tolls for as long as the fog lasted. Eventually more sophisticated steam fed horns replaced this system and finally radar and GPS took over. Just thinking of the keeper standing on this lonely, very exposed, rocky outcrop all night long in the fog and the wind to keep the ships off this enormous rocky point was humbling.
It is interesting how quickly we have become acclimatized to “living rural”. We love living in nature, the quiet, the beaches with no one on them except us, and meeting a few people here and there. We stayed in Sept Isles for one night and that was enough. We are kind of done with cities!! Sept Isles has done a bang up job of their waterfront. A beautiful boardwalk and park area next to an impressive marina filled with large sailboats. The harbour is surrounded by guess what – 7 islands and some are visible from the boardwalk. It is the perfect sheltered harbour because of these islands. The deep water seaport at Sept Isles is second only to Vancouver in terms of yearly tonnage. The growth of the city was pushed by the burgeoning iron ore business. As this business has slowed it has had a depressing effect on the city. A new large Aluminum processing plant has restored many jobs in the area.
Sept Isles is the last city of any size (25,965) and is a hub where planes and trains (575 km to Schefferville) go north to transport goods and people, and ferries transport people and vehicles along the north shore. We were very impressed with the strong presence of the INNU. There are many rivers, and small villages named in the Innu language from Baie Comeau onwards. The Innu (from my limited research at this time) were formerly known as the Naskapi-Montagnais whose home is the Quebec Labrador peninsula and they are approximately 16,000 strong living in 11 communities in Quebec and Labrador. In Sept isles there were parts of the city where the stop signs were in French and Innu. Pretty impressive when you think about how militant the government is about no language other than French!!
We tramped the beaches and the bays in several small villages along the next stretch of coast line (Moisie, Gallix, Magpie, Sheldrake, Longue Pointe de Mingan). Each unique bay seemed more lovely than the last. Most were at the mouth of a river, some with as few as twenty houses. The populations ranged from 110 to about 3-400 people. We stayed in B&Bs mostly and there was usually one restaurant open in the village to serve the final straggling tourists like us. But you had to be smart – there are no casse-croutes between the villages and certainly no gas stations. In places there were signs that would tell you how many miles until the next gas station so you could check before passing by. Staying in B&Bs is an advantage as breakfast is included. We took a cooler and had a picnic lunch each day which gave us the luxury of eating whenever, and wherever, we wanted which was usually on some amazing beach watching Shannon run like a nut in the waves and Ella scrounge good crap to eat.
A few villages like Rivière de Tonnerre had a huge church in the center of their small community as well as a primary school. The story in this village was that at a time when the fishery was almost dead because the porpoises were eating all the fish, the priest of the church worked tirelessly with government and community to find other industry for the area and became a much loved and respected member of the community. Nice to hear something positive about the church once in a while!
In Rivière de Tonnerre we almost missed a sign for a waterfall and managed to find both the small and the larger falls on this river. We drove about 8 km off the road and came finally to a small innocuous sign that said trail to falls. We followed what turned out to be a boardwalk type of path through the woods ending at a beautiful falls.
All along the drive you are able to see across the St Lawrence to the Gaspé even though we were now in the Gulf. At this point that disappears and it is really big sea! You don’t see Anticosti Island just water! We are now in the area of the Mingan Archipelago which stretches about 175 km. We would have loved to explore the Mingan Islands and there are several boat operators from the Innu community of Mingan who take cruises out but with the dogs this was impossible. The dogs are not allowed on the boats or the islands many of which are bird sanctuaries. What is the real drawing card are the monoliths of stone which tower over many of the islands – next time.
Havre St. Pierre (population 3,515) is a lovely village with a huge bay. This was our one wild wind day so we spent the better part of the afternoon walking the wild beach with the waves crashing – lots of fun. What I really liked was that the small hospital was right on the bay overlooking the water and the marina. Surely that would help people to get well just being able to see the sea!!
After Havre St Pierre the villages become farther and farther apart. Explorers from many countries France, England, Holland and Belgium came to find furs, to fish and to establish communities. We came across a bay called Baie Johan Beetz . The story goes that after his fiancée died of pneumonia in his native Belgium he wanted a change in his life. He learned from friends of the North Shore and its hunting and fishing and came to Quebec in 1897. Johan was a Belgian naturalist interested in the way of life and the livelihood of the natives and the villagers who had established communities in the region. He learned to survive in this harsh environment and to trap with the villagers. He knew from a business perspective that a small place like this would need something to distinguish them from others if they were to remain a sustainable village. He recognized that one of the most prized furs were those of the silver fox. This area had an abundance at that time, and he developed ways of raising the foxes for their furs thus staving off the elimination of the species in the area as had been the case with so many other fur bearing animals in the region. He married a local woman and they had 11 children. From 1903-1913 he was the postmaster and even part time doctor who was credited with saving the village from the Spanish flu (1918-1919) by limiting external contact amongst the villagers and disinfecting all the mail!!! The village has preserved his house and created a park in his name to recognize his efforts on behalf of the village. He left the area and moved to Montreal and later to Quebec City. He continued to raise foxes on a farm in Vaudrueil Qc. for many years.
Natashquan in my mind was the reason for the trip. I am not sure why but I have always wanted to go to this village which until 2013 was the end of the road. In 2013 the bridge was completed that would open the road to Kegaska which Alan describes in the last section.
Natashquan is a village of approximately 250 people. It was, and is primarily a fishing village but it has also developed avenues to help visitors understand the regional history and culture. And they have an amazing restaurant run by two sisters that served us a great seafood supper. I would go back just for the food. In other villages we saw some fishing boats in the water but more on the shore as the fishing season was over. What we did not see was evidence of fish markets or processing plants in the region (other than Port Neuf sur Mer). Here in Natashquan they have preserved a site on the far peninsula of the bay which is called Les Galets. It is recognized as an historical site and has managed to survive 150 years of battering by the sea. It is a group of sheds that were essentially a village within a village. The sheds were in essence a market for all things cod fishing. Some sold fish, some sold fishing boats, some fishing equipment, others were drying or preserving sheds. They are considered a memorial to a way of life lost, and on the overcast day that we walked the beach they were a silent reminder of a different time.
Alan loved the beach in Natashquan for a couple of other reasons. I have put the pictures below. You all know that Alan never met a wooden boat yet that he did not think he could repair and get floating again. He took a million pictures of two great “project” boats but his mean and nasty wife doused his dreams of glory and said “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT”. Someone with a truly lovely wife had converted his fishing boat into a summer cottage – alas Alan’s wife was not that lovely and again his dreams were dashed!! How very sad but time to move on to the last village!!
When you get to the end of the highway it’s hard to avoid the feeling that you’ve just arrived at the end of the world. Of course the world goes on but where there is very little traffic leading up to Kegaska there is none thereafter. People have stopped. From here it is boat or small plane to even smaller and more isolated communities further down the coast and further north.
When God created Kegaska she had a pretty good idea. There is a nice crescent beach that is at least a kilometer long with a rocky outcrop at its south end and then a little presqu’ile seaward of that. By that I mean there is a rocky island which is only an island at high tide and that is where the deep water is and where they have now built the wharf. It is lovely to hike around this presqu’ile with lots of flat rock full of the veins and colours of different kinds of rock.
Sadly there’s the front end of the wreck of a ship dating back to the 70s on this presqu’ile, one M. V. Brion which piled up with no loss of life, but no doubt lots of heartache for all involved.
The wharf was completely empty of people but there were cars parked everywhere which we assumed meant a very active fishing fleet that was out of sight at sea. There were a few floating docks, a Coast Guard ship like the one in Tad, some small boats tied up, and quite a few buildings to deal with the incoming catch. There was even a wooden fishing boat with gaping holes in the side, we assumed in the process of a rebuilding project.
There is a little Anglican Church which we were lucky enough to get into. The priest and her husband had just arrived to prepare for a funeral so we snuck in empathizing quietly with the tourists who venture into our chapel when we go in to do the flowers. They were very welcoming. Kegaska is mostly an English community (of 300 people) and the priest told us that she had lived up the coast in Harrington Harbour but now was located here. The other communities further down the coast are mostly English-speaking.
I commented to someone before we left on this trip that we were going to see the coast to make sure we’d retired in the most beautiful part. Reflecting on what we have seen all the way down the coast I developed a theory. God created the north shore starting from the Gulf end. Kegaska was an early work, and on creation came up the coast, an inlet here, a salmon river there, some small islands in this part, endless sandy beaches in that part. Rock and sand and marsh and forest in endless variety of shape and form until she got to Tadoussac. Kegaska was still in the back of God’s mind so she asked, “How can I make that bay even better?”
Another kilometer long crescent beach, another rocky outcrop on a presqu’ile; why not put a rocky outcrop at both ends? Why not make the presqu’ile a little tighter – same use for a wharf but at the other end more space and another rock cut where someone could put gates one day and have a dry-dock. And we’ll have a much bigger river here than a mere salmon river, something ships can go up for miles, a fjord say, (well, a baby fjord) and instead of rocky islands off we’ll put a few reefs to protect it from the worst of the waves. Kegaska 2, new and improved, but the same basic concept. Judy Garland famously said “there’s no place like home.” It turns out there IS a place like home, but home is better!
About a month ago Parks Canada launched an invitation to anyone who might like to spend a half day on L’Alliance, their research vessel. Alan and I were lucky enough to get two spots on the second day and yesterday spent a fascinating afternoon on board with the Parks marine biologists.
After everything was secured we headed out into the river to conduct two types of surveys. The boat itself is so impressive. Alan asked and there are two 330 HP engines.
The first set of surveys that we observed was a machine taking Echo soundings off the bank where we were (off the large dunes for those who know the area). Other research vessels had seen large schools of fish and large schools of krill in recent days. Parks Canada likes to monitor the schools and determine where they are and when and what types (2 types of krill and 3 types of fish), as this will determine where the whales and other wildlife are feeding and moving in the St.Lawrence. They lowered the Echo scanner (this is not the proper name but I can’t remember it .) into the water and it can emit 3 levels of echo sound. We were looking primarily at 38Hz and 120Hz as these are the ones that pick up the krill and the fish.
Although not so easy to see in this picture, we were watching for the red lines at the top of the right hand screen and the green stripe at the top of the left hand screen which were evidence of a large school of fish.
Everyone immediately started searching for whales and other wildlife and of course found them easily – minkes, fins and lots of sea birds. Everyone was madly scanning and trying to capture as many pics as possible. Each whale is marked by photo if possible – although they were in the distance – and by longitude and latitude. The minkes were as close to Tad as the sand dunes so they are getting closer to us. (In fact later that evening Christianne Stairs and her friends saw the first ones off Point Islet). The biologists said that it was not unusual to have the minkes come so late when the winter has been so harsh and everything else is late. Everything is all connected and temperature, currents, tides, weather all have impacts on the movement of the whales and the birds. The researchers told us it is a good sign that these schools of fish are staying in this area as it will encourage the whales. The schools may move at any time depending on the currents the winds etc.
The second survey was to find the climate and environmental data to go with the sonar data. A Laboratory column was lowered into the water to take temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, etc. across the areas where the sonar data had been collected. This is then coupled with the sonar images to make a more thorough analysis of the environment .
We were lucky as the day was spectacular and as a last gift on the way home we were followed by a very large pod of beluga. We asked about the research and the concerns related to the belugas in particular, but the whales and whale watchers as well.
It was a tough discourse as the biologist told us that while they were confident in 2010 that the population had stabilized they are not so secure now. The population is continuing to decline and is now below the 900 that they were keeping as their hopeful target. There are several hypotheses as to why but the two main ones are related to climate change and contamination in the waters (increasing levels of hormones in particular). In terms of climate change the seasons are changing. The winters are less severe, and then more severe, and the summers are longer and hotter. This effects the calving and the early development of the babies.
What they are also observing is that the “nouveau-né” (newborns) are dying and that the mothers of the young are also dying. This is leading them to question the horomonal imbalances that may be occurring in the whales themselves or how the females may be being impacted by the horomonal increases in the waters. In 2010 the number of young (1-2 yrs)within the population was 10%. It has now fallen to 3-5% and this is worrying in terms of longevity of the group.
A third and difficult reason for the decline relates to us as the human contacts. There has been a steady increase in pleasure boat activity over the last 5 years in our area. They are desperately trying to balance a need to have people see and understand the whale environment with the need for little to no stimulation during the calving season, and as little disruption of the natural whale habitat as possible in these crucial summer months of July and August. We asked about the regulations that are in place for belugas and for other whale groups.
For the belugas 400metres is the minimum. I said that often the belugas are curious and come towards us and they were very quick to say that we need to be vigilant in taking evasive action at all times to avoid any disruption of the pods particularly with young. They are attempting to reinforce very strongly the zone d’exclusion around the Rivière Ste. Marguerite as this is the breeding, calving and nursery region. They have observed from their site at the Marguerite that when a beluga calves she separates herself from the pod for a period of a couple of hours before and several hours after the birth. It is clear over many observations that disruption to these patterns may interfere with the maternal child bond in those early hours at a bare minimum and potentially increase the death rate.
For the other whale groups, I mentioned how it is difficult to watch a group of 6 or 7 boats surrounding one whale and seemingly tagging along and following it where ever it goes. Is this harassment? The biologist said that the regulations are that boats must be 1-200 meters away from all whales (belugas excepted as above). She also noted that all captains receive information and follow the rule that if there are already 4 boats and a 5th arrives that all must recede away from the whale. If it is a solitary whale there is a 1 hour watch limit then they must go elsewhere. She also noted that the captains have become real allies in their work as it is their livelihood as well. She mentioned that often the captains are reporting boaters that do not follow the rules and are constantly sending them observations, updates and pics of the whales for their records.
It was a wonderful afternoon and as we headed back in to the marina I had an interesting discussion with one of the other guests. She was enjoying the atmosphere, the beauty and the learning that had taken place and when she found out that we actually lived here year round she said “You must feel like the luckiest person?” An easy question for me to answer – “Absolutely every day!!”
Despite the cool, very rainy, foggy week the Spring flowers are gorgeous. I was walking in the woods and on the paths around here and the smell is heavenly and the green so bright and vibrant. What a treat – even in the fog.
The flowers combined with that sea mixed with cedar smell is so amazing.
The weather is supposed to clear tomorrow just in time for the Festivals des Chansons. I hope so as the town is preparing like mad. I will post pictures later this weekend.