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Category Archives: Canada

Gaspesie – Baie de Chaleur

Everything was great in Gaspesie but now we had to get back. Google maps was showing about 17 hours drive in smooth traffic toward Long Island. But it’s never smooth traffic on the East Coast….
Baie de Chaleur is the optimistic view of Gaspesie toward the Canadian summer. Here are the beaches where people bask in the “chaleur” for the several weeks of August. But as far as we saw there were more fleece than bathing suits. Also the southern coast, way lower and less rougher than the northern one has most of the historical and commercial traces of the peninsula.

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L’Anse à Beaufils, Quebec

Here, there were formed the first cod canning companies. The Robins who arrived here from the island of Jersey established the Jersey company that had practically a monopoly over the cod fishing. They were buying the entire fish catch from the local fishermen whom they paid in products imported by their own stores from USA and England. Most of the time the fish catch was insufficient to sustain the livelihood of the fishermen who recurred in requesting loans from the company that kept them indebted. It created for the people an almost complete dependency to the company that was able occasionally to manipulate the purchased fish prices. The Robin, Jones and Whitman Store in L’Anse a Beaufils is a perfect reenactment of a general store of 1929 where the local fishermen and their families were shopping.

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Paspebiac, Quebec

Further down the coat in Paspebiac are the reconstructed building of the Jersey operation with all kinds of shops needed for tending the boats and for the fishing industry. The triangular fish commerce was exported to the West Indies and South America from where they were loading rum, sugar and molasses brought and sold in Europe from where they purchased manufacture goods to be sold in Paspebiac and around Quebec.

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Paspebiac, Quebec

The entire Baie de Chaleurs is charming. The villages are small, with tiny houses with colored roofs, with nice gardens full of flowers in full bloom. It’s looking like the entire Gaspesie, a place where the life seems very peaceful. From Perce, you drive about three hours on this coast where all look the same, all serene, calm, bon-vivant. The last village in Quebec offers the most striking contrast between two civilizations where a metal bridge crossing the narrow bay lands you in another world: on one side are the sparse tiny houses with flowery gardens of Pointe-a-la-Croix, QC and in front you have the massive, brown brick tall constructions of Campbellton, NB like anywhere else in the industrialized north of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The bridge is looking like is flowing you inside those building on whose top the smoke stacks stand like a symbol of another world and another culture, so far from the one we left but just across one tiny bridge.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

The birds of Bonaventure Island

If Forillon is the tip of Quebec, Perce is for sure the tourist magnet. The charm of this Michelin three stars town is incomparable with all the other places and its proximity to the Bonaventure bird paradise is its major drawing card. In front of the harbor is the Rocher Perce, a rock that looks from afar like a huge horse drinking water that is, in a way, the symbol of the town. At low tide a causeway opens up and you can walk easily to the rock, a procession that is always full of people walking occasionally their dogs.

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Perce Rock, Perce

But the main attraction is for sure the island in front, Bonaventure. Boats are leaving each hour from a harbor full of travelers who want to discover the gannet colonies of the island. We boarded the first boat of the day that takes you around Roche Perce and places you on the shore of the island where for another fee you are able to enter the National Park. As usual when all the people on the boat landed the rangers asked for the English speaking tourists to go aside and out of a full large ship of eager birdwatchers there were only us who joined the “sort of” English speaking guide…

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Gannet colony, Bonaventure Island, Perce

Bonaventure Island has several trails through bushes of raspberry and dense forests that carries you to the opposite shore where the large gannet colonies adorn the island ledges dropping into the sea. You see them when the boat surrounds the island, all perched on the top of the rock or in its creases, all flying in a cacophony of sounds and diving artistically after fish into the surf. The first sign of the approaching colony is the warble, followed by the pungent ammonia smell but the worst are the swarm of flies that surround the birds. A foray in the observation houses would wake up huge swarms that would land on the photographer and fly in front of the cameras for unexpected photos.
There are four colonies, all with gannets who are courting, fighting and protected their chicks in characteristic poses. Their deftness in diving into the water is in sheer contrast with the landing on soil where they funnily sort of crash land almost on top of the others.
The forth colony, and by far the largest, has in its middle a built up metal tower from whose top you are able to watch a sea of birds on the land and another one flying on top of it. It is an amazing spectacle of the nature. From there the path brings you back on the Chemin de Roi, skirting the coast to the only beach where curious seals pop out of the water and further visiting the houses of the families that once inhabited the islands going towards the harbor to catch the last boat going back to Perce.

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Perce seen from Mont Sainte Anne

If you have more energy, or another day to stay, you can climb the surrounding mountains, crevasses and caves. Mount Sainte Anne  stands tall on top of the town and from its five “belvedere” points confers spectacular views over the town, Rocher Perce and the Bonaventure island. On top of the mountain is planted the statue  of Sainte Anne, the patron of the fishermen. We climbed the mountain at sunset, after a full day hike in Bonaventure, and arrived, the last travelers, on the peak in admiring the quietude of the setting sun all the way to Cap Espoir and toward Baie de Chaleur. Except for some occasional breezy no sound could be heard and the paragliding flying peacefully over the landscape looked so natural. Eerie  and atmospheric.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Gaspe

Gaspe is the birthplace of Canada. Jacques Cartier landed here, in one of the deepest natural harbor in the world, and stayed for almost two weeks. Before reaching this point he sailed around the southern bay, Baie de Chaleur, where he encounter for the first time the local population of Micmacs with whom traded fur. Meeting also natives from the the Irqouian nation of Stadacone, the current location of Quebec, who were fishing in the peninsula he asked about the name of the country he reached. The natives chief answer “kanata”, the word for “village”, that eventually Cartier associated with the land itself and from here apparently came the word Canada. The MicMac, Mi’kmaq in their own spelling, tribe was the most predominant but in the museum that is dedicated to them in Gaspe I was told that nowadays more than half of them are living in Montreal.

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Gaspe first pilgrim cross

Jacques Cartier arrived in Gaspe in July 24, 1534, planted a cross and claimed this territory for the King of France, Francois I. In order not to antagonize the local tribes he downplayed the importance of the cross as an insignificant symbol. At the four hundreds years anniversary of the landing, in July 1934, a stone cross was mounted in the middle of O’Harra Square, the hub of the town located on the shore of the gulf almost across to the harbor where Cartier landed.

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O’Harra Square, Gaspe

One thing that you cannot fail noticing in Quebec is the race uniformity. The French culture is avidly defended by the locals who formed also a Parti Quebecois that organized several years ago a referendum to separate the province from Canada. French language is exclusively spoken with occasional English mainly for tourists. The entire population is white and you can hardly see any other race in the entire Quebec outside of Montreal. Even the tourists coming here are also 90% Quebecois. Most of the time we were the only English speaking people in an entire load of tourists and travelers. No Chinese, Koreans, Russians or Latino and very few blacks, way lower than you would expect. Coming from New York or even from Europe the population looks incredible uniform and you realize that not the Quebecois who are extremely nice and friendly but mainly the cold is the main cause that kept people at bay to come here. Everywhere you notice the vibe of a pleasant and slow pacing life. Nobody rushes, everybody eats taking their time, relaxing and enjoying the several weeks of summer.

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Cap des Rosiers, Gaspe

On another tip of the peninsula is the tallest, thou modern, lighthouse of the coast in Cap de Rosier. We spent here a night in a “Gite” and chatted with Jean Remond, its owner, who was telling us about the long winters that this year brought snow up to the second floor of the house. Snows falls till late April or even May and this year lasted on the ground till June. June and July “it rained almost continuously and only now we have a little bit of stable warm weather”. Outside the skies were almost to pour over us and we were wearing a fleece.

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Indian Head Bay, Perce

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Forillon

Forillon National Park is located in the tip of the Gaspe peninsula. The road that winds through the tip of the peninsula forks at one point and enters the park in several places, dividing the park in a northern and a southern sector. In the northern sector Cap Bon Ami looks like the deserted out-of-the-world beach from the “Planet of the Apes”; You may just expect to be Charelton Heston and see the destroyed statue of liberty just around the corner. Whales may roam unseen the far away waters but the seals pop out curiously out of the waves close to the shore standing there for long periods of time and looking at the intruders who dare to trample their beaches.

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Cap Bon Ami, Forillon, Gaspe

In the southern sector, the trail to Cap Gaspe, the most eastern point of the peninsula, is about 4 km. It is a popular trip full of Quebecois who walk or sometime ride bikes all the way to the Cap. At its end, the charming lighthouse overlooks a deep plunge into the wavy ocean that can you reached on a short hike that brings you to the most eastern point of Quebec, as it is stated on a board. The return hike can be done through Les Grave, a charming path surrounded by flowers close to the ocean and overlooking precipitous bays full of seals and lots of birds.

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Cap Gaspe, Forillon

In another part of the park a beaver colony captures each evening the attention of a group of travelers attended by a ranger who offers a tour in Quebecois in their habitat. Luckily we knew something about the life of beavers because the accent proved to be a serious barrier in understanding any French from her explanation. We tried to get some clarifications in English from a nice lady ranger who obliged and made tremendous efforts to put together an explanation and in the end with our combined efforts in choosing the right words in English something came about. East of Quebec is hard to get somebody to speak fluent English and as always we were the only English speakers around…

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Beaver construction, Forillon

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Gaspesie Coast

From Rimouski to the tip of the Gaspesie is a long drive so we kept going and eventually spent the night in a “Gite”, a special category of Bed and Breakfast, at Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, a charming fishing village in whose harbor a local artist, Armand Vaillancourt, created a tower of white recovered wood pieces named “The White Flag”. It’s so impressive that in the night it stands out like a unlit lighthouse attractting people who casual came to walk in the harbor to discover what is its story. From the top of another panorama tower the gulf in front looks like a typical Gaspesie landscape: small houses with red roofs, blue waters, boats in the harbor, white Anglican churches and French stone cathedrals all in a crystal clear chilled air.

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Sainte-Anne-des-Mont

The Gaspesie lighthouses are so numerous that there are brochures and separate tours just to visit only them on the way. The first that came our way was an out-of-service but still fully functioning manually operated lighthouse in La Martre. It was in full operation being winded every 6 hours till the mid 80s when the GPS made them obsolete. But its charm is still there especially to discover its clockwork mechanism that is ticking like it always did. Similar with this one but more advanced technological, there are many lighthouses on the coast and if it were to stop for all of them you may need several days just to drive the entire coast.

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La Martre

In the middle of the north coast is the village of St Madeline de la Riviere de St Madeline. Pretty cool name. It has a lighthouse, a charming harbor on the river the flows in St Laurent and a St Laurent river bed made out of slate rocks that invite you to explore.

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St Madeline de la Riviere de St Madeline – harbor

Panoramic sights are coming one after another on an elevated coast that plunges into the river that at this point is so large, more than 100km, that it looks like a sea. You drive on its coast that is sparsely populated with houses with occasionally colored roofs, atoms of endurance fighting the winter winds and drifted snow. I don’t think that you can see something like that anywhere else on water front properties that are highly valued and built up.

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St Madeline

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Cote Nord

The moment you cross Saguenay you feel already chilly. Or it’s just an impression. The weather looked iffy and in spite of the hot day a sweatshirt was mandatory for the evening. Well, it’s Canadian August. As a matter of fact you see in August the entire Canada in bloom but is a combination of lower latitude spring flowers with some summer siblings of them.
Saguenay River comes from the chilly north forming an estuary at its confluence with St Laurent. The way it looked from Tadoussac, crossed by the ferry and with its fjords and the cloudy weather it could have been anywhere in Norway.

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Saguenay River Estuary, Tadoussac

Tadoussac is a focal point for whale watching. Some of the whale species have their frolicking habitat in the Saguenay estuary so any hotels would book your whale watch trip when they book the room. It’s almost like the included breakfast, only that you have to pay for it. The whales migrate from here all the way to the Dominican Republic and come back. Like the Canadians….
Unfortunately, the weather in the morning was pouring rainy so we were afraid that we would bother the whales to come out in rain so we canceled the booked tour. As a matter of fact I took this tour some years ago and I did not see any trace of whales and besides I got a serious cold that lasted for many days. Frustrated at the time by the fact that no whales bother to show up for the date, I walked in Tadoussac towards the bay where I sat down by the river just to see right in front of me, right at the shore, a continuous parade of all kinds of whales that were not told that they are under contract with the whale watching company and they were putting an impressive display for free. The same happened now so the show goes on after so many years, an option to save $70.

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Tadoussac

Tadoussac is beautiful with its old colonial church and cemetery and the charming hotel Tadoussac behind, emblematic for the town. But we had to move and drove Cote Nord for about an hour just to get to the Forestville ferry that crossed us in about 60 minutes over the river’s estuary to Rimousky, the largest city in the Gaspe peninsula. There are about four ferry crossings over St Laurent lasting between one hour and 2.5 hours from various points around Tadoussac and way further towards Labrador.

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St Laurent ferry crossing

After the mandatory croissants and cappuccino in Rimousky, we continued the drive, this time on the north coast of the Gaspesie, through charming small towns that looked like artist havens. It looked that if you are not a fisherman the only other major trade is to be an artist and we stopped spellbound surrounded by a collection of statues going deep into the estuary that look like floating over the water during high tide. The low tide gave us the chance to walk all the way through this impressive installation put together by Marcel Gagnon, a Quebecois artist who has also a large gallery at the site, in Ste. Flavie.

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Marcel Gagnon, Ste Flavie, Gaspesie

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Blog, Canada

 

Nouvelle France

East of Quebec the road skirting around the St Laurent estuary brings you to a charming region of Canada named Charlevoix. Nicknamed Nouvelle France in a way mimics in name, style and beauty its southern sister from the US, New England. You can spend easily several days here but unfortunately our schedule was limited so we just drove through it stopping on the way in several places and shooting briefly in the places we visited.

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St Anne de Beaupre

The first stop is the pleasant town of Beupre that has in its middle the tall and beautifully ornate inside cathedral of St Anne that stands near a small circular building that houses the “Cyclorama of Jerusalem“, a circular religious Jesus crucifying scene built by a Bavarian artist at the end of the 19th century. You can spend a full day in town climbing the mountain nearby, the tallest mountain in Eastern Canada that has on it a famous ski slope.

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Beaupre

A little bit further on the road, Baie St Paul is a tourist town with charming stores selling cappuccino, croissants and chocolate. The main street stores’ windows are covered in flowers, like in an explosion of joy for the warm weather. The road continues through Malbaie, where the explorer Jacques Cartier’s ships ran aground and ends in Baie St Catherine where a ferry that make the passage on a regular basis would put you on the opposite shore of the Saguenay River to the road’s continuation on what is named Cote Nord. You may already feel cold here….

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Baie St Paul

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in Blog, Canada