From St Simeon we crossed the ever broadening St Laurence River by car ferry to Rivière-du-Loup, a journey of 22 kms, about one and a half hours of an endless variety of birds including canada geese, eider ducks, atlantic gulls and dive bombing gannets. Known for their curious natures, the sudden appearance of a seal popping it’s head up to see what we were up to, caused a ripple of pleasure through the passengers. This increased to a roar of laughter from the French speaking Quebecers and New Brunswick women immediately around us, as Nettie played with her pronunciation of the French word for seal un phoque (pronounced f*ck)… need I say more!
The sun came out of the sea mist as we began the trek along ‘La Route des Navigateurs’ where we met a couple of walking pilgrims, Helene and Madeline, two women in their late sixties, early seventies, into day 8 of 30 of a 400 km pilgrimage from the petite village of St Luce to Quebec City. They met in 1997, both on a previous pilgrimage from Quebec City to Montreal. They stay the nights in presbyteries, simple church accommodations along the way. With literally hundreds of villages (most named after saints) along the various routes – each with its own church in the centreville, they have many roads left to travel. We were to pass many such pilgrims along the road.
Quebec is quaint, there is no other word for it. We continued to be surprised at the number of little townships we passed through. Although Quebec has about seven million inhabitants, less than two million live in the major cities of Montreal and Quebec City. Originally fishing villages they now include numerous working artists studios and poissanairies (fruit de mer – food of the sea), fromargaries (cheese producers and outlets) and boulangaries (bakeries). Think croissants and delicious pastries, it is a veritable feast for the senses. Needless to say we are now heading to the cabin for a simpler fare of far less calories…but it has been worth every scrumptious mouthful!!
At Vieux Moulin we met Normand Tremblay who has been making honey mead and every possible honey product you could imagine for the past 30 years. He was very generous with his offering of tastings, which lead to happy and enthusiastic purchasing. He is also a lifetime collector of First Nation and historical artifacts. Upstairs in his meticulously catalogued private museum was an unexpected treasure trove of well-preserved ancient artifacts including voodoo dolls from Haiti and a turtle shaman rattle with rope made from human hair. Ours stood up on the back of our necks… Although lovingly cared for, perhaps one day they will find their way back home to their people…
Next stop was the thriving metropolis of Remouski – a Mic’Maq word meaning ‘moose country’ (this is where Thomas grew up), a university town of 45,000. Checking out the local museum/art gallery we were treated to a presentation about the exhibit by a charming young man name Guiliume, who made a courageous attempt to offer us an interpretation in English for the first time. It was a pleasure shared and certainly enriched our visit. We met many dynamic and engaged young people in Quebec and there seems to be a real willingness for them to remain in the provincial regions and participate in the cultural life.
And so we continued further east following the twists and turns the St Laurence to where the ‘fleuve’ (river flowing to the sea) becomes saltier and soon became a broad estuary – as big as an ocean and we could no longer see the other side. We wandered deer and caribou trails in an enchanting boreal forest, caught in the magic of it’s ancient connections. And even saw our first skunk…
By the time we reached La Martre, our next accommodation, the gulf was 110 kms wide. We had arranged to stay with Thomas’s aunt and uncle, Michele and Rogers, but when we arrived in the dying light of a long day’s travel, they led us to Michele’s own chalet (cabin) right on the edge of the river! Just our kind of place and a perfect base for us to explore the Gaspe peninsular. We watched for whales each day but saw no more. It was birthing time for the seals, a time when they retreat to the safety of deep and remote sanctuaries, so we only caught sight a solitary male basking on a rock. Ships came and went bound for Newfoundland, Europe and the Caribbean. Our heartfelt thanks to Michele and Rogers for a delicious feast of local seafood, and their generous and unexpected sharing of a very special place.