Bonjour Quebec: here we come!
Our first stop in La Belle Province was for beer (cheaper than in Ontario). We then drove to Morin Heights where Fran lived when she was born. The hospital she was born in was in Saint Jerome but her parents lived in Morin Heights, northwest of Saint Jerome. Small town and we think we found the mobile home park where she lived but who knows; it’s been 54 years! We stopped in Saint Jerome enroute south to see the one hospital in town so that may have been it IF it was there in 1959!
We drove along the “Chemin du Roy” along the St. Lawrence River opting for scenery over a freeway and saw lots of little villages that have been around for three centuries. We made it to the town of Shewinigan and next day we entered our first national park in Quebec: La Mauricie NP. We spent the a few hours hiking near the eastern entrance and then drove west along the scenic roads to see lakes and viewpoints.
We did not stop in Montreal or Quebec City this trip as we have been there before and seasonal timing is keeping us moving along. We have a few ferries booked and can’t miss those. We crossed the river at Quebec city and crashed in Levis.
Thursday we drove east along the south shore of the St. Lawrence and headed southeast across the Gaspe Peninsula towards New Brunswick. It was our wettest day yet but this was mostly a driving day so the weather did not spoil much. Again we saw a few villages that have been around a LONG time.
Everything is very French here with signs in only one language. Many people in the shops do not speak any English. Fran’s French is coming back and Doug is doing okay using his high school French and some Spanish basics to figure things out. Should be really interesting when we head north to Labrador!
We have spent many nights in Walmart parking lots on this trip – all but one have offered free Wi-Fi which has been a super bonus. Sometime we are the only campers but last night in Levis we had at least two dozen other RV’s with us. Otherwise we stop at Mickey Dee’s or Tim Horton’s for our internet access.
Tonight we are parked outside a visitor information office (closed) that has great free Wi-Fi. We are right on the Bay du Chaleur at Maria, PQ on the waterfront; great camping spot.
The sun came out Friday and it was a perfect day for hiking. Our first stop was Perce Rock – which was spectacular from the view point before town. When we arrived in town, we asked where we had to go to walk out to it as it was low tide. They advised it was dangerous blah blah blah, but they don’t forbid it so off we went. We walked from a pebble beach along the cliffs and across the small land spit that is about halfway exposed at low tide this time of year. Our feet got wet to about mid-calf and it was not that cold. We walked back along the opposite shore around the cliff. Fran was wearing jean capris that got went most of the way up her legs because of waves but neither of us managed to fall in. It was a fun experience.
Forillon National Park came next and here we hiked the Les Graves trail (8 km round trip) which was one of the best hikes we’ve done lately. Trail was along the cliffs at the water’s edge most of the way out to Cap Gaspe – furthest easterly point on the Gaspe Peninsula. We actually saw a whale in the Bay, 3 seals on the way out and 17 on the way back! On land we encountered three porcupines too. The views were breathtaking. At the lighthouse, there was an additional 375 metre hike to “Lands’ End” so of course we did that as well.
We wanted to do another hike in this park but it was late afternoon by this time so we parked in a rest stop just outside the park and went back in the next morning to do the Mont St Alban’s hike. This was pretty much climbing almost 3km to a lookout but sadly, when you get there the best view side is blocked by brush; Fran was not impressed having to walk up up up and not getting the view the brochure showed.
We spent the rest of this day driving west along the north shore of the Peninsula stopping at view points and cute towns along the way. One spot was the place where Marconi sent the first telegraph message across the Atlantic. There were many fishing villages and viewpoints but the weather was not as great today although the road was closer to the water than it was on the south shore which was very enjoyable.
That night we stayed in Matane as next morning we were catching a ferry across the St. Lawrence to get back to mainland Quebec to continue our journey.
The ferry was at 5:30 am so we were up really early and the crossing was rainy and grey as was most of that day’s drive until we got to the Mingan Archipelago National Park headquarters in Havre-St-Pierre. We checked into the boat excursions and then went for a walk on the beach before spending some time doing little things to our home. We spent the night in the Parks Canada lot.
Again, we were very lucky with the weather; woke up to clear skies and only a light wind – perfect for a boat trip to explore the islands. Our outing was for five hours and it took us to two islands where we were able to get off the boat and explore and one more that we just viewed from the boat. This park is famous for its limestone monoliths or flowerpots. There are cool formations on the shores. The first island we did a 4.4 km hike on our own that took us along the shores where we saw cool cliffs, rocky/pebbly beaches and ended at the flowerpots. It was great to hike on our own as the other 25 people on the boat were all French and the Parks Canada guide seemed to not say as much when she translated into English (Fran understands much of what was said and things are left out of the translation). We ate our lunch at the flower ports and walked some more on the beach. The second island had larger formations all in one spot on the beach. Again the tour was going to be in French with short bits translated (at least the guide was up front about that this time) so we opted out of that one as well. The scenery and the solitude made up for much of that.
The province of Quebec recognizes French as their official language and all signs must be in French. When you are in a NP though, the signs are bilingual so we were disappointed that the tours were not fully bilingual. We realize we are in Quebec, but this is federal property. We notice that most touristy signs are not bilingual so they cater only to themselves which seems to defeat the purpose of tourism really. When in a store or something, we have found often that no one speaks English and if you try and speak French at all, it’s worse than just saying you are from the States. If you say the latter, they seem to try harder to speak English; asking in French if someone speaks English does not help. There are lots of campgrounds here so Quebecers must stay and visit in their own province a lot.
After our boat tour, we drove west ward back in the direction we’d come and overnighted in Sept-Iles. We had noticed a couple of our tires were getting bald and thought we’d better get them looked at and/or repaired/replaced before heading into the northeastern part of the province which is pretty remote and we heard the road to Labrador is rough. As it was a holiday Monday, we wanted to first in line at a tire place on Tuesday.
We got two new tires and continued our drive along the north shore of the St. Lawrence to Baie Comeau. The shoreline continued to give us amazing views of the river, but once again the clouds had set in and we had on and off rain for this drive. In Baie Comeau we gassed up and headed north. Our GPS got a little confused and took us to a tiny dirt/pot holey road as a “shortcut”. It was supposed to be about 3.5 km; after cross a few large puddles and maneuvering around rocks, we got to a HUGE puddle/pond that looked to sketchy for even us to attempt. Fran had been driving to point but as turning around was not an option, Doug took over and reversed back down the track to a point where he did a 17 point turn to get us headed back the other direction.
This highway north gets “lonely” quickly and it’s windy and climbing up and down. Most of the other traffic on the road is construction vehicles or truckers. The scenery is mostly trees, lakes, rivers and small mountains and the road is windy but still paved although rough in many spots. That evening we stopped around 5:30 pulling off the highway at the cell tower pullout. It was pouring by this point although it did stop after a while.
Wednesday, we journeyed northeast and the road turned to dirt but in pretty good condition with small washboard sections. Beautiful lakes along the way with a couple of dams and hydroelectric plants. We passed a huge reservoir that had an island in the middle of it that was a meteorite that was 5km across! Of course, from the ground you cannot tell this but check out our map above. The road turned to pavement again, then dirt then pavement when we hit the Labrador border (over 550 kms from Baie Comeau).