Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula
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first acquaintance, Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula was something of a disappointment.
I had pictured a remote, rugged coast, empty bar a few isolated settlements.
But as we drove eastward along the Baie de Chaleur towards Land’s End the words
of a late colleagues came back: “Everywhere is somebody’s backyard”. I kept
wondering when the string of small seaside towns would peter out – but they
didn’t. Not that it was unpleasant. This was hardly the product of mass
tourism. There wasn’t a high rise in sight. Only later did I discover that early
American visitors had nicknamed this coast the poor man’s Florida.
bay’s name should have provided a clue: chaleur, for those who don’t speak
French, means heat. It was coined by the explorer Jacques Cartier who opined,
when sailing here in July 1534, that it was warmer than Spain. On a grey day in
September that seemed a gross exaggeration but it was easy to see why so many
Acadians, Canada’s earliest settlers who were driven from their homes when
Wolfe defeated Montcalm to capture the city of Quebec, made their homes here.
And it was easier still to understand the proliferation of holiday cottages.
save you reaching for the atlas, the Gaspé Peninsulais south of the St Lawrence
river as it empties into the Atlantic, its profile that of some great sea
creature rearing from he waves.
comparison seemed the more risible when, wrapped in waterproofs, we took a boat
from Percé to Bonaventure Island, to visit on of the world’s largest gannet
colonies. We barely had time to marvel at the thousands of them, crowding the
shore, gliding on those great wings whose span can measure nearly six feet,
before we were obliged to leave early - lest a mounting storm prevented the
boat from mooring at the quay on our return.
put up in Percé at the immaculate Hotel Le Mirage, more a smart motel really,
with rooms ranged on a grassy hillside overlooking the limestone rock, with its
arched doorway, which gave the resort its name. We’d had a close look at it
from the boat. Seen next morning from our room, in warm sunshine, it looked
even more magnificent.
far beyond the port of Gaspé any lingering disappointment at unfulfilled
expectations quickly evaporated. Forillon National Park stretches from here to
the peninsula’s north coast. On the more sheltered southwest facing side one of
the most delightful day hike imaginable leads to Cap Gaspé, at its extreme
eastern tip. The trail runs along cliffs, dips in and out of little coves with pebble
beaches, penetrates dark forest. A grassy clearing at Indian Cove contains the
graves of immigrants from Jersey and Guernsey, who came here to fish for cod – precious
sustenance to be dried, salted and exported to Europe. Among them is that of a
woman whose six children all predeceased her.
was encouraged by the opening of a railway that opened at the end of 19th
century. It was simulated further by the completion of a road, in 1929, that
enabled travellers to drive right round the peninsula. We took broadly the same
route, heading north, then west along a coast dramatically different from that
we had just left. With the main holiday season over there was hardly any
traffic. The switchback route ran through small seaside communities, widely
separated by undeveloped countryside, that enticed us to linger. There were
relatively few places to east and stay. We ate lunch - fish chowder and a
shared lobster club sandwich – at a little restaurant cum b&b, separated
from the shore only by a lawn.
was the sense of remoteness I had come for, a feeling intensified when we
reached our last stop before heading south again, a cabin in the Gaspésie
National Park. On the 26 mile drive to the Mount Jacques Cartier trailhead we
encountered a moose on the dirt road. It stepped down the bank to a small pond,
turning to ensure we weren’t going to cause trouble, and vanished into the
trees. On the mountaintop, in biting wind, we went in search of caribou. The
only remaining population of these animals south of the St. Lawrence lives
here, but they are threatened and shy. Finally we spotted four of them, on a
ridge high above the track. The day had provided heartening reassurance that beyond
the fence of the backyard there remains a vast, pristine wilderness.
Travel Advisor recommends Frontier Canada
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