I CHOOSE TO LISTEN TO THE RIVER AWHILE, THINKING RIVER THOUGHTS, BEFORE JOINING THE NIGHT AND THE STARS. — EDWARD ABBEY

We left Toronto at the end of July bound for Québec with Nova Scotia in our sights. We didn’t make it to Nova Scotia. We followed the south shore of the Fleuve St-Laurent to the Bas-St-Laurent to the Golfe du St-Laurent all the way to the Gaspé before crossing over to the Côte du Nord where it became the Route des Baleines (the Whale Route) at Les Escoumins (an Inuu settlement dating back 9,000 years). We followed the St. Lawrence all the way back to Lake Ontario never veering too far inland and always camping as close to the water’s edge as possible.

 

We know how we feel in proximity to the ocean. Now there is scientific evidence that proves that even just a view of the ocean can boost a person’s mental health. Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explained in a Ted Talk that water holds vast cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits. “Nature is medicine – a walk on the beach; a surfing session; a stroll through the woods heals us. It fixes what is broken inside of us. Nature can reduce our stress, it can make us more creative and bring us together.”

We spent hours trying to describe in words, the smells, colors and feel of the river, particularly once it became tidal, beyond Québec City. The ocean and the tides feel and smell like home to us, like a cleansing breath, the Fleuve St-Laurent lifted our moods and filled our heads with creative energy. An endorphin shot that had us hungry for more.

Our route was not planned. When we travelled through the Gaspé three years ago we concentrated on Forillon National Park and Percé Rock. We visited neither this time round. We did, however, return to two campgrounds which we loved just as much this time, both, of course, overlooking the St-Laurent.

WHAT DID WE DO AND LOVE THIS TIME?

Farm Stands – we feasted on the summer harvest from Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil to Riviere-Madeleine to La Malbaie and back to Toronto. 

Ciderie St-Nicholas – we tried two kinds of cider, sparkling and crackling, and we loved them both!

Basque Cheeses and Smoked Fish – the Basque were the earliest Europeans to make their way to the St-Laurent (unfortunately to hunt whales) and left their culinary mark near Trois Pistoles on the south shore.

Signage for Laitiers and Casse-Crôutes – giant ice cream cones for the former and boxes of giant fries made using two by four pieces of lumber to represent the fries for the later. Kitsch folk art in the best way.

Le Vieux Moulin in St-Flavie – makers of everything honey. We visited without expectation and left smitten. We are not Mead lovers but their dry honey wine was a winner as was the tree sap honey…imagine sitting in the middle of a boreal forest with your eyes closed and drinking in the sweet scent of the surrounding trees.

The smoked fish dips from Atkins et Freres in Mont-Louis.

St-Fabien-sur-mer – we learned quickly to follow any sign ending in sur-mer! There we enjoyed a simple Basque lunch on the beach.

The Alpine Cottage style bath houses at the municipal campground in Trois Pistoles. Adorable!

The croissants at Pain d’Exclamation in La Malbaie! Still wondering why didn’t we stop to restock on our way west???

Campsite 19 at Camping des Érables in La Malbaie. Complete privacy in a terraced site with a perfectly stunning view of the St-Laurent.

We were invited to stay at the most perfect 100-year-old cottage in Cap d’Aigle. We watched an incredible thunder and lighting storm from the safety of the ample porch overlooking the St-Laurent. We scaled the cliff down to the shoreline and watched Minke Whales dance in the surf. We ate, drank, laughed and shared cooking, porch breakfasts, and wood fires with our generous hosts Felicity, Sarah, Robbie and Pierre.

 

The ferry between Trois Pistoles and Les Escoumins – we love a ferry! especially one where we can watch Beluga and Minke Whales frolicking in the river.

The Inuu run Tipi Campground at Les Escoumins – possibly the cleanest campground we have ever visited. Unfortunately there was a boiled water alert which is all too common in First Nations Communities in this country.

Parc National du Bic near Rimouski – a gorgeous marine park where we hiked, climbed rocks and enjoyed beaches that reminded us of Corsica. It was here that we first attempted to put the scent of the tidal river into words. Watching the fog roll in from our campsite in the morning was the icing on the cake.

ASK THE RIVER WHERE IT COMES FROM? YOU WILL GET NO ANSWER. ASK THE RIVER WHERE IT IS GOING? YOU WILL GET NO ANSWER BECAUSE THE RIVER LIVES INSIDE THIS VERY MOMENT, NEITHER IN THE PAST NOR IN THE FUTURE, IN THIS VERY MOMENT ONLY! — MEHMET MURAT ILDAN

The Saguenay River – we explored too little of what might be Canada’s best kept secret. This fjord leads to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and offers views that made us think we might be in Iceland or Norway. The Côte du Nord highway breaks at Tadoussac where a ferry service commutes cars to the other side of the Saguenay. If you are lucky, as we were, you will see Beluga Whales playfully feeding while you cross the river.

Discovering the St. Lawrence Parks near Cornwall. We camped on Morrison Island (a happy accident) which is a campground within a migratory bird sanctuary on the river. We arrived, without reservations, of course, and after hours (it happens), and during a downright frightening thunderstorm. By the time we were set up in a campsite the sky cleared and the sun was shining.

 We avoided major highways on this roadtrip as much as possible but as we neared Montreal we travelled briefly on Route 20. At a rest stop we encountered Interzone 3, an artist project by Mathieu Latulippe, which was part of a larger project called Truck Stop. It wasn’t until we arrived back in Toronto that we realized it comprised of 15 different roadside works between Montreal and Quebec City. Wishing we had known as we would have happily visited each one.

If you want to get a sense of just how many saints there are in this world just drive through Quebec! It would seem that the list is infinite and that Quebec has tapped this list without needing to ever repeat a name. The saints denote towns, villages, cities, streets, rivers, and lakes. Have you ever heard of Saint-Télesphore, Saint-Polycarpe or Saint-Zotique? Our favourite saint in case you’re wondering …. Lawrence, obviously.

Travelling through la belle province we became inspired and began dreaming up new projects. Roadtrips, nature, and exploration offer inspiration we wouldn’t get any other way. We’re back in Toronto with a to-do-list inspired by our time in Quebec.

BE LIKE A RIVER. BE OPEN. FLOW. — JULIE CONNOR