The St. Lawrence River Chronicle
Travel and tourism
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Exploring the South Shore of the Lower St. Lawrence
Many travelers speed along the main highway between central Canada and the Maritime provinces without stopping to explore. That’s a pity, because the gentle farmland, islands and historic villages along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River below Quebec City have a lot to offer.
You can head east of Lévis on highway 20, but eventually you need to get off the 20 and take Route 132, the road that hugs the shoreline of the St. Lawrence. The first large town you’ll come to is Montmagny, founded more than 350 years ago. Today the city brands itself as the snow goose capital. The broad tidal flats nearby provide ample food for the thousands of geese that pass through the region each spring and fall. Montmagny is also a good spot to stay if you want to explore some of the nearby islands in the St. Lawrence. Croisières Lachance offers boat tours to l’Isle-aux-Grues and Grosse-Île from nearby Berthier-sur-Mer.
As you travel east, Kamouraska is worth a stop. Some of the waterfront houses in this charming village have already been purchased as summer homes by people from distant cities. You can taste a piece of eel at the Site d’interpretation des anguilles (eel fishery interpretation site), or buy some hand-made soap at Le Quai des Bulles. And after climbing the monadnocks (rocky outcroppings that dot the Kamouraska landscape) or doing some kayaking, you will likely want to visit the Boulangerie Niemand for some fresh bread or pastry.
Rivière-du-Loup is a large administrative center and the terminal for ferry service to the Charlevoix region, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The city itself does not have a lot to offer, but several nearby villages, including Notre-Dame-du-Portage and Cacouna, have been attracting summer visitors for generations to enjoy their salt-water beaches and sensational sunsets.
Trois-Pistoles is familiar to the many students who have attended the Trois-Pistoles French Immersion School, operated since 1932 by the University of Western Ontario. This region also celebrates the Basque legacy in North America. Basque fishermen and whalers frequented the waters of the St. Lawrence in the 16th century. You can visit the Parc de l’aventure basque en Amérique, a cultural and historical interpretation centre in town, or visit Île-aux-Basques on a guided tour of the island, now a migratory bird sanctuary owned by the La Société Provancher, or even rent a cottage there.
Nearby Parc national du Bic is favorite spot for campers, cyclists, birdwatchers and kayakers. The park’s sheltered coves are also a favorite of the seals; they like to haul themselves out of the water there and rest on the rocks.
One of the highlights of a visit to Rimouski area is the Musée de la Mer in Pointe-au-Père, a few kilometres east of the city centre. This museum is dedicated to the memory of the Empress of Ireland, the ocean liner that sank here in 1914, killing 1012 people.
Finally, if you are worried about your lack of fluency in French, don’t be. Most people who deal with visitors, from the friendly staff in the Rimouski tourism office to small business owners, will try to serve you in English, although they will also applaud your efforts to say “bonjour” and “merci.”
Where to Stay
Accommodations in the region vary from standard chain hotels in the larger centres to privately owned bed and breakfasts. I have stayed in several b&bs there and was pleased with all of them. In Montmagny, Les Deux Marquises is in a home that dates to the 1700s. Originally built as an inn, it served as a private residence for many years and once again welcomes guests. Just be careful you don’t bump your head on the sloping ceilings built for shorter folk.
In Kamouraska, Gîte Chez Jean et Nicole provided comfortable beds and a wonderful breakfast of homemade jams and baked goods that kept us going all day. Auberge la Sabline, just west of Rivière-du-Loup, was difficult to find at first, but once but once we arrived, we were delighted with our large room and private bathroom, and with the bright lounge and dining area. I especially remember being serenaded by the caged birds as we ate our breakfast. You can find links to these and other bed and breakfasts at www.BBCanada.com.