We were sorely tempted to stay in Matane for the CAMDRAG festival. A $30 ticket would get one in for the whole three day weekend, named after the CAMion DRAG races that are the feature events. There is also a Woodchip plant near Matane Concours d'Elegance for the most beautifully customized camions, some kind of pulling contest when the camion drivers hook their rigs to big heavy loads and tug away, and every evening, under the tent, dancing all the night long.
For those of you who wish we had stayed, you'll just have to visit Matane for yourself and write the trip report for us to read! We, instead, got on the ferry to Godbout. There was a great deal of interest in the enormous truckload of hay that was crossing the river. We decided there must really be a hay shortage to the north in order to make it affordable to ferry the hay across 35 miles of river.
We were originally going to continue west to Baie Comeau, but (this is the advantage of not having any The ferry 'Camille Marcoux' advance hotel reservations) we decided half way across the St. Lawrence to head east instead. As long as we're here (we said), why don't we drive to the end of the road?
That's easier said than done, as it's about 700 kilometers east to Natashquan, so we had to take it in stages. First to Sept-Iles, where we managed to find the very comfortable Gouverneurs Hotel. Then, a couple of days later, to Havre-St-Pierre, which is the gateway to the Mingan Archipelago. We were not among the dozens of eco-tourists who were going to camp out on these offshore islands, look for deer and puffins and whales and admire the rock formations. We just wanted a starting place for the last 150 miles to Natashquan, at the end of the road to the Cote Nord, as the Quebecois call the north shore of the St. Lawrence River / Gulf of St. Lawrence which is definitely salt and tidal at this point. View near Sept Iles
We are still working several hours each day trying to reduce our backlog of genealogy work. Most of this was caused by our changeover, starting almost two years ago, from a Macintosh to a PC-based genealogy program, coupled with several computer catastrophes (although we have had backups to preserve our work), and some of the work is because we are improving (we think) our style and accuracy of recording genealogical information, but some of the backlog still dates back to October 2002 when we spent almost every day for seven weeks at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City making photocopies. We're still typing up the pages from these books into our computer records. We probably won't live long enough to see the day when all the books are published electronically, anyhow (people will no doubt be afraid of piracy). So we photocopy A disastrous warning sign the pages and then type the material into our computers and then proofread it.
That is to say, we're not doing anywhere near as much sightseeing as we used to. We are soaking up local culture, and discovering that there's one Canadian institution to which the language barrier is 100% transparent -- Tim Horton's. Every morning we join about half of Canada, it seems, sitting down at Tim Horton's for donuts and coffee. Now they have berries and yogurt, which is really quite excellent, as there are lots of fresh berries in Canada this time of year. There are regional differences of menu -- here in Quebec a local is likely to ask for (and receive) thick slices of buttered toast along with cheese and cretons, which is a smoked pork spread reminiscent of deviled ham. But the important thing is that in Tim Church, Riviere au Tonnere Horton's, all the way from Vancouver to St. John's, neighbors are gathering and talking animatedly. Somehow this restaurant has taken hold of the Canadian spirit, and nurtures the social interaction which knits Canadian communities together.
There's not too much English here, and the Canadian French accent is quite different from the Parisian accent Elsa learned in college. On the other hand, those who do know some English are glad of the opportunity to try it out, so we sometimes get through a conversation with Elsa speaking French and the other person speaking English! Here are some local Quebecois terms. To staple papers together, "on broche"; the lunch bill, known to Parisians as "l'addition", is "la facture" in Quebec; the shelf of teenage reading at Fishermen's altar the library ("le biblio") is labeled "pour les ados". But our favorite, hands down, is the phrase used here for "you're welcome" -- "bienvenue"!
Being this far away from cities, and subject to the cool northern air (we're above 50 degrees North Latitude), the skies are very clear and free of haze or smog.
We can tell that fishing is getting harder and harder, for now seafood costs three times as much as beef and four times as much as chicken. What a shame the nations of the world can't regulate fishing so that the oceans become as rich in seafood as they once were! There's a little bit of shell fish caught -- shrimp, crabs, lobsters, scallops, mussels, and a small amount of cod and salmon. Shore near Sheldrake, Quebec
All along the north coast, the scenery is scrubby mixed forest punctuated with glorious views of the water. In places it is hilly. The contrast with the rich farmlands across the river is dramatic; here the bare rocks stick out sharply and in some cases seem barely covered by a thin layer of soil and moss. Several times on our trip to Natashquan and back we saw berry pickers out in the bogs looking for blueberries, three kinds of cranberries and cloudberries, also called hairy gooseberries.
We have seen a great many signs warning us of moose, but no moose. We keep hoping!
The little coastal villages sparkle with bright white cottages. Some have highly decorated doors and of course there are many flower gardens. We stopped at Riviere-au-Tonnerre to visit the church which was Johan Beetz house restored by the labor of volunteers about ten years ago. The carved decorations in the ceiling were cut with pocketknives. As always, the church is the heart of the community.
In Havre-St-Pierre we had an excellent (though expensive) seafood luncheon at Chez Julie, next to the harbor. We ate scallops a la Nicoise and cod with shrimp sauce.
We enjoyed the Cultural Center at Natashquan, which contains the expected variety of tools, photographs, and ship models from the families which have lived here for several hundred years. The village was originally settled by a small group of Acadians who, instead of moving back to France or south to Cajun country in Louisiana during the Acadian diaspora, went against the grain and the tides and brought their fishing cabins, Natashquan fishing talents to the other side of the St. Lawrence. We were startled and impressed to see, first, several beautifully executed genealogical charts of five and six generations, with very few blank spots (!), and then to find large looseleaf notebooks containing family stories and histories of each of the local families.
We did not test the gravel road which continues eastward out of Natashquan, but the map seems to show it crossing the river and continuing up the coast. We did read about the once-weekly coastal steamer that makes stops at a number of local villages (with sizeable First Nations populations) all the way to Blanc Sablon, on the border of Labrador.
Returning to Havre-St-Pierre, we found only cold water the following morning -- perhaps the hotel was economizing. Even the Cheese-Wiz available to spread on your toast at the hotel could not dim our desire to return to the more civilized accommodations at Sept-Iles.