By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher © 2011
Part 8 in a Series
(Intro: This is a continuing series about our 10-day cruise aboard Le Boreal, a contemporary small cruise ship from the French company Compagnie du Ponant, began in Boston, MA, and took us along the United States’ Northeast coast, into the St. Lawrence River, up through Canada, ending in Montreal. Along the way we saw a healthy dose of small, not-frequently-called-upon ports that larger cruise ships cannot visit. That’s one reason passengers chose this itinerary, one steeped in beauty, history and culture.)
Next, Le Boreal calls at the Magdalen Islands (Iles de la Madeleine in French), which are located in the Canadian province of Quebec. Eight major islands make up this small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence that is close to Cape Breton and 60 miles from Prince Edward Island (PEI). Jacques Cartier was the first European to call on the island in 1534. Before him, the Mi’kmaq Indians came here to fish and likely hunt walrus.
On this day, the 200-plus shipmates from Le Boreal will spend a full day learning about this fishing village that is part of the lobster industry. In doing so, we are among the 50,000-or-so tourists who visit from June to September. What do they come to see? We find out by taking both of the excursions offered: Maritime & Acadian History in the morning, and the Natural & Geological Heritage in the afternoon. It will prove to be a full day, but a delightful one.
Gathering on the dock, some of our small cadre of English-speakers (we are 20 among the passenger list of 200) board our cozy bus and meet Susan, our guide for both tours and, it turns out, wife of the town’s mayor.
Lobster is king around these parts, but much smaller in total catches than Bar Harbor’s. Yet here it is much “greener.” Each fisherman must now be certified, instead of being tendered a berth by ancestry. The season is regulated to nine weeks from May into July, with no fishing on Sundays and only one taking of pots is allowed per day. Whereas there may be as many as 800 traps fished per day per boat in Maine, here only 300 are allowed, and to maintain a healthy supply of lobsters, each year that number will drop by three traps, eventually reaching only 270 traps. Fishing is good, says Susan, with each fisherman averaging 17- to 18-thousand pounds a season.
Our bus driver is a lobster fisherman but slyly refuses to reveal his catch numbers for last season – it’s a closely guarded secret among these competitive watermen.
The tour is lively; Susan is quite informative and speaks perfect English — which she also teaches. Only 5% speak it here, and French dominates, as does the allegiance to Quebec and strong Acadian roots. She points out that the flag of the province is flown far more than the Canadian one. And as we pass schools, she tells us about the programs for kids and adults, citing the course on fishing certification. She also says we should come back in the summer to try out the beaches and the water temperature of 68º Fahrenheit. “We don’t squabble for towel space here,” she confides.
A Personal Look at Two Island Professions
During the morning, we visit several sites: the Fumoir d’Antan, a group of buildings that once were part of a formidable stand of Fumoir – smoke houses that took in and preserved shiploads of herring. The tons and tons of these fish caught off the coast here once was the dominant industry. Then in the 1970s, the fish went into decline, and so did the business. We are greeted by the tall, burly Ben Areseneau Jr., whose family history includes three generations to when the herring were as thick as the smoke that filled the smokehouse stuffed to the gills with fish.
In 1996, due to a resurgence of the fish and a desire to preserve their family history, Ben and his two brothers from ‘Pointe-Basse’ decided to give the business another try by using the original smokehouse techniques for preserving fish. Even if the fish never came back fully — Fumoir d’Antan has to buy some of its fish from New Brunswick — the business is doing well.
Following the tour and brief film, we get to taste samples of smoked herring and marinated herring for sale. Susan assures that family recipes for the latter are handed down. For more about the business and their products, visit www.fumoirdantan.com or call 418-969-4907. To see an additional video slideshow solely about the smokehouse, click Smokehouse.
Another great stop was the second largest wooden church in North America, the very photographic Anglican church Saint-Pierre de la Verniere. The congregation was established in 1850, and the burial ground, called All Saints Memorial on Entry Island, is both spiritual and beautiful, so much so that a couple members of our group had to be tracked down so we could continue the tour. To see an additional video slideshow solely about the church, click Laveniere.
Yet the hit of the morning was Le Site d’Autrefois. Did you ever see something advertised and think: Now that’s hokey. Well, this stop was delightfully so, and everyone loved meeting founder Claude.
On May 11, 1990, local lobsterman Claude Bourgeois was on his boat fishing. A storm came up and his boat, The Annick, sank and he nearly drowned. He was hurt so badly that he was not able to return to lobstering, but he had a plan. Actually, it was a vision he had had years before: to build a replica of a typical fishing village complete with houses and buildings outfitted with typical furnishings, machinery, and period-dressed mannequins. In 1994, he began to develop his 1,000,000 square-foot property, and today it’s a major tourist attraction for this region. The site also has a miniature village with church and graveyard with tombstones and crosses, houses with cars in the drive, and an electrical grid to each small building. Delightful. (See the extra video on the site.)
Equally delightful is Claude, who through the translation of our guide, told us about his ordeal, his vision, and his life. In the small auditorium he built — with a boat for a stage — he captivated us with his friendly smile and verve for life.
In a lively, homey fashion, he demonstrated how the nets are made for the lobster traps, showed us how the lobster goes into the trap and is caught, told us interesting facts about the lobsters (the biggest one he’d ever caught weighted 10 pounds), and then stole our hearts when he played guitar and sang a song he’d written, which you can hear in the video: Claude Bourgeois Sings “PaPa, I love You.”
Claude truly is a charmer, proudly living out his dream to keep alive a tradition while sharing his personal story. His site is open from June through September. Admission is $10 for adults, $4 for ages 6-18, ages 5 and under free. For more, visit Le Site d’Autrefois or call 418-937-5733.
If you’re interested in visiting the area, vist Magdalen Islands online or call 877-624-4437. For more on Quebec, visit www.bonjourquebec.com.
If you’re interested in cruising with Compagnie du Ponant: The French cruise company Compagnie du Ponant operates the 64-passenger, masted sailing vessel Le Ponant; the 90-passenger Le Levant; L’Austral, and Le Boreal, (sister ships with 264 passengers each) plus the 226-passenger Le Diamant. A sixth ship is on order. For more, visit www.ponant.com or call 888.400.1082.
This sailing, we visited11 ports: Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Louisburg, the Magdalen Islands, Perce, Havre St. Pierre, Tadoussac, Saguenay, Quebec and Montreal. In 2012, Le Boreal is scheduled to cruise from Boston to Montreal September 14 to 24, and from Montreal to Boston September 24 to 4 October.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:
• Other stories by Newbern and Fletcher
• Other Stories by JS Fletcher,
• Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Luxury Travel Examiner
International Travel Examiners J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.