We weren’t even supposed to be in Gaspe on this trip. We had planned to go to the Charlevoix-Saguenay area, but since we left our bookings too late, there was not a room to be found anywhere. Plan B – Gaspe, and what a wonderful Plan B it was. Both my parents are from Gaspe and we came here every summer when I was a child. Stephen and I came here once with our boys when they were young and then just the two of us several years later. Gaspe’s not where I’m from, but it still runs pretty deep.
A typical Gaspe scene – this one in Forillon National Park.
So – Plan B sounded great until we discovered the same challenge – no hotel rooms anywhere. Quebec is one hot destination – and unlike the Maritimes, where we saw licence plates from all over North America, here in “La Belle Province” we stick out like a sore thumb. A lot of people don’t make it up the coast, in part because of the distance and perhaps in part because of separatist attitudes towards the “maudit anglaise.” That is an old story – we have encountered nothing but politeness and in many cases, perfect English. My sad attempts at French work in a pinch.
After a couple of frantic hours online, we found rooms for the first three nights and began our pilgrimage up the north shore of the Gaspe peninsula.
The north shore is full of twisty roads cutting through small settlements along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Many of these tiny villages don’t even have gas stations or stores – they are simply a collection of houses. This stretch of road is stunningly beautiful and desolate at the same time.
There is nothing here for young families, so many little villages no longer have schools. “A vendre” signs are common, as are abandoned homes. And yet, you run across a business like this – a hostel/cafe run by young Quebecois – fabulous food, cool surroundings, hip young bilingual owners – the hope for the future of Gaspe and such an incongruous sight on this shore.
And then there are the fromageries. Quebec is noted for its cheese, particularly for the stinky, runny unpasteurized cheeses that cannot be sold out of the province.
This is exactly the same bread my grandmothers used to make – two blobs of dough in a metal pan and voila:
We sat outside the store on a picnic table overlooking the water and had lunch. We haven’t had whole grains for weeks – you’ve just got to give in to that homemade bread.
Back on the road, the scenery unfolds.
You’ve got to watch yourself though. In a province where smoking, drinking and tiny Speedos are still encouraged, they are surprisingly stern about their speed limits. The Quebec police are unlikely to be sympathetic to your story and they’re not above hanging out in front of the Catholic church, waiting for sinners.
A safer form of transportation, perhaps.
Outside of the big cities, motels are the way to go. They are usually spotlessly clean, affordable and easy – pull in and unload the car. Motel Nanook in Cap Chat was our first stop, run by the vivacious Suzanne and her charming husband Marc.
Just before Cap Chat, we passed an enormous wind farm – one of the largest on the coast.
We headed a few kilometres up the road to St. Anne-de Monts for groceries and wine and came upon a wharf full of fishers. You see how bundled up they were – it was cold and windy and we needed coats.
A pretty sunset that night.
The next day our stop was Cap de Rosiers, where our motel was situated right across the street from a National Historic Site – Canada’s tallest lighthouse (112 feet).
Our motel is that strip on the left of the photo.
The view from the motel.
Yesterday we woke up to bright sun and warm temperatures – perfect for a full day in Forillon National Park, at the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. Forillon was formed back in the ’70s, amidst great controversy and bitterness among the local residents whose properties were expropriated to make way for the park. Luckily, my dad’s old home fell just outside the boundaries.
Those hard feelings exist to this day – the park has been both a blessing and a curse. In some ways, Forillon improved and enhanced the experience for locals and tourists. For example, this boardwalk was built to provide better access to the beach, as well as a very enjoyable and practical multi-use roadway for walkers, cyclists, a small shuttle service and baby strollers.
Grand-Grave is the site where much of the cod fishing was located. I remember fish flakes on the beaches – salt cod laid out to dry. They are long gone – just part of a museum now.
This is part of the Blanchette farm – the home has also been restored as a heritage site – typical of homes in the area to this day.
The old Hyman store was in operation until the ’70s – it is now part of the Heritage site. I went to this store and others like it as a child – just walking in the front door brought a flood of memories – the smells are the same.
Park staff were on hand inside the store to answer questions.
There are several trails around Grand Grave – it is possible to go for 15 km. out to the most eastern tip and the lighthouse, but we stuck to a shorter hike along this path:
And as we turned the corner, we saw a lynx staring down a young couple. As soon as we appeared, he slid down under the fence into the shrubbery, but not before giving us one final stare. It was thrilling.
That is such a part of the attraction of our travels – the chance wildlife encounters. You know they’re there – five seconds can make the difference.
On to Peninsula to see the house where my dad grew up.
It has changed a fair bit since Dad was a child – the current owners are a young family who were delighted to show my parents through the house when they visited one year. They still exchange Christmas cards. Unfortunately, nobody was home when we drove by, but I felt comfortable trespassing bit to have look around and take photos.
Just down the road, we went back into Forillon to visit Peninsula Point – one of our old swimming spots. I wouldn’t have recognized it – the beautiful boardwalk I showed before, as well as bike rentals, a shuttle and a stand renting standup paddle boards.
The beach and water are the same:
A trip back to Gaspe is always steeped in nostalgia – I have one foot firmly back in my childhood memories – it is a bit of a parallel universe. So when I see big changes, it is helpful to recall a story told to us by a Newfoundland woman. She was talking to her grampa about how her childhood beach had changed – the rocks she remembered being there were gone. His reply was eloquent, “Child, everything is product of time.”
Another product of time is Cap Bon Ami – an annual summer destination. The last time we were here was on our trip with the boys – we have a photo of them shrieking out of that ice-cold water.
You can’t see from this photo, but there are hundreds of cormorants nesting in this cliff.
Our last night on the north shore was spent at L’Anse au Griffon. We ate dinner at this very typical Quebec restaurant – old wooden floors, an art gallery upstairs and really well-prepared food. I ordered fresh cod and Stephen couldn’t resist the Gaspe sausage with local sauerkraut.
I asked about the figures lined up along their fence. Each year, the town has a competition to create the most imaginative figure, and some of the winners are on display here. Others can be found through the town, in front of people’s homes.
A couple of typical Gaspe homes.
Our sunset last night.
And one final shot that has nothing to do with Gaspe. We ran into a young family on holiday with their three-month-old puppy, Maui – a Bernerdoodle. Over-the-top puppy cuteness.
We’re on our way to Gaspe today. My cousin Bob lives in town and he came to our rescue. There is a huge music festival on now (hence the fully-booked hotels), so he is clearing out of his apartment for two nights and giving us a home.
Much more to come in a couple of days.
14 thoughts on “Gaspe: The Accidental Tourists”
Per usual, you make me want to follow in your footsteps. Your pictures are beautiful, your experiences interesting and your positive attitude shines throughout. There are many who could take a page out of your “How to travel book”. Safe home——I assume you are headed in that direction. Then again, I’m not sure where that actually is. Lol
Thanks for the kind comments Joan. In our situation, our travel is our life, so we cannot expect to go through without bumps – just like “real” life. Flexibility is key or there would have been blood on the floor long ago.
We are headed back ‘home” – slowly. Steve will drive back alone from Ontario – I’m staying on with my parents for 2 weeks. We’ll be in the Gabriola/Nanaimo area until the New Year.
wow, beautiful writing, beautiful pictures, beautiful people! can’t wait to hear more about Hyman’s store 🙂
Thanks Anne. William Hyman was one of the driving forces in the cod industry on the coast – he was an exporter and merchant, and with his store and warehouse, he transformed Grand Grave.
His family fled Russia and he came to Gaspe via a circuitous route – here’s a link for a complete bio: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hyman_william_11E.html
Wow! I was there when I was 13 and still have remnants of the wonderful feel of the Gaspe! Thank you for taking me there again Ginny ❤️
Hi Simone! It does have its own feel, doesn’t it? I love it here. We just came from a concert organized by old friends from Guelph who have been coming to Gaspe forever – they bought a property years ago and spend every summer here.
See you soon!
Sounds wonderful you two! Your pics and descriptions are so beautiful. Learning more about you every post. Never knew you had lived there as a young girl. A perfect Plan B has been executed! Keep enjoying.
One of the reasons I identified so strongly with Anne of Green Gables is that we had similar places to explore – the woods, the fields and the water. I envied her because she got to stay there and I had to go back to Montreal.
It’s lovely to see the details….Gaspé for me has been “the rock” Percé. I was there once with a girlfriend in 1971 (after we’d hitchhiked across Canada!) and once with Tom in 2000, both times were quick “passing through” trips and I don’t remember much apart from the coastline. How beautiful the east coast is – a different, older but lived-in rugged beauty compared to the wilder coast here in the west.
Shelley, I’m trying to imagine you hitchhiking across the country – that was a time and place. There are very few hitchhikers now and we don’t dare pick them up. It’s a shame.
Gaspe has to be explored and hiked and camped in to be fully appreciated – I love the coast drive, but you need to have time to find out what is here. More on Perce Rock in the next posting – it has changed since 1971 – not the rock, but the town.
Amazing landscape, I’ve never been to the Gaspe, and have never seen photos like these, beautiful. Thanks for sharing once again. Hope you continue to have good luck with finding accommodations, nothing like depending on the kindness of cousins! 🙂
If you ever have the chance – the perfect Quebec trip would start in Quebec City, then over to Charlevoix and the Saguenay, then back down to the south shore and along the old highway – Kamouraska, Ste. Flavie – beautiful old towns, before you hit the Gaspe coast.
Every place so beautiful, and so distinctly French.
A trip down memory lane can be lovely – I’m happy to hear you had a chance to do just that on this leg of your journey!
We had such good timing – to find many of our family in one place and have the chance to see them all for even a short bit.