We know very few people who have spent any time in Gaspé; many aren’t even sure where it is. So we were so surprised when our friends Sheila and Ajay and their kids started going down to Coin du Banc, a small village near Percé. After a few years they bought a cottage and after 27 years, have become a big part of that community every summer. Ajay, who is the founder of the Guelph Jazz Festival, has transported his love of music to Gaspé. This year he organized a week-long improv music camp, which attracted participants from all over the country.
We were lucky enough to catch the final concert, held in the old church/museum. I’m a bit befuddled by improv – a woman barking into a tin pail, or rolling on the floor with a piece of rag rug is way over my head, but it was lots of fun and a good reminder that music takes many forms. The big lesson of the week’s camp was “how to listen” – an ongoing challenge for me.
The participants, taking a bow at the finale.
Our friends Sheila and Ajay – in their element in this beautiful part of Gaspesie. We only had a few minutes to chat, but it was great to see them – the only thing that’s changed is the grey hair.
As I mentioned before, my cousin Bob came to our rescue when he discovered we couldn’t find a place to stay; he moved to his girlfriend’s place for two days and handed over his apartment to us. We were extremely grateful for that generous and hospitable act and just as grateful to spend a bit of time with him and Phyllis – it had been many years. They treated us to an incredible home-cooked meal, which is so appreciated when you’re on the road and even sent us home with a tin of Quebec maple syrup!
Phyllis and Bob inside the shed they’re building.
My cousin Bob and uncle Keith are our two remaining family members in Gaspé. Everyone else moved away years ago, but a number of them still make the yearly migration. Our timing was good this time around – we got see not just Uncle Keith but my cousin Esther, who was down to visit her dad. Sadly, it coincided with my uncle’s wife being in palliative care, so not the happiest time for everyone, but we did manage to fit in a quick visit. Again, so easy to pick up with family and old friends – Esther and I had not seen each other in over three decades. The passing of time didn’t seem to matter.
With just two days in the town of Gaspé, we had a lot of ground to cover. First, we headed to L’Anse-aux-Cousins, about 3 km. from town, to see my mother’s old home. We have always pronounced this “Lancy- Cousins”; nicely butchering the French pronounciation. It is properly referred to as “Lonce-o-coozen“.
Some of the earliest settlers here were Irish, English, Scots and from the Guernsey and Jersey Islands; these are my ancestors. Today most of the peninsula is French, with just a few pockets of English left. Pronunciation of place names depends upon with whom you are speaking.
This was my mum’s childhood home.
The current owners call the home “Twin Brooks” – aptly named for the brooks that run on either side of the property. There used to be a henhouse at the back and a massive vegetable garden at the front – both gone now. So is my grandmother’s beautiful flower garden. Perhaps someone else’s grandchildren play here now.
The town of Gaspé is considered the birthplace of Canada – this is where Jacques Cartier first landed in 1534 in his exploration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He planted a wooden cross then, but a mammoth granite cross was erected in 1934, and since then a recreation of village stores and homes as they appeared in the 1900s has been installed at the base of town, in front of the harbour.
The town of Gaspé (pop. – 16,000+) is the major centre on northern end of the peninsula; this is where hospitals, schools, an airport, and other forms of employment are located. Gaspé harbour is a thing of beauty.
When we were coming here as kids, the main street had a number of souvenir shops and a department store and the usual range of amenities. Now, there are select shops selling foie gras and nice lingerie. The French influence has been a positive thing – Cafe des Artistes has been around for ages.
It breathed new life into the old post office and brought freshly roasted coffee and bohemian art to the mix.
A trip to Gaspé is not complete without a visit to Percé, and most notably, The Rock.
Named Percé by Champlain because the rock is “pierced”, this is one of the primary attractions of the Gaspé Peninsula. At low tide, you can walk right around the rock – you can see the sandbar in this photo. However, in the past few years, there has been so much falling rock and incidences of injury that the pathway is now considered “at your own risk” and signs are everywhere warning of the danger.
We didn’t have time to attempt the walk around the base of the rock – we were between tides, but happy to visit from shore.
An interesting sidebar to Percé was its counterculture, hippie sensibility back in the ’70s. This building, now closed for some future project, was an artist/cultural centre.
“Artisans” abound in Percé. The walking stick carver has probably been hanging out in Percé for years, maybe decades. Funny how time gets away from you.
This fella is banking on tourists not noticing that he has no woodcarving skills whatsoever, and will buy a piece of “Quebec art” from him anyway.
The town of Percé has always been filled with tacky little souvenir shops, but that was almost part of its charm. Come for the Rock, buy the T-shirt.
That said, we were shocked by the change in Percé. That magnificent rock has ceased to be regarded as a democratic natural wonder and has become a ticket to print money. Several municipal parking lots charge $9 for parking. A kiosk leading to a lookout suggests a $1 “donation” to walk up a hill for a better look at the Rock. Mediocre restaurants offer the same dated menus and charge $18 for a club house sandwich with greasy fries. With the exception of a very few shops featuring local artists, the main street is lined with stores carrying the same schlock. Dispirited tourists wander the streets, looking for things to buy. Even the mascot outside one of the stores seemed exhausted by it all.
In spite of all that, if you visit the Gaspe peninsula, you can’t miss Percé. Here’s another reason to just enjoy the area and ignore the rest:
A bientôt, Gaspé. We had a very happy detour with you.
On to Quebec City…