QUEBEC PROVINCE, Canada – September 17, 2017 – There are two kinds of people who travel: tourists and travelers. Travelers, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ” …travel for travel’s sake.” Tourists became travelers on a journey down the St. Lawrence River.
In his opening remarks, Adventure Canada tour administrator Matthew James Swan welcomed 189 travelers and staff to a journey down the St. Lawrence River, one of the largest in the world. Before setting out on their river adventure, Swan reminded those assembled that travel should change us in such a way that it will help them learn something new of themselves and the world in which they live.
What Swan did not prepare us for is how this floating group of people would become a village spending time laughing, dining, and exploring this magnificent river together.
The group whose ages spanned, with some exceptions, from the 60s to the 90’s boarded buses to the first departure in Tadoussac, Canada on a voyage that ended ten days later in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean at St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Life on the St. Lawrence River
Passengers travel from the Dutch-operated ship, the Ocean Endeavor, to shore on flat-bottomed, inflatable zodiac boats.
The hardy group was thrilled to start the journey upriver to Newfoundland, anticipating their stopping at the many parks, banks of the river, and islands in between.
The ship, not billed as a luxury vessel, is comfortable beyond one’s needs. The staff are attentive, the rooms and common areas immaculate, and the food healthful, delicious, and plentiful.
Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year offering free admission to its vast national parks system, making it a great time to follow the St. Lawrence River and take in the sights of whales, birds, and other wildlife while learning about the nation’s history.
Tadoussac, a starting point for a St. Lawrence River journey
The departure point for the cruise is Tadoussac, located about three hours drive north of Quebec, where there are numerous bed and breakfasts, smaller auberges (inns) and the historic Tadoussac Hotel.
An expansive lawn, featuring Nantucket-style chairs, is an ideal setting for harbor viewing, a nap or for children to play.
Originally built in 1747 and rebuilt in the 1940s, the Tadoussac Hotel offers views of the harbor and a small wooden “Indian Chapel.”
The chapel speaks clearly of the faith that brought the first Europeans to Tadoussac in 1535, where the first trading post in Canada was established in 1600.
An afternoon bonfire on the beach and local musicians provide entertainment. Townspeople come down to greet visitors happy to share their family history and their lives along the seaway.
Today tourism, not fur trading, is making an economic impact on Tadoussac, as it shapes local businesses including an artisanal chocolatier and a brewery that serves beer from its perch overlooking the harbor.
For those looking for a bit of exercise, there is a comfortable loop trail at the “Pointe de I’Islet” whose paths go through the forest and along the water.
Rocks line the shore and hold small ponds of brackish water in their crevices that wait to be discovered by adventurous explorers who are sure-footed.
Watching the whales on the St. Lawrence River
From the rocks, surrounded by the waters of the Saguenay fjord, tourists can pass the time whale watching while enjoying the summer sun. Cries of a spotting include plenty of finger-pointing to the darker minke whales and the ghostly, pale belugas, members of the dolphin family.
Larger whales are more easily spied from boats that ply deeper waters. At Cap Bon Desir, not far from Tadoussac, the water is deep, and a variety of whales can often be seen.
Leaving Tadoussac, the first stop was the historic Reford Gardens, the English-style garden located at Grand-Métis, Quebec.
Other stops included the natural environments found at Reserve de parc national de L’Archipel-de-Mignan located in the waters outside of the municipality Port of Havre-Saint-Pierre on the Gaspé Peninsula.
The changing landscapes of the St. Lawrence River
The journey of more than 1,000 nautical miles meanders past rock formations and sandstone cliffs, sculptures created by eons of wind and wave. Each day brings new opportunities to explore the river, its nearby cities and what they have to offer.
The towering cliffs of Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island and the small archipelago of the Magdalene Islands where wind carved red sandstone cliffs are awe-inspiring.
The fishing village of Nova Scotia’s Chéticamp, Little Garia Bay, and the archipelago islands of the French overseas possession of St Pierre and Miquelon offer something new to experience before the final destination at the port of St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Experts like geologist and geophysicist Susan R. Eaton, who brings her maritime roots and deep knowledge of the landscape to the expedition, enhanced the journey on water land.
Jean Knowles, an expert on seabirds and all that grows, from the tiniest flower to the most towering pine along the seaway, is another fascinating well of knowledge on the trip. The boundless energy of both women brings a contagious excitement to group hikes into the forests.
Even pouring rain cannot stop these explorers from seeking the Zen of nature.
Deep and primeval, nature here is alive with stunning views of forests and the seaway. This still-pristine wilderness is breathtakingly beautiful.
Living along the St. Lawrence River
But this journey is not just among the waves and the trees; it passes through cultural landscapes as well as the travelers visit small harbor towns and fishing villages whose existence once depended on fur traders and fishermen.
St. Pierre and Miquelon is a French archipelago south of the Canadian island of Newfoundland and is our final stop before reaching our final destination.
The St. Lawrence flows 744 miles Northeast from Lake Ontario past Montreal and Quebec City to the Gulf of St. Lawrence before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
At the confluence of the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence, the riverbed goes from 25 meters to 350 meters, causing the freshwater to combine with cold arctic saltwater to form an estuary, which serves as a nursery for frequently seen beluga and minke whales.
The rocks of Precambrian North America date back 600 million years. Fossils are common among the rocks along the shore. The river’s banks are sparsely settled, providing nesting places for migratory birds that are drawn to freshwater sandbank grasses and saltwater plants alike.
Here, travelers see how alive the water and air are with the finned and feathered.
The man-made and ecological dangers to the St. Lawrence River whales
The river journey includes a search for great whales: the humpback, the North Atlantic right, the fin, and the greatest whale of all, the blue whale. While the ship is under sail, hardy passengers gather on the top deck, where it seems always to be windy and cold, to search the waves for the blow of the sea’s most graceful giants.
The whales of the St. Lawrence are endangered by the construction of ports that will deliver oil by pipeline to refineries in Montreal, Quebec City and Saint Johns, Robert Michaud, the scientific director of Quebec’s Marine Mammals Research and Education Group, says.
The sounds and vibrations of seismic blasts in marine-protected areas are a source of stress for calving mothers and their young, and scientists have begun to note an increase in cancers in whales.
These can be attributed to various environmental pollutants, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters.
Due to the death of 10 North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this season, the Canadian government set mandatory slowdown laws for vessels of more than 20 meters traversing the seaway.
St. Lawrence Fisheries officials report only about 500 North Atlantic right whales remain worldwide. Their deaths in the St. Lawrence are often due to ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements.
As the ship moves along the river to the stops along the way, there are numerous hikes, some as long as six miles, most a more manageable two to three miles. Weather is unpredictable, ranging from brilliant sunshine to a cold steady rain, making the “all you can eat if you ask” four-course dinners all the more welcome.
However before dinner is the daily social hour, during which one will hear excited descriptions of the various wonders of the day, each experience as different as the travelers who had them.
Oh the things you can see along the St. Lawrence River
Before dinner, Swan, briefs the group on what to expect on the next day’s journey. With so much to do at each stop, it is difficult to choose whether to take the bus tour or brave the weather on a hike.
Travelers with various physical abilities can comfortably join the expedition because of the variety of activities available. Some may just choose to admire the lush scenery.
Good weather or bad, the forests are beautiful: as beautiful in the fog and rain as they are in the sunshine. Wherever the journey led, the amazing array of green, from lichens and moss to ferns to verdant dark fir trees, was an infinitely varied tapestry.
On windswept trails, the varieties of tiny flowers standing bravely against the elements are a testament to the tenacity of life.
Some sights, like Percé Rock, are breathtaking. The monumentally sized, siliceous limestone, stack-rock formation lies at the tip of the Gaspe’ Peninsula, and off the shores of the town of Percé, Canada.
Percé Rock and the nearby Bonaventure Island rock face provide nesting for Northern gannets, one of the more than 293 different bird species on the island.
The most common bird found on the island is the northern gannet.
Other colonies on the circular island that is nearly 500′ in height, include great Atlantic puffins, and great black-backed gulls among many others. The island was designated as a migratory bird sanctuary in 1919, evicting some 35 families, before the Province of Quebec created the Parc National de l’île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé (Bonaventure Island and Perce Rock National Park) in 1985.
The zodiac boats are able to approach the cliffs along the shores of Little Garia Bay to see the waterfalls and sea swells coursing over the rocks in wild beauty.
Phil Jenkins, a writer, musician, and author of “River Song: Sailing the History of the St. Lawrence”; and Benoit Bourque, a musician, singer and dancer, performed multiple roles onboard ship, including the nightly entertainment.
Talented singers, storytellers and all-around talented men, they are often joined by ship host David Newland, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. All are virtuosos in storytelling, song singing, and playing accordions, guitars, wooden spoons and other instruments
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the journey was how 189 people came together to experience something unique and beautiful.
• Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.
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