18 July – Left Ottawa after a lazy start to the day and after a quick stop at a CAA office to pick up some maps of the region headed off on the freeway to clear the city environs and up to Hawkesbury to cross over the Ottawa River into Quebec and Oo La La, everything changed. No more bilingual road signs, everything is in French, the style of houses are different – villages are built right onto the road so that you literally drive past people’s lounge windows, the farms are smaller and loads of roadside stalls. Followed a minor road hugging the northern bank of the river. Stopped off at St Andre Argenteuil for a look at an historic barracks and canal from the early Canadian period, before getting back on the road to St Jerome (the aim was to keep well north of Montreal) and the hunt for Walmart. Found it OK, but it was right next to a really busy freeway – we had been told that Wallies in Quebec don’t allow overnighters, but there were quite a few rigs there so we guessed it was allowed.
19 July – The traffic did finally die down around midnight so it wasn’t too bad a night. Took the freeway to get out of the city again and then stayed on minor roads through to Joliette and touched back down on the river bank – this time the St Lawrence River and nice minor roads through quaint villages. Our main destination was Quebec City but we made a small detour along the way to an old iron forge historic museum north of Trois Rivieres where iron had initially been produced for the French navy before the English ‘conquest’.
Then returned to the freeway in order to enter into the big smoke. I don’t think we will complain so much about the roads in the US in the future – we have had some atrocious roads since coming into Canada – the really harsh winter has apparently been the cause of a lot of it causing frost heaves which leaves the surface broken open for water to intrude and really uneven, but I am sure that a lot of it is just lack of money for maintenance. Even on the freeways we have come across some really bad patches. Road works made it a bit trying to find our pre-booked campground, but we finally got there around 6pm and this one, the first we have used in Canada, blows our budget completely at $45 per night. It is not a particularly nice place – facilities are really tired, but we do have power and water and it has been 3 weeks since our last formal camping so these are appreciated.
20 July – In the campsite blurb on their website it claimed it was close to the Old Town of Quebec via bus – I guess they must have been using Quebec time and a fair bit of poetic licence in their description as it took us 30 mins on the bus and then 15 mins on the ferry to finally get there. Not to worry – we had an interesting trip getting there – the ferry across the St Lawrence afforded nice views of the old city towering above the cliffs and all the lovely old buildings. Once on the other side, you have an option of walking up loads of stairs to get you up to the higher level or a ride on the funicular – we chose the latter. The city has ramparts all around it, with various places of interest like the Citadel and the Artillery Park. We walked around for a couple of hours taking in the sights before a nice cafe lunch. After lunch we spent a while touring the Artillery museum – they were making ammunition there from late 1680’s right up until 1958. There was also a Redoubt/Barracks building which had some interesting exhibits. We had a self guided audio tour which bought it all to life really well. Ticked that off and proceeded to wander around the very touristy part of the town – steep streets, amazing old stone buildings (the oldest we saw was 1683) and many fancy stores. It reminded us a bit of Carcassonne in the South of France, but with wider streets and not shut off to traffic. It was jam packed with locals and tourists alike and the many bars and restaurants were doing a roaring trade. With feet starting to get a little weary we caught the 5pm ferry and didn’t have too long a wait for the bus to come which dropped us off right at the entrance to the camp just in time as the skies were getting quite ominous. Spent an interesting evening around the campfire with two lovely Ontario couples – the only other non-Quebec people staying in the campground. After putting the world to rights, Norman regaled us with tales about his early life in the mining industry on the North Shore of the St Lawrence near Labrador and the hardships they faced establishing mines or railways in such a remote area.
21 July – Time to set off again but by the time we had said goodbye to our new friends, had a long chat with a local Quebec man who spends his winter in Florida and gave us some more helpful hints for when we get down that way, it was getting on for noon. Got out of the city on the freeway but as soon as we were clear jumped back down to the coastal road for another pretty drive. The villages are so French in appearance, quite quaint and each one has at least one very substantial church – not just your ordinary run of the mill one but very fancy with spires and often around 250 years old. The Roman Catholic presence in the whole of Quebec is noticeable – there is hardly a town or settlement that isn’t named after a Saint – I just can’t believe how many saints they have! The road follows the bank of the river with nice views across to the north side which is more hilly and less populated. Stopped off at St-Jean Port Jolie for a look at the only decent motorcycle museum in Canada, which has a nicely presented eclectic display from manufacturers from around the world.
Then went down into the village for a walk around the quay side. Found a suitable overnight park-up in a large carpark between a church hall and a supermarket, alongside several other fifth-wheel rigs, so parked up there for a quiet night. Had a nice promenade around the town and down to the quay later in the cool of the evening which was nice after such a hot day. It seems that this is thing to do here – the whole village was down there doing the same thing – waiting for the sunset – a very nice sight as it went down behind the hills on the other side of the St. Lawrence River.
22 July – Another nice fine start to the day. Continued along on Highway 132 which followed the coastline through many more neat little villages. The St Lawrence is now much more of an estuary and the muddy river waters have been replaced by blue sea water. Passed by Riviere-du-Loup and Rimouski, with a detour down to a small marine park. Outside of Rimouski we made for the Pointe-au-Pere lighthouse. As well as the lighthouse, a Canadian navy submarine decommissioned in 2000 has been setup here for people to go on board, as well as a museum dedicated to the Empress of Ireland sinking which happened in early 1914 with the loss of 1042 lives (only 2 years after the Titanic). This modern ocean liner was hit amidships by a coal steamer in the early hours of the morning in thick fog and sank in just 14 minutes. Around 400 people survived, which in the circumstances was quite remarkable. We were amazed by the number of RV’s at this site and realised that most were set up for staying the night – upon asking we were told that it wasn’t advertised anywhere but it was quite OK to stay. We did the self guided audio tour of the sub – it must take a certain type of person to want to be confined on one of those things for months at a time – space is definitely at a premium and privacy non-existent. Museums all closed at 6pm so it was back to Wanda for wine and chippies with a view of the bay outside our dining room window.
23 July – Started the day with a climb up the lighthouse – this one was discontinued in the 1950’s when automation did away with manual lighthouse keeping. Nice views out over the bay and up and down the coast from the top.
Carried on up the coast, the road hugging the river bank for the most part. Quaint little cottages dotted the side of the road with the odd larger settlement from time to time. Made a short stop at Walmart in Matane to check emails and see what was happening in the world (no English radio stations round here). Still getting through the Saints – I think only two settlements have not been named for a saint. We were expecting that the development would taper off after Matane but not to be so. At Ste. Anne de Monts, turned inland to have a look at the Parc National du Gaspesie. The road climbed a little and soon was into forest. Following the St Anne river every few kilometres were fishing spot signs and the odd parking/picnic spot. Found one at the entrance to the park which didn’t appear to prohibit camping, so parked up for the day. It was a bit like Grand Central station though, what with the amount of vehicles going in and out of the park.
24 July – The knocking on our door at 7.30am wasn’t room service but the Park’s Service informing us that we shouldn’t have parked overnight and didn’t we see the sign – what followed was like a French farce, as he was a bit bemused to find there was no sign and promptly tripped over the kerb in his agitation. But unfortunately we were still considered to be on Park Land so he issued us with an “Infraction Avis” – basically a warning notice. Suitably chastised we finished our breakfast and then started on our way for the day. Made our way back to Ste Anne for some supplies and more internet catchup before continuing on the Gaspe Peninsula road. The road did for a while come to resemble more of what we had thought the Gaspe would be – ie. a remote area. The road stayed on the coast for the most part and after the ribbon development ended, the hills got larger and we were soon travelling with the sea on one side and cliffs on the other. The remoteness didn’t last for more than about 30km before we got back into ribbon development again. The small villages were more modern now and several were working fishing villages. We stopped off for some fresh fish at a poissonerie – got some nice looking turbot and a look at the shrimp boats loading their catch. With a stop for lunch on the roadside overlooking the sea we progressed towards the National Parc Forillon on the very end of the Gaspe Peninsula. Took a short walk to observe the cliffs and all the birds nesting on the sheer edges.
The road took us over to the other side of the Peninsula and then we set about finding a camping spot – this was quite trying as there is just so much development and after a while eventually settled on a turnaround where the paved road ended beyond some houses at St Majorique. The road onward was gravel and an ATV route and also a road to the local fishing spots, judging by the utes with their gear going by. No signs at all this time but not too soon after we had got settled the inevitable string of nosy locals went past. Nice to know that we are providing them with their entertainment for the evening and even better that they think we are crazy Americans!
25 July – No problems during the night apart from the mossies which seem to be able to find their way in with monotonous regularity. Carried on around the coastline through Gaspe and non-stop ribbon development right through to Perce. We stopped in a little rest area overlooking a lovely bay – as well as picnic tables there was an electrical hookup point! We shook the continuous housing for a little while and then the scenery was much more what I imagined we would find. But that didn’t last for long. At Port Daniel we took off inland for a few k’s to see what a Wildlife area might have in store for us. A walk was signposted where we had parked, so we embarked on that and had a pleasant hour walking through mostly forest which followed the bank of the river.
Thought we might like to stay in their campground but the cost was astronomical – $35+tax for an unserviced site – so it was an easy enough decision to carry on. That decision was well rewarded as we found a perfect spot about 20 minutes along the coast – down a steep lane with a turnaround at the end we managed to find a nice level spot right on the water. The Gulf of St Lawrence spreads from left to right as far as we can see – perfectly calm – hard to imagine how rough it can get here but if the tidal marks on the beach are anything to go by it must really kick up sometimes. Unfortunately the beach is too rocky to swim or fish and the big red and mauve jellyfish washed up don’t look like something that you would care to swim with either. As the sun went down the stars all came out along with a myriad of flashing red lights on the horizon – they were in the direction of New Brunswick so maybe they were navigational lights.
26 July – The clear skies of yesterday gave way to quite a murky haze over the bay. I took advantage of the small freshwater stream flowing next to us to give Wanda a bath while Bob did a bit of R&M. Had a steady stream of visitors coming down for a walk on the shore as t was a Saturday morning. Set off towards New Brunswick following the coast – the towns around here do not have the same French feel that they did on the first part of the Gaspe. With a few more accessible beaches in this area it was home to a lot more holiday places and RV camps – if you can call being parked cheek by jowl with a hundred other rigs camping. Stopped off in one town to visit their farmers market but it was 12 noon and they had all but packed up. Left the coast for a while and we could have been back home – rolling hills and farmers fields and the houses looked a lot like home as well. Back we continued down the coast to Pointe-du-Croix which is the border town between Quebec and New Brunswick. Crossed over the river and into a new time zone – Atlantic and almost got Wanda beheaded as we entered town. Absolutely dreadful signage warning of a 3.6m bridge clearance just as we were about to go under it (we are somewhere between 3.7 & 3.8m), so it would not have been pretty! Our target for the night was parking on the waterfront (as directed by the free camping website) – great place – probably 20 other rigs parked here looking out over the bay back to Quebec. Had a walk towards the centre of town before coming across the Information office which was still open so picked up a whole lot of maps and guff for the next part of our adventure. It was a brisk walk back to Wanda as a storm was fast approaching and we made it back just in time. Pushed the boat out and picked up some takeaway fish and chips (that was the second time in 6 months – better watch ourselves!) on the quayside and watched the rain come through. Nice enough, but still haven’t had fish and chips as good as Eric’s in Cambridge though. Main observations to take away from the small part of Quebec that we travelled through – the Catholic influence from the naming of the towns to the huge churches that you see in every settlement (in the US you could tell when you were coming to a settlement by the huge water tower visible in the distance) but here it was the church spires. The people have been really friendly, contrary to what we had been told in Ontario, and quite ready to speak in English if we asked. There were not many Canadian travellers in the region from outside of Quebec and even less from out of Canada – we were certainly a rarity.