I have loved looking at maps my entire life. Before I realized that travel overseas was affordable and possible, I used to stare at a map of North America and dream of visiting all the furthest parts of the continent. One part of the map, looming in the upper right hand corner, always fascinated me for some reason. It was the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec in eastern Canada. Maybe it was the interesting shape, or the fact that it was surrounded by water, or just the exotic name, but the Gaspe was high on my list of places to visit in North America ever since I was a child. I was fortunate to finally get a chance to tour the Gaspe in 1998, and it matched my dreams well.
Many cruise ships visit Atlantic Canada, sailing from New York or Boston to the Atlantic provinces and down the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec City or Montreal. These ships mainly sail in the summer or fall, and make for an easy getaway from the metropolitan areas of eastern Canada, the mid-Atlantic or New England states. You could also tour the Gaspe by car as an "add-on" to a cruise that ends in Montreal or Quebec City. Alternatively, there is a train between Montreal and the town of Gaspé. If you enjoy the beauty of nature, and are enthralled by wildlife, you might want to consider a trip to the Gaspe.
On a map, the Gaspe looks somewhat like the prow of a ship, the head of an exotic animal, or a smallish Florida rotated 90 degrees. The coast road encircles the peninsula, passing over rolling hills, and taking you through tiny coastal fishing communities with whimsical names that seem to cling to the shoreline. Sheer cliffs, worn away by the water and the wind, tower over the highway. The interior of the peninsula is dominated by the Chic-Choc mountains, and is home to moose, caribou, deer and plant life on the mountain tops normally found only further north.
History of the Gaspe
The Micmac Indians have lived in the Gaspé for over 2500 years, and the name Gaspe probably comes from a Micmac word meaning "land's end". Vikings, Basques, and Portuguese fisherman explored the area long before Jacques Cartier landed on the Gaspe in 1534, but settlers did not start to arrive until the late 18th century. The Acadians settled Bonaventure after being displaced by the British from New Brunswick. Many of the other early settlers were Loyalists to the King of England who fled America after the American revolution. Today the peninsula has an interesting multicultural mix of ethnic groups and nationalities.
Geographically, the Gaspe is one of the oldest land masses on the earth. The interior is covered with a vast, mainly uninhabited forest. Four major parks over a total of 2292 square kilometers (885 square miles). Most of the few hundred thousand residents live in small towns and villages along the sea or the St. Lawrence River. Today fishing, forestry, and tourism are the primary industries.
Perce and Bonaventure
One of the most famous sites in the Gaspe region of Quebec, Canada is the huge rock off the town of Gaspe that was "pierced" by the sea eons ago. The picture on the right was taken of the rock sitting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from Bonaventure Island. This island is great for hiking, and is famous for being the summer home of the largest colony of gannets in the world. Check out my pictures from Atlantic Canada and you will see the gannets for yourself.
The town of Perce and Bonaventure Island lie at the eastern end of the Gaspe, overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Perce Rock dominates the village, and it is quite a tourist attraction. The monolith lies just offshore, and at low tide you can walk out to it. The rock is 510 meters long, 100 meters wide, and 70 meters high (or 1670 by 330 by 230 feet). It is named Perce because the sea "pierced" holes in it to form huge archways. At one time, there were reportedly 4 such arches, but now there is only one large one of about 30 meters (100 feet). Tour boats will take you around the island and onto Bonaventure. You can easily do Perce and Bonaventure in half a day or less.
We found Bonaventure Island to be wonderfully fascinating. The tour boat first circled the island. We couldn't believe the number of birds! Over 200 thousand birds nest on the windswept island each year, including the world's largest colony of gannets at over 50 thousand strong. The boat then docked and we were free to explore the small island. We hiked around the island to the gannet colony. When you are standing near all of these birds, you can't help but remember Alfred Hitchcock's movie, "The Birds". It was a LITTLE creepy. I kept thinking that any moment I was going to be like poor Tippi Hedren was in the movie--attacked! Along with all of the birds, the island was dotted with beautiful wildflowers, mosses, and mushrooms.
Page 2 > > More from Quebec and the St. Lawrence Seaway > >