The first inhabitants of Havre-Saint-Pierre came from the Iles de la Madeleine in the nineteenth century. Six families of fishermen founded the town in 1867. In 1948, many of the fishermen changed their vocation to mining when one of the largest ilmenite (titanium) mines in the world opened. Residents proudly claim that titanium from Havre-Saint-Pierre was first used in the NASA rockets of the 1960s, linking the town to the moon before it was linked to the rest of Canada. The town still seems to be a little reluctant to be a part of Canada. We didn't see any Canadian flags in the town, just those of Quebec and Acadia. Even the street signs of the town feature the Acadian flag. Guess it's a little like those in the Old South who still fly the Confederate flag. I'll have to admit that this trip has given me a new appreciation of why some Quebecois would like to be independent of Canada and the Commonwealth, especially given the way Britain treated their Acadian ancestors.
Today's residents speak a French dialect more similar to Acadian French than to Quebec French. About 30,000 visitors each year make their way to the nearby Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, over 40 limestone islands of various sizes and 1,000 granite islets sprinkled along 152 km (70+ miles) of coast line. Tour boats from Havre-Saint-Pierre make the short trip (about 15-30 minutes, depending which islands) to take visitors over to the islands, and the Canadian Park Service has on-site guides who provide tours. A visit to Mingan was the primary reason for our stopover in Havre-Saint-Pierre.
Le Boreal had three tours--a walking tour of the town, a visit to one of the Mingan islands, or a visit to two of the islands. I chose the longer tour, even though the excursion started at 7:15 am.
The day was sunny and calm, perfect for a small boat ride (about 50 of us in 3 groups) to the first island L'ile Niapiskau, which is known for its many limestone monoliths. Our Anglophone group was only seven, spoiling us even more from large tours, and we had an excellent guide. She was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the geology of the island. The monoliths reminded me a little of those I saw at the Hopewell Rocks (also called the flowerpot rocks) of the Bay of Fundy. However, some of the monoliths were inland on the island, which supports the formation of the island rising from the sea bed. Great photo opporunity, and a local poet (now dead) Roland Jomphe named many of the formations, labeling them because of their shape. These names have stuck--e.g. Madame de Niapiskau, President Nixon, whale, eagle, etc.
We walked around the island for about an hour on the wooden walkways. It was a beautiful, eerie place with all the huge rocks, but most of the trail was a wooden walkway, which made walking easier. Soon it was time to visit another island in the Mingan Archipelago--Quarry Island.