Quebec North Shore
Text and photos by Canadian wildlife photographers M.-F. and D. Rivard
The road from Tadoussac to Kegashka on the Quebec North Shore offers breathtaking scenery on the Saint-Lawrence. In August 2016, we visited the region with the goal of reaching “the end of road”, i.e. the end of highway 138 in Kegashka. This is as far as you can go by car along the north shore. The distance between Tadoussac and Kegashka is 844 km and the itinerary brings you through Baie Comeau, Sept-Iles, Havre-Saint-Pierre and Natashquan where Gilles Vigneault was born. The 138 between Tadoussac and Natashquan is called “La Route des Baleines” as the road brings you along the "Saguenay - Saint-Lawrence Marine Park" and the Mingan Archipelago National Park reserve of Canada, which are key areas for whales.
While you can join whale watching tours in Tadoussac, we opted to go to Cap-de-Bon-Désir in Les Bergeronnes where whales and seals can be seen from shore. Thirteen species of whales have been reported at the Interpretation and Observation Centre of Cap-de-Bon-Désir managed by Parks Canada. We saw only a few but the view on the Estuary is unique. The North Shore of Quebec is well known for its powerful rivers, which led to many hydroelectric projects, some of which being still in development. As you approach the Mingan Archipelago, Rivière-au-Tonnerre (“Thunder River”) is a good example of such rivers with its spectacular falls.
Cap-de-Bon-Désir on the North Shore of the Saint-Lawrence River in Quebec is a place where visitors can watch whales from shore.
We set base at Havre-Saint-Pierre for a few days with the aim of visiting the Mingan Archipelago. L’Ile-aux-Perroquets is well known for its population of Atlantic puffins and common mures which nest on the island in early summer. We were a bit late in the season for them to be present in number but there were still a few puffins feeding around the island. The lighthouse and surrounding buildings are key attractions.
A nearby island, also reached by boat from Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, is “Ile Nue de Mingan” which offers spectacular monoliths of stratified limestone. This island, which is know for its rock formations, is also part of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada. Many shorebirds stop here during their migration and, indeed, we saw the whimbrel, ruddy turnstone, semipalmated plover, semipalmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, dowitcher, as well as the lesser and greater yellowlegs during our short visit. Northern gannets were still around flying in the distance on this foggy day.
From Havre Saint-Pierre, we took another tour to continue our visit of the Mingan Archipelago with “Ile Quarry” and “Ile Niapiskau”. It was rainy on that day but the narratives from Parks Canada guides were sufficient to warm the visitors. Ile Niapiskau is well known for its monoliths whose shapes and forms have been associated with people and animals.
As you move beyond Havre Saint-Pierre, the vegetation becomes more typical of the northern tundra. Les Galets de Natashquan are a landmark for this area of the Quebec North Shore. Les Galets are small storage sheds that were used to store fishing and boat and fishing gears when cod fishing was a key activity in the village. Les Galets de Natashquan are classified as cultural heritage by the Quebec government.
It was not the best time of the year for bird watching but we were impressed by the variety of shore birds in the area. Nevertheless, we saw about 65 species of birds during our tour of the Quebec North Shore. For bird watching, “Parc Nature de Pointe-aux-Outardes” offers well designed nature trails covering a variety of habitats. For us, this is a place to return to during the spring migration of birds in late May-early June or during the fall for the migration of raptors. Migration fallouts, which are associated with good sightings for bird watchers (see our article Warblers at their Best), are known to occur there during the spring migration. Such fallouts typically occur when weather conditions over a large body of water are such that migrating birds have to stop to the nearest landmark to take shelter and rest. While we were off season to observe such phenomenon, the geography of the area is certainly consistent with the occurrence of fallouts.
We came back by the same route to Godbout where we took the ferry across the Saint-Lawrence River to Matane. The crossing, which takes about 2 hours (55 km), provides an opportunity to have a last look at the North Shore and to experience the vastness of the Saint-Lawrence Estuary before it widens even more (past Pointe des Monts) to become the Golfe of the Saint-Lawrence.