Roaming Around The Gaspé Peninsula
When most RV’ers think about heading to the East Coast of Canada, visions of the Maritimes dance in their head. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. or even Newfoundland are possible destinations. Seldom considered is the other East Coast – the Gaspé Peninsula. Although part of Quebec, the Gaspé offers landscapes, scenery, ocean vistas and attractions rivaling the best found in the Maritimes. That was what my wife Maureen and I discovered during a recent trip through eastern Canada.
The Gaspé Peninsula
The Gaspé is a huge peninsula bounded on the north by the St Lawrence River, on the east by the Gulf of St Lawrence and to the south by the Bay of Chaleur. Around the outside edge of this peninsula ran Quebec Highway 132 – our route of exploration. Even though it was only a two lanes wide in most spots, Highway 132 was in relatively good shape with some pavement breaks and patches. The section along the north coast was the most challenging with numerous twists and turns, accents and descends through rugged, hilly terrain. Grades of up to 18% were not uncommon. By comparison, the rest of the route around the southern coast was more level and less challenging to navigate. As an added bonus, the highway ran along or near the water’s edge for most of its length, providing amazing views of the ocean, the shoreline and quaint costal villages.
Map Of The Gaspé Peninsula: Click Here For Larger View
As an aside, Highway 132 was actually the longest highway in Quebec, beginning way down in the south west corner of the province and ending at the Village of Sainte Flavie after looping around the outside of the Gaspé Peninsula. Perhaps the best way to describe the route’s layout is to visualize the letter “P” on its side. The top loop was the part that goes around the outside of the Gaspé Peninsula and where the loop ended was Sainte Flavie – the start and end point of our Gaspé excursion.
The Adventure Begins
Like so many villages along the route, Sainte Flavie consisted of little more than a large church surrounded by some homes, a few businesses and a restaurant or two.
From Sainte Flavie, Highway 132 headed east along the coast through several more small villages before reaching the port of Matane. Matane was known for it’s shrimp and the many processing plants down along the docks seemed to bear this out. Matane was also our stop for the night. On the western edge of town was a nice RV park named, “Camping Parc Sirois La Baleine”. “La Baleine” translated to “The Whale” in English and had I not remembered that from my high-school French classes, the huge, white, fiberglass “Baleine” outside the park office might have provided a clue. The park was located across the road from a beach and if the weather had been warmer, it would have been temping to go for a dip.
After Matane, the next community of any size was Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the location of a lovely little aquarium called, “Exploramer”. The facility specialized in the research and interpretation of local marine life. In addition to several aquarium tanks showcasing native species, a couple of touch pools allowed visitors could get, “up close and personal” with some local crabs, lobsters and other species of indigenous marine life. The star attraction however, was a beautiful blue lobster, which was apparently extremely rare. As befitted a “star”, this lobster had its own tank and was not touched by anyone.
According to aquarium staff, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts was more or less the dividing line between the St Lawrence River and the Gulf of St Lawrence. It had something to do with the salinity of the water and height of the tides however, I couldn’t see any difference when looking out over the water.
The North Coast
What I did notice was a difference in the landscape. The change was dramatic. Up until Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the land along the coast had been relatively flat. Now, it became quite rugged as the Chic Choc Mountains, which dominated the interior of the peninsula, expanded northward to meet the sea. In many ways the area reminded me of the Cape Breton highlands.
Settlement in this part of the peninsula was relatively sparse. The few villages that were there, were located at the head of a bay or inlet where there was usually a little flat land to build on by the water.
Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis, our destination for the night was a typical example. The village was situated at the head of a large bay encircled by mountains. Most of the community was constructed along a broad curving beach. At the eastern end was a marvellous RV park called, “Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis”. Located on a small plateau about 50 feet above the water, many of the sites – including ours – had incredible views of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Below our site, a rocky beach made a perfect local for beach combing and exploring. Nearby, a small store and restaurant were blessed with commanding vistas of both the bay and the ocean.
The Eastern End Of The Peninsula
We enjoyed our stay at “Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis” so much, we were tempted to remain a little longer however, we were also anxious to see what lay ahead so, bright and early the next morning we were back on the road heading east. The terrain continued mountainous and the views, spectacular. After passing through a few more small villages tucked into bays and coves, we reached the eastern tip of the Gaspé at Cap-des-Rosiers, the home of Canada’s tallest lighthouse (34 meters high).
Nearby, Forillon National Park of Canada offered a variety of land and water based activities plus areas to camp. Much further inland was the larger “Parc national de la Gaspésie” or Gaspé National Park.
Turning south around the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, we soon came to the town of Gaspé. With a population of 15,000+, it was the largest community in the area. We happened to arrive about mid-afternoon and the place seemed to be filled with tourists. Traffic was heavily congested and parking, especially for a truck and trailer was virtually non-existent. Perhaps the cruise ship anchored offshore offered an answer for the crowds. Maybe a farmer’s market or some other event had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, we abandoned our plans to stop and explore. To “keep on truckin'” seemed the wisest course of action.
The Hill Leading Into The Village Of Percé
60 km further south was the Village of Percé, our destination for the night. The approach into the village was down a long, steep hill with a 17% grade. About half way down, amazing views of the famous Percé Rock opened up, which were both delightful and distracting. At the bottom of the hill was the village of Percé; it’s main street, a 50 kph speed limit and a multitude of tourists walking back and forth with little regard for traffic. This was one hill where RV’ers definitely needed to keep their speed down, their focus on the road and their wits about them.
With an abundance of hotels, motels, RV parks, restaurants and souvenir shops, it wasn’t hard to guess what occupied most of the 3000 residents of this small village. While the famous Percé Rock was definitely the main draw, it certainly wasn’t the only item of the menu. Just beyond the famous rock for example, lay Bonaventure Island where 50,000+ nesting pairs of Gannets (a type of sea bird) made their home. Boat tours constantly shuttled tourists out and around both islands.
We were lucky enough to find a site at “Camping Du Village” an RV park just above and behind the village. Not only were we treated to incredible views of Percé Rock from our site, we were also close enough to downtown to be able to walk everywhere.
Our time in Percé passed quickly and we were more than a little gloomy to be leaving. The village had a friendly, welcoming vibe plus, the scenery, activities and attractions had all been marvelous.
The South Coast
Continuing along Highway 132, we rounded the southeastern corner of the Gaspé Peninsula. Once again, the landscape changed. The Chic Choc Mountains receded to the north and the terrain along the coast became flatter. Woodlots, pastures, cultivated fields and dwellings replaced the crags, cliffs and forest-covered hills. The rocky shoreline we had become so used to gave way to numerous sandy beaches.
Rounding the corner of the peninsula also brought us to the Bay of Chaleur, the body of water, which bordered the south coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. Because the bay was relatively shallow, the water tended to be warmer than the Gulf of St Lawrence making those sandy beaches very handy indeed. The south shore of the Gaspé was also much more populated with more communities, larger communities and more people living in-between those communities. The communities themselves were an interesting mix of First Nations, Québécois French, United Empire Loyalists and Acadians.
As this area had been settled for hundreds of years, many of the towns and villages featured historic sites and interesting attractions. At the village of Paspebiac for example, Maureen and I visited the “Site Historique du Banc-De-Paspébiac”, a restored fish processing center turned museum which had been in operation for more than 300 years.
United Empire Loyalist
Just down the road lay the community of New Carlisle. Settled by United Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution, it was the only town on the south coast where English was the principal language. It was also the place where Rene Levesque, founder of the Parti Québécois was raised. How ironic was that? The founder of the political party which made French the only official language of Quebec and almost pulled the province out of Canada was raised in loyalist, English speaking village. I’m guessing the virtues of the English language and loyalty to the crown did not rub off on young Rene. To be fair however, the town’s folk were gracious enough to erect a statue in his honour, commemorating his life and achievements.
The next community past New Carlisle was the village of Bonaventure, site of the “Musée Acadien Du Québec”, a museum and cultural center dedicated to the preservation of the Acadian heritage. In case your Canadian history is a little rusty, the Acadians were French settlers living in the Maritimes who were deported when the English conquered the area in the mid 1700’s. Rather then suffer deportation, many fled north to the Gaspé Region, which was still under French control at the time. While the Acadians share a common language with the people of Quebec, their culture and heritage was vastly different as this museum ably demonstrated.
Carlton-sur-Mer RV Park
It was getting late by the time we reached the village of Carlton-sur-Mer about 20 km further west. Time to find a spot for the night. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon one of the nicest RV parks of our trip. Run by the village of Carlton-sur-Mer, this municipal campground occupied a large sand spit jutting out into Chaleur Bay. The park contained around two hundred large, graveled sites with a variety of services. Many were beside the ocean, just meters away from a beautiful sand beach. We managed to get one of the sea side sites for the night. The view, the beach, the site, the facilities were all fantastic – so much so that we decided to extend our stay. When I returned to the office to make the arrangements however, I discovered the park was fully booked for the next 3 days. It was the Labour Day weekend and I had completely forgotten! Like it or not, we would have to move the following day.
The next day, after leaving the park, we spend some time exploring the village of Carlton-sur-Mer. Besides the usual shops, stores and eateries, the village also boasted a magnificent microbrewery called, “Le Naufrageur”. Translated to English, the name means, “The Wrecker”, which is a type of pirate. Apparently, not all Acadians were peaceful farmers and Chaleur Bay was a popular hangout for local smugglers, buccaneers and freebooters. The microbrewery paid homage to these famous ancestors by not only brewing great beer but by printing their stories, legends and tales on the bottle labels. A brew and a history lesson, all in one – how great was that?
Dalhousie, New Brunswick
Leaving Carlton-sur-Mer, we were in a quandary as to where to stay. Other campgrounds in the area were also full and there were no Wal-Marts within a 100 km. Thanks to my “ALLSTAYS” iPhone app – an app that every RV’er should have – I was able to find a spot at the the Inch-Arran RV Park on the south side of the Bay of Chaleur in the town of Dalhousie, New Brunswick. It too was a municipal park with reasonable rates, also on the water and very well maintained. While the beach wasn’t quite as close, the ocean views were just as spectacular. In addition, there was a snack bar, restaurant, grocery store, and laundry, just steps away. All in all, it was a wonderful place to spend the holiday weekend.
Tuesday morning, we were back on Highway 132 heading north along the Matapédia River. The Matapédia had a reputation for being one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the region as well as a fly-fishing mecca. So popular was the sport here that a museum – “Musée de la Forêt et du Saumon de Sainte-Florence”- in the village of Sainte Florence, Quebec had several exhibits dedicated to the sport. Their prized display was the world’s largest tied fly, as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
We passed through several more small communities before stopping in Mont Joli. This town had achieved some measure of fame in recent years for its murals. Many of the huge works of art depicted various historic milestones from the community’s past. Others appeared to be done by artists who were simply being creative. A brochure was available to help visitors find and view all the art works.
All too soon we were back at the village of Sainte Flavie and the end of Highway 132. Our Gaspé odyssey was over. It had been an amazing journey filled with beautiful vistas, picturesque landscapes, captivating attractions, engaging activities and warm, hospitable people. In short, all the ingredients for a wonderful adventure on a route less travelled that we would not soon forget.