On the banks of the Saint Lawrence river
We had come to the end of the road; or so it seemed. After driving alongside the enormous St Lawrence river for a few hours on a smooth, two-lane highway filled with large trucks and the biggest camper-vans I have ever seen, the road had just stopped at the edge of a bay. The fog that had been shrouding our surroundings suddenly cleared and, lo and behold, a car ferry puttered into view. These free ferries efficiently shuttle vehicles of all sizes, 24 hours a day/7 days a week, back and forth across the Saguenay fjord that cuts the highway in two. On the other side lies the town Tadoussac, and the rest of the highway that continues on for nearly 1000 kilometres all the way to the open Atlantic Ocean. The road beckoned to us once we’d reached the other side, but we did not heed its call, as we were destined to stay in the small town of Tadoussac for the next few nights. Honestly, with a name like that, it’s worth staying there just so you can let the word “Tadoussac” roll off your tongue, Lucky for us, it is more than a one-horse town with nothing but a petrol station to its name; far more, in fact. It is actually very pretty, with good restaurants, and far-reaching coastal views that make you think about dropping your bags and never leaving.
The history of Tadoussac; lost in the mists of time
The history of Tadoussac is fraught with a little violence, as most areas with a long history are prone to have. When the French arrived in the 1500’s, the First Nations people were already using the area as a base for hunting seals. The French established a fur trading post in the area that much later would become the town, and also brokered an alliance with the local people. Over the next seventy-five years or so, the Innu population dropped drastically for reasons that don’t seem to be very well documented. I found speculations about epidemics brought by the Europeans, mention of wars with no details as to who was fighting whom, and just the idea that they vanished because the European settlers monopolized the waters and hunting in the area. I guess, at this point, we will never know for sure.
Why everyone wanted to live in Tadoussac
The English and French squabbled over the area for a while, as Tadoussac made a great base for fishing and whale-hunting, plus the bay is calm and deep which made it easy to moor large ships close to the coast. England took control for a while, then in the 1600’s, the French gained control of the area again after signing a treaty with the English, and founded a town there. In the 1700’s they built the Chapelle-Sainte-Anne that is still standing today, started logging and farming, and settled in for the long haul. Quebec was then handed over to the English again in the 1700’s after the Seven Year War. At that point, the majority of the population were french-speaking and that is how it has stayed until the present day. The area is officially bilingual, but lilting québéçois is definitely the preferred language.
When the whales come
Nowadays, the most violent thing you may experience is being elbowed out of the way while someone tries to get the best seat on a whale-watching boat. More about the whale-watching later. Just so you know, I have a trick for you so that if you go there, you can pay less and see more (don’t tell everyone else!). That secret will be coming up in my next post. For now, I’ll just tell you that because of the St Lawrence river being so deep and wide, and because its water is so bitterly cold, whales of all kinds come in droves. They gulp tonnes of plankton, breed, and generally have a good time in these protected waters; much to the delight of everyone who wants to get up close and personal with them.
How to choose a hotel in Tadoussac
The main part of town is on one street. On it, you have all the cafes and restaurants you need, plus a well-stocked supermarket. The impressive Hotel Tadoussac, built in the 1940’s, that you can see in the photo below is also on the main street. It must be nice to stay in one of their rooms at the front of the hotel that looks directly out across the St Lawrence river. We contented ourselves with looking at the facade of the hotel instead as we had decided on a much more exciting option for our choice of place to stay. The decision was mainly based on the fact that we wanted to light a fire outside to make s’mores, which is a great criteria for deciding where to sleep for a few nights.
It’s all about the s’mores
We roughed it just outside of Tadoussac, in a two-bedroom bungalow in a campground called La Domaine des Dunes. Well, I guess “roughing it” is a big word. It was the glamping kind of roughing it with our own kitchen, terrace with Adirondack chairs to lounge on while drinking aperitifs, and our very own fire-pit. Incidentally, until I visited Canada, I never actually knew what Adirondack chairs were. As far as my knowledge went, they were mysterious seats that people sit on in books I’ve read. Now I know that they are really comfortable outdoor wooden chairs that you don’t want to get out of. I know I could have looked it up, but it’s far more fun to travel to Canada and find out. Apparently, they were made by a guy in the Adirondack Mountains, which are in the north-east of the U.S.A., because he didn’t have any garden furniture and wanted some. Little did he know that they would multiply, migrate all over Canada, and end up sitting at all the best viewpoints in the National Parks and in people’s gardens.
Roughing it in style
They even had washers and dryers for doing laundry, which we badly needed. A word to the wise: the washer is underneath and the dryer is on top. The single money-slot to make them both go is in the middle. Careful which button you press or you may find yourself paying to wash your laundry twice; and once the machine starts, you can’t make it stop. Let’s just call that anecdotal evidence. Oh, and get a small box of laundry powder from the local supermarket rather than from the reception. It’s MUCH cheaper.
The campground is called the Domaine des Dunes because it sits right on the edge of a park with a long beach backed by huge dunes. You can walk down a trail in the forest to get to the beach, or lope straight down the dune, which is infinitely more fun. It has the kind of steepness that can cause your legs to start pinwheeling as though you’re in a Roadrunner cartoon. Slogging back up is a little less fun, but there’s always the zigzagging trail hidden in the trees on the north side of the beach to take you back to the top. Don’t bother bringing your swimsuit here though. The water is so cold that it immediately numbs your feet when you step in ankle-deep. As I wrote above, this is the kind of water that is a paradise for whales and seals to swim around in, but not so alluring for people to jump into.
By Lisa Watson