The Lighthouse Trail in Québec maritime
“Originally built to warn sailors of the presence of land, lighthouses now have another purpose: to make landsmen aware of the sea.” – Vincent Guigneno
The maritime regions of Québec are dotted with 45 lighthouses. A few are still operational, but most have been replaced by more modern instrumentation.
Witnesses to a rich maritime tradition, these lighthouses, which were once navigational aids, now have a new purpose: to remind us of our past. Each lighthouse has its own personality, history and legends, and every site that is open to the public is worth a visit.
By travelling from one lighthouse to the next, you’ll discover beautiful sites overlooking the sea, many of which were once only accessible to the lightkeepers and their families. The Lighthouse Trail invites you to visit nearly 20 of these sentinels of the sea.
To plan your lighthouse tour, take the time to locate each site on the Lighthouse Trail map, and then inquire at any of the participating lighthouses in Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie to purchase your lighthouse passport (called a passephare in French). You’ll then be ready to embark on an amazing journey! Keep reading to find out more about some of the lighthouses that dot the coasts of Québec maritime.
The Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie and Île Verte lighthouses in Bas-Saint-Laurent are both on islands in the St. Lawrence River and open their doors to guests as an inn and B&B, respectively. Their similarities, however, end there: while the Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie Lighthouse is located in a wild setting on a small island in an archipelago that is also home to many seabirds, the Île Verte Lighthouse stands guard on the north side of an inhabited island whose rural landscapes will give you the impression that you’ve stepped back in time. In both cases, you are sure to be enchanted by the tranquility of your surroundings.
Further east, in the Rimouski sector, the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse, a national historic site of Canada, is the second tallest lighthouse in the country. The more ambitious will enjoy climbing the 128 steps to the top. This is a great place to learn more about navigation as well as how to operate a foghorn.
About 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Rimouski, where Route 132 runs between the sea and the mountains, the La Martre Lighthouse stands tall on its promontory. This lighthouse was a favourite among lightkeepers because, unlike most lighthouses, it’s located in the heart of the village. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet Yves Foucreault, who’s considered the fifth and last La Martre lightkeeper because of his involvement in the preservation of this historic site.
In contrast to the La Martre Lighthouse, the Pointe-à-la-Renommée Lighthouse is located a few kilometres north of Route 132 in a fairly remote setting. However, the site is well worth a visit! An interesting fact about this lighthouse is that it was exiled to Québec City in the 1970s and then returned home in the late 1990s. The site was also where the first maritime radio station was built in North America. Visit the exhibit Marconi and the History of Radio Communications to learn more about the importance of this national historic event.
At the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, where the St. Lawrence widens to become the sea, the Cap-des-Rosiers and Cap-Gaspé lighthouses have seen many passing boats: ships full of immigrants, military convoys, fishing boats and more. Cap-des-Rosiers is the tallest lighthouse in the country, while Cap-Gaspé is located in Forillon National Park of Canada. In both cases, you’re invited to soak up all the history these lighthouses have witnessed.
Located in the heart of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, on the site of the Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre, the Bon-Désir Lighthouse is right next to one of the best places in Québec to observe whales from the shore.
Much further east, the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada is home to two lighthouses. Both are named after the islands they are on and both are located on bird-watching sites: Île aux Perroquets and Petite Île au Marteau. Be sure to participate in the interpretive activities on offer to learn more about each island. (Activities are offered daily on Île aux Perroquets and on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on Petite Île au Marteau.)
In addition, five of the seven lighthouses built on mythical Anticosti Island are still standing, including a few that are still operational. Why not visit the Cap-de-Rabast (Pointe-Nord) Lighthouse, which has been converted into a tourist residence.
Îles de la Madeleine lighthouses
In the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Îles de la Madeleine have seen their fair share of shipwrecks: over 700 ships have been stranded on the shores of this archipelago. Some of the wrecks are still visible reminders of these tragic events. Most lighthouses on the Islands are still operational and some are accessible, but none are open to the public. They continue to enhance the landscape and to indicate the presence of land to those who navigate the waters surrounding the Islands.
- Consult our Lighthouse Trail scenic drive
- Download our new Lighthouse Trail brochure
- Visit www.routedesphares.qc.ca (in French only)
Top photo credit: Île Verte Lighthouse © Pietro Canali