The Québec maritime Blog
Year after year, the Îles de la Madeleine are a popular destination for visitors looking for a change of pace and scenery. Anchored in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this archipelago features spectacular landscapes that can be enjoyed at any time of the year… because there’s much more to life on the Islands than just the summer months, obviously! Every season has its own beauty, and fishing is ever-present in this region: so much of island life revolves around this industry. Follow me as I give you a brief tour of the Islands over the course of a whole year…
From early May to mid-July: Fishing, fishing and more fishing!
While the school year starts in September, for lobster fishers in the Îles de la Madeleine and many other locals whose jobs are directly or indirectly related to this industry, the year starts in early May with the launching of the lobster boats, an event not to be missed!
Before heading out to sea, it’s customary to eat hearty salt beef stew and attend a fishers’ mass and the blessing of the boats. This is what’s considered required to have the strength and stamina, both physical and spiritual, to work every day, rain or shine, for the next 54 days of the lobster season. Even though it’s obviously better to be on the Islands to experience the launching of the boats in person, you can also watch the event online thanks to La Mer sur un Plateau, which broadcasts it on social media. Even from a distance, you’ll feel the excitement in the air! To taste the first lobster of the season, you’ll have to be on the Islands, but it won’t be long before this delicious crustacean makes its way to the mainland!
Thus, until mid-July, the wharves bustle with life before the sun is even up. The boats set off very early in the morning, returning late in the day to weigh their catch, store it in lobster tanks and bait their traps. Some of those crustaceans will make it into guédilles (lobster rolls), a local specialty you must try during your stay.
During lobster season, I recommend that you do as the locals do and hang out on the wharves. Fresh lobster in the shell, boats humming in the distance in the morning, the weather getting progressively warmer: while lobster fishing is in full swing, summer is slowly arriving on the Islands!
From mid-July to late September: Summer at last!
By mid-July, lobster season is over: the traps are back on land and the fishing boats are now being used as pleasure crafts, while lobster fishers start repairing their traps for the next season. But on the Islands, fishing never really ends! It’s time to go angling for mackerel, which is delicious grilled on the barbecue. It’s also halibut season: one of the largest groundfish in the Atlantic, halibut can weigh up to 300 kg (660 lb)! Some local fishers offer sea excursions to visitors. Summer is also the time to enjoy the Islands’ beautiful beaches and harvest softshell clams by hand, an activity that many of the locals enjoy. You can join in the fun with the Auberge La Salicorne team, which offers clam-fishing excursions. You can also take in a multitude of outdoor concerts, watch kitesurfers on the water and admire dazzling sunsets.
From late September to late November: Berry and duck hunting season
Ah, the beauty of fall colours! What a great time of year to fall in love with the Islands! The boats have been dry-docked for the winter, and you can admire them in the soft fall light. If just about every local goes fishing (by the way, it’s now smelt season!), the same could be said about berry picking. The fall season has much to offer, including lingonberries, cranberries and chokeberries. It’s time to start baking cookies and make jam for the colder months. For many Islanders, it’s also duck hunting season and the occasion for festive get-togethers with friends.
From December to late February: Time for winter fun!
In the winter, storms invite us to gather indoors, sharing meals with family and friends as well as stories and legends that are adapted and embellished with every telling. Tis the season to laugh and have a good time together while the wind blows hard outside. Most Islanders also play a musical instrument and sing, so there’s never a dull moment throughout the winter! When the weather is good, it’s time to head outdoors to make the most of the snow and go cross-country skiing, fatbiking, snowshoeing, etc.
In March and April: Seal watching and the beginning of spring
In early March, the migration of harp seals to the ice surrounding the Islands marks the beginning of the seal hunt, one of the archipelago’s oldest traditions. (Find out more by visiting the Seal Interpretation Center.) Note, however, that hunting whitecoats (seal pups) has been prohibited for decades. One of the most memorable experiences to be had in the Islands at this time of year is a helicopter excursion with Château Madelinot, during which you can observe these amazing white creatures.
In March, you can also participate in the Mid-Lent celebrations in Fatima, a colourful and unique event. Accompanied by musicians playing fiddles, accordions and guitars, the locals visit each other dressed up in masks and costumes. It’s a lot of fun!
In April, boats set off to go fishing for snow crab, another local delicacy. At this time of year, lobster fishers are also making the last repairs to their traps, painting buoys and putting their boats back in the water to get ready for the year to start all over again…!
A year in the Îles de la Madeleine is a lot of emotions, festivities, flavours and colours… During these 12 months, many Islanders also spend a few weeks on the mainland, so they can remember, upon their return, how beautiful the Islands are, no matter the season. Let’s bet that you’ll feel the same way once you set foot on the archipelago!
Many thanks to Normand Déraspe, a fisherman from Grande-Entrée, for his contributions to this blog post.