The Québec maritime Blog

Seaside Historic and Heritage Sites Worth Visiting
  • Forillon National Park
    Mathieu Dupuis

Seaside Historic and Heritage Sites Worth Visiting

Fishing, navigation, historic battles, the fur trade… The maritime regions of Québec boast a rich history and natural heritage that are directly linked to the St. Lawrence. Many historic and heritage sites located in the coastal areas of the maritime regions of Québec recount different chapters of this history. Here are a few sites to add to your itinerary!

Fishing history

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the fishing industry in the Gaspésie region was dominated by two companies from Jersey Island: Charles Robin & Company and LeBoutillier Brothers. The Banc-de-Pêche-de-Paspébiac Historic Site is the perfect place to learn about this history and about the daily lives of fishermen and fishing station workers at that time. There are 11 buildings on site, including the largest wooden structure in North America. During the 19th century, Manoir Le Boutillier, in L’Anse-au-Griffon, served as an office for the company run by John LeBoutillier, an influential businessman and political figure. Visit this national historic site to discover various aspects of this man, his company and his era.

Within the boundaries of Forillon National Park is Grande-Grave, an abandoned village that once had a population of 400 in the second half of the 19th century. Most of these people worked for Jersey companies as fishermen and then dried and salted cod to make the famous “Gaspé Cure,” which was exported to Italy, Spain and the West Indies. Historical buildings, like the Blanchette house and the Hyman & Sons general store, as well as interpretive guides and exhibitions show you what daily life was like in this seaside community some 150 years ago.

The L’Anse-à-Beaufils area, south of the town of Percé, also highlights its fishing heritage. La Vieille Usine, which includes a theatre, art gallery and restaurant, is located in a former cod-processing facility on the wharf. Just a few steps away is the Magasin Général Historique Authentique 1928, where interpreters in period costumes recreate the ambience of a local general store in the early 20th century.

The only heritage site on the Îles de la Madeleine, La Grave has been a fishing hub in the archipelago for a long time. Breton fishermen came to the area as early as the 16th century, but the area really developed when the Acadians settled here after the 1755 deportation. The interesting Musée de la Mer, located in the heart of this dynamic area, take you on a journey through the past with artefacts and exhibitions displaying various aspects of the Islanders’ lives through time. After your visit, explore at a leisurely pace the many stores, artisans’ workshops, restaurants and coffee shops nearby, most of which are located in old wooden buildings full of character.

Lighthouses

Every maritime region boasts a number of lighthouses, which witnessed coastal navigation as well as regional history and development. There are about 20 lighthouses open to visitors in our regions, including the Île Verte Lighthouse, which was built in 1809 and is the oldest lighthouse on the St. Lawrence. You can spend the night in one of the lightkeepers’ houses to really immerse yourself in the special atmosphere and quietness of the island. Further downstream, the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse is the second-tallest in Canada, at 33 metres (108 feet) high. Sign up for a guided tour and climb the 128 stairs to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the shoreline.

In Gaspésie, stop at the Pointe-à-la-Renommée Historic Site where you will find a lighthouse with a very distinctive feature: it’s the most travelled lighthouse in the world! It was moved to the port of Québec City and brought back to its original location 20 years later. There are exhibitions on site about the life of lightkeepers and the history of North America’s first maritime radio station, installed here in 1904.

Are you interested in visiting more lighthouses? Have a look at the Lighthouse Trail for a full list of the sentinels of the sea that are accessible to the public!

Historic moments

The fur trade marked the beginning of the history of New France. The first trading post was established in today’s Côte-Nord region, in Tadoussac, at the mouth of the Saguenay River, by Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit in 1600. Located in a replica of the original structure built from the plans drawn by Champlain, the Chauvin Trading Post brings you back to the very beginning of the colony and highlights exchanges between First Nations people and French traders at that time.

In 1760, France sent a fleet to New France in the hope of saving its colony following its defeat in Québec City in September 1759. Upon learning that British ships were coming their way, the French captain decided to head up Chaleur Bay, in the Gaspésie region, and position his troops on the banks of the Restigouche River, which is where the British caught up with them. A battle took place that sealed the fate of France in North America. This page of history is told at the Battle of the Restigouche National Historic Site, which exhibits the vestiges of an 18th-century French frigate found at the bottom of the bay right in front of the site.

In Gaspé, the Birthplace of Canada site is a representation of the heart of the village in 1900. Each one of the reconstructed buildings includes an interpretation area and interpretive panels. From June to September, guides in period costume entertain visitors of all ages. You may also be able to watch one of the various shows happening on site throughout the summer.

Natural heritage

Our natural heritage is also in evidence in our regions. The Percé UNESCO Global Geopark invites you to discover 500 million years of the Earth’s history through a one-of-a-kind multimedia exhibition and 26 geosites spread out around Percé, including a crevice, a cave, a bottomless hole and a magical forest. Download the map of trails and geosites (in French only) to plan your hikes in this area and explore these sites.

Are you interested in fossils? Then you’ll be fascinated by Parc national de Miguasha where you can see the only complete specimen of Elpistostege watsoni ever found on the planet. Learn why this 380-million-year-old fish fossil could represent the missing link between fish and tetrapods. You can also participate in a guided activity to discover the secrets of the fossil-rich cliff, which is on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

A series of 15 gardens with some 3000 species and varieties of plants, including the famous Himalayan blue poppy, and recognized as one of the largest gardens in North America. That could summarize the Reford Gardens, created by Elsie Reford between 1926 and 1958. Come and admire their wonderful display of colours in a lovely setting along the St. Lawrence.

Have these sites piqued your curiosity? Keep in mind that this is only a sample of the many similar sites you can find throughout our maritime regions to learn about our history. Take the time to explore them during your stay!

Author Jean-Pascal Côté

A certified translator and avid outdoorsman, Jean-Pascal Côté works as a freelance writer and translator in Bas-Saint-Laurent, the region where he was born. He regularly escapes his daily life by going road biking, cycle touring or cyclocross racing, skiing in the mountains of Bas-Saint-Laurent or Western Canada, or sea kayaking on the St. Lawrence River. He is constantly dreaming up new travel plans. He also blogs (on an admittedly irregular basis) about his cycle touring adventures.

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