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The St. Lawrence: A Source of Traditions in Eastern Québec
  • Lobster Fishing
    Mathieu Dupuis

The St. Lawrence: A Source of Traditions in Eastern Québec

From the estuary to the gulf, the St. Lawrence shapes the lives of those who live in Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord and the Îles de la Madeleine. The sea is in their blood, inspiring their love of seafood, wide-open spaces and creative expression. It nourishes the spirits of fishermen, artisans and artists; inspires ancestral traditions; and draws everyone outdoors to enjoy the legendary beauty of this vast territory also known as Québec by the Sea. Here are some of the traditions inspired by this mighty waterway.

Coastal experiences

Those who live near the St. Lawrence never get tired of it! There is no end to the joys of admiring the water (especially at sunrise and sunset), listening to the sounds of the waves, watching boats coming into port, or fishing from a wharf… The magnificent Promenade de la Mer, a seaside boardwalk in Rimouski (Bas-Saint-Laurent), is a fine example of a place where locals and visitors alike come together to soak up the beauty of the estuary and watch the tides change (which you can follow in real time on two lit-up tide towers along the boardwalk).

The many lighthouses found along the coast, including Île Verte (Bas-Saint-Laurent), Pointe-à-la-Renommée (Gaspésie), Pointe-au-Père (Bas-Saint-Laurent) and Pointe-des-Monts (Côte-Nord), tell the stories of the lives of the lightkeepers, sailors, and shipwreck victims and survivors who are part of the great history of the maritime regions of Québec.

One local tradition inspired by the St. Lawrence is the Sentier de la Bouette (Mud Trail) event on Île Verte. In the past, the island’s residents used to walk across the mud to the mainland (L’Isle-Verte) at low tide to transport materials back to the island. Since 1989, hundreds of people have followed in their footsteps on a day in August during this annual public event.

Keep in mind that the weather can change suddenly along the coast. The temperature can drop unexpectedly (or the wind can rise), so it’s best to pack an extra layer even in the summer to make sure you’re warm enough to enjoy the fresh sea air!

Fishing past and present

A centuries-old tradition, fishing is still an economic mainstay in the regions of Eastern Québec. To see for yourself, watch the first crab fishing boats return to the port of Sept-Îles or Rimouski in the spring and be one of the first to taste fresh snow crab at Easter! A few weeks later, lobster season begins. The day the traps are first put into the water is marked by colourful celebrations in both Gaspésie and the Îles de la Madeleine.

Other popular seafood products, often rooted in local traditions, include northern shrimp from Matane, scallops from Blanc-Sablon, sea urchins from Havre-Saint-Pierre, and mussels and oysters from the Îles de la Madeleine. Cod is a huge part of Gaspésie culture as is seal on the Islands. As for the capelin that roll onto the beaches of Côte-Nord every spring, they offer the opportunity for a truly miraculous fishing experience, which is also cause for celebration!

Smoking fish is another long-standing tradition in Eastern Québec. Old smokehouses are still found throughout these regions, and smoked fish can be purchased in several locations including Pêcheries Ouellet in Kamouraska and the Marché des 3 Fumoirs in L’Isle-Verte (both in Bas-Saint-Laurent) as well as Le Fumoir d’Antan (Îles de la Madeleine), which is also a smokehouse economuseum.

Maritime artists and artisans

Many artists and artisans are strongly influenced by the proximity of the estuary or gulf. They paint the St. Lawrence, take photos, sculpt boats, etc. They collect sand, driftwood, shells and algae to make works of art, jewellery or handmade soaps, which they then sell in their boutiques and studios.

The people who make their homes in the maritime regions of Québec have always been storytelling and music lovers, and they continue the tradition of sharing their talents around bonfires on the beach or during the many local festivals, such as the “Concerts aux Îles du Bic” Chamber Music Festival, the Rimouski Festi Jazz International and Les Grandes Fêtes TELUS (in Bas-Saint-Laurent); Festival Musique du Bout du Monde in Gaspé and the Petite-Vallée Song Festival (in Gaspésie); the Tadoussac Song Festival and Innucadie Storytelling and Legends Festival in Natashquan (in Côte-Nord); as well as La Mer sur un Plateau (Îles de la Madeleine), which pays tribute to the maritime heritage of the Islands.

Two summer events even celebrate sand: the Islands’ sandcastle contest (Îles de la Madeleine) and the sand sculpture contest in Sainte-Luce (Bas-Saint-Laurent)!

The inhabited lands bordering the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence are thus steeped in maritime traditions, but the people who keep these traditions alive know that they are not a thing of the past: they are so deeply rooted in the maritime regions of Québec that they will continue to imbue daily life with meaning and beauty for years to come.

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Author Anne Pélouas

Anne Pélouas, a native of France, has been a journalist in Québec for over three decades. She was the Canadian correspondent for the prestigious French daily newspaper Le Monde for 20 years, while also working as a freelance journalist specializing in tourism, the outdoors and the art of living for Québec publications, a niche she maintains with passion. She has travelled throughout the maritime regions of Québec and continues to be enchanted by the landscapes found here as well as by her memorable encounters and the unusual activities on offer, all of which provide rich fodder for her stories.

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