The Québec maritime Blog

Quench Your Thirst for Knowledge in Our Museums and Interpretation Sites
  • Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site
    Mathieu Dupuis

Quench Your Thirst for Knowledge in Our Museums and Interpretation Sites

Contemporary art, history, maritime heritage, natural sciences, industrial heritage… Whatever your interests, you’ll find many museums and interpretation sites in Eastern Québec that will quench your thirst for knowledge. Here are a few worth visiting.

Regional museums: Art, history and science

Recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in Québec, Kamouraska, in Bas-Saint-Laurent, is the heart of a picturesque area that was colonized as early as the late 17th century and was the first resort destination in North America. The Musée régional de Kamouraska showcases the agricultural and maritime heritage of this area with the help of interpreters dressed in period costume, as well as its unique geology, which is characterized by monadnocks.

In Gaspé, the Musée de la Gaspésie is the best place to discover the history of the region. Aside from the permanent exhibition entitled Gaspésie… A Grand Journey, the museum presents many temporary exhibitions showcasing the history, art, heritage and culture of Gaspésie. After your visit, have a look at the Jacques Cartier Monument located on the museum grounds, which commemorates the arrival of the French explorer in Gaspé Bay.

Lighthouses and maritime heritage

History buffs will enjoy visiting the Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site near Rimouski, in Bas-Saint-Laurent. Besides the lighthouse, which was built in 1909 and is one of the tallest in Canada, the site features a museum dedicated to the sinking of the Empress of Ireland off Pointe-au-Père on May 29, 1914. Don’t miss this opportunity to also visit the Onondaga, a 90-metre (300-foot) submarine, which offers a 45-minute audio-guided tour that simulates going out to sea off Rimouski.

Among the many interesting aspects of the region’s maritime history, did you know that an important battle between France and England for possession of the North American continent happened in Gaspésie? The naval battle, called the Battle of the Restigouche, took place on July 8, 1760. The French were defeated, sealing the fate of New France. The Battle of the Restigouche National Historic Site presents a fascinating exhibition that includes the vestiges of a French frigate recovered from the bottom of Chaleur Bay.

In the more recent past, North America’s first maritime radio station was built in 1904 by Marconi in Pointe-à-la-Renommée (Fame Point), in Gaspésie. Offering two exhibitions, the Pointe-à-la-Renommée Historic Site presents the lives of radio operators as well as lightkeepers and their families. An interesting fact: the lighthouse spent 20 years in exile in the Port of Québec City before being returned to its original site.

Cultural mosaic and history

First Nations peoples have lived in our regions for thousands of years. Côte-Nord boasts many recognized archeological sites, making it one of the most studied regions of Québec. Be sure to stop at the Centre Archéo-Topo, in Les Bergeronnes, for an introduction to Indigenous archaeology and prehistory or to deepen your knowledge on these subjects. The digs carried out on this site have revealed evidence of coastal inhabitation dating back some 8000 years.

When Europeans arrived in the 16th century, Gaspésie was home to the Mi’gmaq First Nation. Located on the north side of Gaspé Bay, the Micmac Interpretation Site of Gespeg will introduce you to the customs and way of life of this Nation with a faithful reconstruction of a 17th-century traditional village and summer camp.

Trading posts were the centre of economic life in the colony. In Côte-Nord, you can visit the Chauvin Trading Post in Tadoussac, a replica of Canada’s first fur-trading post, established in 1600 by Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit. The replica of the original building was built in 1942 according to the dimensions noted by Champlain, the father of New France. You can also visit the Old Trading Post in Sept-Îles, an interpretation site that recreates daily life in a 19th-century fur-trading post by showcasing the meeting between the Innu and Euro-Canadian cultures over time.

In Gaspésie, the Birthplace of Canada is centred around a reconstruction of the heart of the village of Gaspé as it was in 1900. You can wander from building to building, including a warehouse, tavern, residence and navy base, to learn more about people’s lives at that time through interpretation areas, artefacts and historical re-enactments. If you’re a fan of such reconstructions, don’t miss the Banc-de-Pêche-de-Paspébiac Historic Site in Paspébiac, which take you back to the 18th and 19th centuries when the fishing industry in Gaspésie was controlled by two large companies, Robin and Le Boutillier. Watch interpreters demonstrate traditional tasks and explore the 11 period buildings, including the largest wooden structure in North America, built between 1838 and 1840.

Speaking of the two major companies that reigned over the Gaspésie region, the Magasin Général Historique Authentique 1928, located in L’Anse-à-Beaufils, is an old Robin, Jones and Whitman general store. When you walk in, you’ll be instantly plunged into the early 20th century during a lively tour led by costumed interpreters who will share many colourful (and true!) local stories. In L’Anse-au-Griffon, on the north side of the Gaspé Peninsula, you can visit the Manoir Le Boutillier National Historic Site of Canada. This mansion was originally owned by John Le Boutillier, a major cod exporter, who used it as a residence and office. The many artefacts as well as the interpreters’ explanations will take you back to the 19th century, at the height of the cod fishery in this area.

While you’re in the Paspébiac and Bonaventure areas, you might notice that the locals have a slightly different accent. That’s because of the Acadian origins of a large part of the population in the Chaleur Bay area. It’s not surprising then that Bonaventure is home to the Musée Acadien du Québec, which tells the story of the Acadians in the province and offers many cultural and educational activities to introduce you to their rich heritage.

In the Îles de la Madeleine, several museums showcase interesting chapters of local history. For example, you can visit the Entry Island Museum, which offers a unique glimpse into the history of this island known as the “pearl at the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence”; the Veterans Museum, which honours the brave men and women from the Islands who fought in the Second World War; and the Little Red School House, which presents the history of the Islands’ English-speaking community. You’ll know nearly all there is to know about the Islands by the time your vacation here is over!

Located at the border of Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie, the Reford Gardens are some of the largest gardens in North America. History buffs will be interested in the exhibition found in Estevan Lodge, which paints a fascinating picture of the daily life of the gardens’ creator, Elsie Reford, her family and their employees and also gives you a different perspective on these beautiful gardens that bring together some 3000 plant species and varieties, including the famous Himalayan blue poppy.

Natural history

The maritime regions of Québec feature unique geology and very varied ecosystems. The Percé UNESCO Global Geopark invites you to step back 500 million years with Tektonik, an interactive multimedia adventure that showcases the fascinating geological history of Gaspésie. You can also go back in time all the way to prehistory at Parc national de Miguasha, which is on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List for its unusually well-preserved fossils. The museum’s permanent exhibition presents some of the most beautiful fossil specimens in Québec, dating from 380 million years ago. Have a look at the fossil-rich cliff by following the 3.5-km (2-mi.) “Evolution of Life” trail.

If you’re more interested in biology than geology, visit the Bioparc de la Gaspésie to discover about 40 animal species and 70 plant species indigenous to the region. Children will remember their visit to the petting farm for a long time! Visitors of all ages will be impressed by the Bioparc’s collection of living and preserved insects. Extend your stay by spending the night in a cottage on site and enjoy the various interpretive activities held at night.

In Côte-Nord, be sure to visit Grande Basque Island, in the Sept Îles Archipelago, to appreciate the beauty of local geography, wildlife and plants, and unravel the mysteries of the marine environment during interpretive activities with a naturalist guide. Further west, Parc Nature de Pointe-aux-Outardes is located in a unique setting: a sandy point that juts out into the sea between two legendary rivers, the Manicouagan and the Outardes. The site also stands out for its biodiversity, as nine distinct ecosystems are found within the park’s boundaries. Visiting this nature park is a real feast for the senses!

ECONOMUSÉE® Network

Most people have heard of maple syrup and other maple products, but how much do you know about how they’re made? The First Nations people tapped sugar maple trees long before the arrival of Europeans. A member of the Artisans at Work ECONOMUSÉE® Network, Domaine Acer, in Auclair, in Bas-Saint-Laurent, takes this art to a whole new level by making alcoholic beverages from maple sap using processes they invented. During a guided tour of the facilities, you’ll learn why maple trees produce sap as well as some of the secrets behind the delicious Domaine Acer products, which you can taste and buy on site.   

Other members of this network in our regions open their doors to you to introduce you to the traditional processes involved in making cheese, soap, chocolate and more.

Marine sciences

The sea is also ever-present in the maritime regions of Québec. Your vacation here is the perfect opportunity to deepen your knowledge of marine environments. To unravel many of the sea’s best-kept secrets, Exploramer, in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, in Gaspésie, presents six exhibitions as well as a treasure hunt for children. If you’re a fan of hands-on activities, dip your fingers into their touch pools to handle live shellfish, crustaceans and echinoderms.

On the other side of the St. Lawrence, in Côte-Nord, you’ll find four interpretation centres on marine mammals and their environment. Starting from the west, the first is the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM) in Tadoussac, which provides an excellent introduction to whales or the perfect complement to a whale-watching excursion. Discover the marine mammals found in the St. Lawrence through unique videos, a skeleton collection and the expertise of the centre’s scientists. Further east is Explos-Nature, in Les Bergeronnes, which offers activities, internships and camps to explore the wonders of marine life in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay Fjord through interpretive activities in the field and lab analyses. You’ll learn a lot while having fun! A little past Les Bergeronnes, the Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre invites you to discover whales and presents an exhibition on the history of the lightkeepers who lived at the Cap-de-Bon-Désir Lighthouse. Finally, the Marine Environment Discovery Centre, in Les Escoumins, offers a permanent exhibition as well as a unique activity, the “St. Lawrence Live” (offered in French, but you are welcome to ask questions in English). Watch divers in real time on a big screen as they explore underwater near the centre. Equipped with a special mask, they can interact with you and answer all your questions!

Electric power generation

Electric power generation has been—and still is—an important part of the history and economic development of Québec, and our regions have seen major projects over the years. If you don’t know much about this industry, a good place to start is a tour of the Manic-2 and Manic-5 hydroelectric dams in Côte-Nord. The Jean-Lesage Dam (Manic-2), one of the world’s largest hollow-joint gravity dams, and the Daniel-Johnson Dam (Manic-5), the world’s largest multiple-arch-and-buttress dam, will impress you with their size.

Still in Côte-Nord, a unique experience awaits you at the Romaine-1 generating station in Havre-Saint-Pierre. Visit three of the station’s levels, walk under a penstock and witness the power of water used to generate electricity. You can also visit an old hydroelectric power plant that’s been restored and is producing electricity again in Parc des Chutes in Rivière-du-Loup, in Bas-Saint-Laurent.

As you can see, our museums, historic sites and interpretation centres have much to teach you about the natural and cultural realities of our regions while entertaining you at the same time! And that’s not including all the activities and events offered in our national parks… All these sites are definitely worth visiting to give a whole other dimension to your vacation in the maritime regions of Québec!

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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