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The Lighthouse Trail
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The Lighthouse Trail

“Originally built to warn seafarers of the presence of land, lighthouses now have another purpose: to make land dwellers aware of the sea.” – Vincent Guigneno [free translation]

Did you know that the maritime regions of Québec are home to over 40 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 A few are still operational, but most have been replaced by more modern instrumentation.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 all of them are 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.

Lighthouses in Bas-Saint-Laurent

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 (the oldest in Québec!) 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 several decades. In both cases, you’re sure to be enchanted by the tranquility of your surroundings.

Further east, in the Rimouski area, the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse, a national historic site of Canada, is the second tallest in the country. The more hardy will enjoy climbing the 128 steps that will take you to the top of this white reinforced concrete tower. This is a great place to learn more about navigation as well as how to operate a foghorn.

Lighthouses in Gaspésie

About 200 km (125 mi.) east of Rimouski, where Route 132 runs between sea and mountains, the La Martre Lighthouse rises up on a headland. This lighthouse was a favourite among lightkeepers because, unlike most, it’s located in the heart of the village. While you’re visiting this red wooden sentinel, be sure to discover the permanent exhibition on the development and evolution of lighthouse lanterns since 1700.

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 exhibition 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 vessels: 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. In both cases, you’re invited to soak up all the history these lighthouses have witnessed.

Gaspésie is also home to several other lighthouses that are worth a visit: Matane, Cap-Chat, Cap Madeleine, Cap d'Espoir and Duthie’s Point. Some are opened to the public while others offer interpretive panels. Consult the Lighthouse Trail brochure for more information.

Lighthouses in Côte-Nord

Located on the site of the Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre along the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, the Bon-Désir Lighthouse is right next to one of the best places in Québec to observe whales from the shore.

In Baie-Trinité, you must make a detour to see the Pointe-des-Monts Lighthouse, which is only about 10 km (6 mi.) south of Route 138. The point it is named after juts out into one of the most difficult passages in the St. Lawrence. Imagine all the history this lighthouse has witnessed! Note that you can also spend the night in the lightkeeper’s house, which is now an inn.

Much further east, the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada is home to two lighthouses: Île aux Perroquets and Petite Île au Marteau. Both are named after the islands they are on and both are located on bird-watching sites. Be sure to participate in the interpretive activities on offer to learn more about the history of these islands and the flora and fauna they protect. Looking for unusual accommodations? Spend the night in a light station, in one of the historic buildings found on Île aux Perroquets.

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?

Lighthouses in the Îles de la Madeleine

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 of the 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 guide vessels navigating the waters surrounding the Islands.

For more information:

Author Tanya Paquet

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