Oui. Québec is unquestionably French. And the Frenchness is palpable in the air as soon as you enter the province. All signage is now in French, and you almost never hear English spoken, unless it’s by another American.
In 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier landed in what are now Québec City and Montréal, but it was Samuel de Champlain who first recorded the word kebec (an Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows”) when he founded a settlement at what is now Québec City in 1608.
The region had been fully settled and controlled by various Aboriginal groups, including the Mohawks, the Cree, and the Innu, and the Inuit, formerly referred to as Eskimos, in the remote far north. And all of these “First Nation” groups are still resident today in the province.
Although originally settled by the French, Québec was held by the British for decades after the final battle for Québec City in 1759. It became a province in 1867 after Canada’s colonies joined together as a confederation. But this area has always retained its strong French roots.
After a strong nationalist movement gained momentum in the 1960s, the pro-independence Parti Québécois came to power in 1968. Since that time two referendums on separating Québec from Canada have been voted down, but the movement remains, with the Parti Québécois currently in power.
But a small victory was won in the 1970 passing of a bill making French the province’s sole official language. So this is a great opportunity for Hector and I to practice our very basic but serviceable French. And I get to practice adding the accent on the “é” in my post 🙂
Our first stop in Québec was in the Gaspé peninsula (there it is again), where we stayed in the town of Percé. The Gaspé, known locally as “La Gaspésie” juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Percé is famous for the Rocher Percé (Pierced Rock), one of Canada’s best-known landmarks.
On the first evening in the town of Percé, we couldn’t resist French food and headed out to a nice restaurant for a very cozy and delicious dinner. Hector was extremely excited about eating escargots, and I snapped a photo of his happiness.
Interestingly, Rocher Percé and L’Île de Bonaventure are part of a “National” Park of Québec, not a National Park of Canada, so our great Parks Canada Discovery Passes don’t cover the entrance fees. A curious quirk of Québécois nationalism.
Sailing around Rocher Percé rock and L’Île de Bonaventure was exciting. It’s a massive piece of multihued limestone, 300 feet wide, 289 feet high and 0.66 miles long. It’s also one of the world’s largest natural arches located in water. There used to be two holes in it, but one arch fell in the 1800’s. And several tons of the rock detach from it every year. Amazing!
The boat continued to L’Île de Bonaventure National Park, which is the best place in the world to observe the Northern Gannet, who come here every spring to breed and raise their young until late summer.
We sailed around the side of the island where they nest, and there are birds flying everywhere. The narrator tells us to keep our mouth closed when we look up! Then, we also spotted some gray seals. And there were some folks scuba diving here, just thinking about that made me feel really cold.
The boat then dropped us off on the opposite side of the island, where there were several choices of hiking paths you can take to cross over to the Northern Gannet viewing area. But first, we made a brief stop for lunch at the only establishment on the island, a little restaurant/gift shop that offers world famous Fisherman’s Soup, yum!
And since there’s no water on the island, they use dishes that are 100% biodegradable within two to four weeks. The utensils are made of potato starch and the dishes and napkins are made from a material leftover from sugar cane processing. And they compost them entirely on the island. I like it.
The gannets return to their same nest every year to reunite with their mate. When an adult returns to its nest, it places itself directly in front of its partner, both birds extend their necks and cry while rubbing their bills together and slightly opening their wings. This behavior reinforces the ties that bind the couple and is called fencing.
Each pair has one, and sometimes two eggs which hatch sometime in early June, so the nestlings are about two months old. They will get a lot larger than the adults (some already are) to help them survive the trip down to warmer waters that they will each make individually.
They were still busily in the breeding mode, fencing, fighting over territory, and feeding themselves and their young. Gannets dive from a distance of about 60 feet, plunging straight down as far as 10 feet under water for their food. The entire thing was quite a spectacle. And they are magnificent birds.
It was time to hike back to catch the ferry, and the weather was clouding up, but no rain thank goodness. Going back on the ferry was uneventful. But seeing these beautiful birds was an incredible experience that we’ll never forget.