When you think of Quebec, well-known-and-loved Montreal and Quebec City are most likely the first spots that pop into your mind. But Québec is big (huge, actually), encompassing more than a quarter of the total surface area of Canada’s 10 provinces. That’s a lot of ground to cover, making it easy to miss must-see places like Le Quebec Maritime. If you’ve never heard of this region, don’t worry: You’re not alone.
The maritime regions of Quebec are made up of four areas in the eastern part of the province: Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspesie, Cote-Nord and the Iles de la Madeleine.
Why should you pack up the kids and go? In a nutshell, together they offer 1,900 miles of coastline, 10 national parks, the St. Lawrence River, 13 species of whales, a quarter of a million migratory birds and a trail of lighthouses 40 strong. Now that I’ve got your attention, know that English and French are widely spoken, so language is not an issue. With winter comes a deep blanket of snow, but summer and fall are all about getting outside.
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The seaside village of Percé is located at the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. A quick scan of the horizon reveals its best-known landmarks and must-see attractions, Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. But there’s so much more here, including a calm, pebbly beach perfect for digging in. If you need to prevent too much sand from getting in between toes, wander on the short boardwalk, but make time to stop at the waterfront park and playground.
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Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock
En route to Bonaventure Island, the ferry from Percé provides close-up views of Percé Rock, said to be one of the largest natural arches in the world. As the ferry makes its way closer to the island, be on the lookout for seals popping up alongside the boat and lots of birds in the sky. It’s just a tease of what’s to come when you set foot on terra firma: historic homes, waves of blooming wildflowers and a number of hiking trails, one of which takes less than an hour each way with kids and leads to an active colony of Northern Gannets (54,000 couples to be exact).
TIP: If you can get the family out of bed, sunrises in Percé are an event not to missed. At the very least, if you have a room with a view, open the curtain and watch the sky explode in the morning.
Forillon National Park
Hiking, biking, snorkeling with seals and watching seven species of whales are just a handful of the things on offer in Forillon National Park, located at the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. Once a hub for cod fishermen, the south area of the park is home to a number of carefully restored buildings, including the 1864 Hyman & Sons Store. It’s stocked with inventory from yesteryear; take in the history and then head to the upstairs deck and look for seals playing along the coast. Furnished and decorated just as it would have been in the 1920s, the nearby Blanchette Family House uses costumed guides to bring history to life.
The Maritime regions of Quebec are home to 40 lighthouses, 18 of which lie along what is referred to as the Lighthouse Trail. At 112 feet, Cap-des-Rosiers is the tallest lighthouse in Canada. Pointe-a-la-Renommee is tiny as lighthouses go, but it packs a powerful punch in the scenery department and is home to North America’s first maritime radio station. You can make the short climb to the top with a guide. Pointe-a-la-Renommee spent two decades in Quebec City before being returned to its original site in 1997. The information video you’ll watch before heading up the stairs shows how the tricky move was made.
It takes 128 steps to get to the top of the Pointe-au-Pere Lighthouse, but it’s the view, complete with shiny Fresnel lens, that truly takes your breath away. The Onondaga, Canada’s first publicly accessible submarine, is just steps away from the lighthouse. Along with being open for tours, if your timing is right, sleepovers are a possibility as well.
Reford Gardens, Les Jardins de Metis
Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence and Mitis rivers in Grand-Metis, the English-style gardens were created between 1926 and 1958 by avid gardener and plant collector Elsie Reford. Home to 3,000 varieties of native and exotic plants, Reford Gardens also hosts a yearly International Garden Festival that will have the kids wanting to redo your backyard. The modern installations of landscape architects from around the world have a knack for being kid-friendly. Hands-on activities include donning rain boots to go wading and channeling your inner superhero by propelling living trees mounted on rollers.
At the confluence of the Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence River, Tadoussac oozes charm and brings in-the-know guests back again and again. Hunt for sea urchins along the beach, or just have fun getting wet and sandy. Tadoussac’s small, concentrated downtown means coastal hiking trails, shopping and restaurants are all within easy walking distance.
Whale Watching from Pointe-de-l’Islet
The waters surrounding Tadoussac are part of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. Zodiac boats zip out frequently to spot migrating minke, fin, humpback and even blue whales. But many, especially the glowing white resident beluga whales, can be easily glimpsed from shore. About a half-mile long, the Pointe-de-l’Islet trail delivers walkers to Islet Point. Pack a windbreaker, your camera and maybe some snacks, because once you arrive, you won’t want to leave the often whale-studded lookout.
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The Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM)
Want to know what kind of whale you caught on camera? Head to the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM) and the staff can probably tell you. Catch the right angle in the shot and they might even be able to share the whale’s name. An assortment of videos, games and a skeleton of a sperm whale, more than 40 feet long, make learning about marine mammals fun. The signage is primarily in French, but English guidebooks are available. The area outside the CIMM entrance is also a popular place to sit and watch for passing whales.
If you want to get out on the water but don’t think the family can commit to a couple of hours on a whale-watching cruise, consider driving your car right onto the Tadoussac–Baie-Sainte-Catherine Ferry. It operates year-round, day and night. Once all vehicles are onboard and parked, just about everyone hops out of their car to take in the scenery, and whales have a habit of coming along for the ride. Crossing time is about 10 minutes and the ferry is free.
The historic Hotel Tadoussac, established in 1864 with its signature white wall and red roof, is the spot to stay in town. Families can watch whales or shooting stars from the deck or the massive green lawn. The lobby has a table (with water view) dedicated to completing a jigsaw puzzlew, and the Salle de Jeux, or game room, sports a pool table, a Ping-Pong table and an assortment of other activities.
The hotel, along with most of the activities mentioned, is seasonal, operating mid-May through October.