Hickey, Johanna – Mighty St. Lawrence

From New France to France down the Mighty St. Lawrence with Adventure Canada. Does it get any better? We left Quebec City on a beautiful sunset evening and arrived in the early morning mist at the French Islands of St Pierre and Miquelon a week later on board the wonderful expedition ship, The Ocean Endeavour, the newest and most up-to-date ship operated by Adventure Canada.

Although this was my third Adventure Canada trip, all of which were arranged by my wonderful and very efficient travel agent, Lois Farley from The Great Canadian Travel Company, this was certainly my most memorable!

Our cruise took us through the pristine wilderness of the Saguenay fjord past beautiful little Quebec villages accessible only by water to the larger towns of Tadoussac Q.C.,Summerside P.E.I. and Cheticamp, Nova Scotia. Because our ship was relatively small by cruise ship standards (only two hundred passengers and about a hundred and fifty staff and crew) we were able to access waters unavailable to the larger vessels. This was the first time that Adventure Canada had offered this particular cruise route and it was the first time in history that any cruise ship had ever docked in Tadoussac.

As a result we were treated like royalty. I was overwhelmed by the warm and very genuine welcome we received with a reception in the local church by the Mayor and the Head of Tourism for the Region. The women of the town offered home made ” bouches “of beautiful local smoked salmon as well as little tasty foie gras snacks together with cold and hot drinks while we were serenaded by the town band. Despite the pouring rain we were escorted around the town to the brilliant and very educational whale museum and to the local First Nations church, which as the oldest in the Region was historically significant for its heritage architecture. The afternoon passed all too quickly. As we sadly said “au revoir” to our new friends, who so graciously tolerated our fractured French, and reluctantly headed back to our zodiacs to return us to “the mother ship,” the resident town beaver ambled slowly across the beach as a final Canadian greeting. Perhaps he or she wanted to remind us that whales and birds were not the only wildlife to be seen on this tour.

A similar exuberantly friendly greeting awaited us in Summerside P.E.I., this time in English. Again, we were the first cruise ship ever to dock there, as the bigger ships all dock in Charlottetown which is the great competition. And dock we were able to do….. at the potato wharf !!! We were told that the warehouse where we were disgorged was usually filled with sacks of potatoes, but thankfully we were a few months early. Mercifully there were no zodiacs this time as it was pouring rain and very windy. Again the town opened its arms to the Adventure Canada visitors with very welcome tea and coffee and locally-made cinnamon rolls in a beautiful, little art gallery. Then there were optional tours of either Anne of Green Gables or the local Mic Mac First Nations reservation. I chose a “down memory lane” tour Green Gables where the friendly and knowledgeable tour guide recounted the age-old story of Anne’s outrageous but hilarious and endearing adventures. However, my friends who went to the reservation spoke of how well they were treated and how excellent was the explanation of First Nations culture and achievement. As it was lobster season we chose to treat ourselves to a huge and very tasty lobster lunch rather than returning to the ship. In the afternoon, local busses were laid on to take us to local sightseeing venues, including the Wyatt House Museum, where the knowledgeable and very articulate and enthusiastic curator stayed beyond her closing time until 6 p.m., because she wanted us to appreciate all the contents of the home and its inhabitants which were so intricately woven into the history of the town and the province.

Our welcome in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, this time in both French and English commenced with a hike in warm sunshine up to the scenic lookout over the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  We were escorted by Parks Canada Rangers who explained in great detail the flora and the fauna which we were traversing.  Very movingly we each were invited to plant a little tree in honour of our visit. Hopefully I will return one day to see my tree standing big and strong. Sustained by our bag lunches prepared by the women of the town and augmented by goodies from the local bakery which we found in our lunch bags, on the way down we encountered a huge moose with her baby happily munching leaves beside the trail. Another Canadian icon on this wildlife trip ! Plus, it got even better when a small black bear (probably a year old, according to our on board biologist) ran across the road in front of our bus. Our exhilarating hike prepared us for a happy hour of traditional Cape Breton music in Le Gabriel, a local bar, together with a demonstration of very complicated square dancing. Huge plates of mussels appeared which, accompanied by the area’s craft beer, made the perfect ending to the perfect day. Then it was sadly back to the zodiacs.

However, life on board was far from dull. We were spoiled for choice with a mixed variety of activities. During the day while at sea we were treated to very educational and well-prepared lectures on marine mammals, birds, grasses as well as the history and geography of the region. The evenings were filled with entertainment with several very talented musicians performing on guitar, banjo, accordion and electric bass. There was also a Variety Night and a Come as Your Favourite Sea Creature evening together with a local Scotch naming contest. There was dancing and sing-alongs during which we were always sustained by afternoon tea, appetizers before dinner or late night snacks. That was just what we needed after the very ample and excellent food so tastefully presented in the dining room.

From time to time there were sightings of a variety of whales and dolphins and of many, many species of birds, all of which were described by the excellent professional resource staff. A special zodiac tour was arranged around Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island to see the thousands of nesting gannets and murres…….. a birders’ paradise.

Sadly this wonderful adventure ended at St. Pierre. However, some of us were fortunate enough to remain on board for a final night and to experience the magnificent sight of St. John’s Newfoundland harbour in the fog as we passed several icebergs and then sailed through The Narrows as many seafarers had done before us.

Does it get any better? Who knows? Adventure Canada, the Ocean Endeavour and The Great Canadian Travel Company will all be there next year!!!

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