Unprepared trips sometimes bring about wonderful surprises. For a summer escape, I had vaguely planned a short escapade to Quebec City. Then, one of my friends persuaded me to accompany her to the Gaspé Peninsula, a destination she had briefly toured which had completely enticed her. At first, I had been reluctant to visit this remote Quebec region because I am not a very outdoorsy person. Yet, despite a little anticipation, I accepted her invitation mostly on account of my desire to explore new places.
To my astonishment, I was instantly mesmerized by the majestic, measureless, and arresting panorama which comprises a profusion of mountains, valleys, parks, beaches, and lakes enhanced by the omnipresence of the sea. I have visited many fascinating sites in North America and in Europe, but Gaspé is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I’m not sure whether it’s because the trip was spontaneous or because I had no idea of what to expect, but I felt truly happy throughout the whole journey, the kind of sensation you have when you fall in love.
Gaspésie or Gaspé Peninsula is hundreds of thousands of years old and constitutes one of the oldest masses on earth, but one of the last to be populated by human beings. It was fish that first brought people to the region. The Micmacs, “the Indians of the Sea”, have lived on the peninsula for over 2,500 years. They named the peninsula Gespeg, meaning “land’s end”. A panoply of nationalities including Acadian, Loyalist, Breton, Basque, English, Jersey, Irish and Scots subsequently colonized the territory. Anglophones accounted for forty percent of the population half a century ago, but are now just over ten percent.
Located on the eastern tip of the province of Quebec, north of New Brunswick, Gaspé is divided into five distinctive natural sectors: The Coast, Upper Gaspé, Land’s End, The Bay and The Valley. A tour around the entire region takes at least ten days as the territory covers 800 kilometres – back and forth.
We started our journey in Ste-Flavie, the gateway to the peninsula and the one place where highway 132 divides, permitting visitors to select between north and south directions. We briefly browsed the locality’s gift shop and then headed north towards The Coast. Following a lengthy drive along the gorgeous Saint-Laurent seaside, we reached an exceptional floral location. Les Jardins de Métis, accessible to the public from June to mid-October, encloses more than 500 native and exotic species and varieties of perennial and annual plants, bushes and trees, cultivated in the six ornamental gardens. Lilies, Pinocchio polyantha roses, pink peace hybrid tea roses and larkspur can be found, to name just a few. Declared a national historic site in 1996, it is the only authentic historic gardens in Quebec and among the most beautiful ornamental gardens in Canada. A very popular tourist attraction, it has received more than 100,000 visitors a year since the 1990’s. It is doubtful that Elsie Reford ever imagined that one day her gardens would solicit such admiration. For more than thirty years, she worked as an amateur horticulturist, collecting plants, cultivating them in the land she had inherited from her uncle, Lord Mount Stephen, first President of Canadian Pacific. The Metis Gardens have been the property of the Quebec government for decades, but are now administrated by Alexander Reford, the founder’s great grand-son. Another attraction of the park is the luxurious 37-room villa, formerly Mrs Reford’s residence, which presently houses a restaurant, a museum and a crafts shop.
We then stopped for lunch in Matane, a town reputed for its “Festival de la Crevette”. After a hearty meal of delicious shrimps, we continued our journey. We lingered at Parc de la Gaspésie which is comprised of more than 240 kilometres of interpretation trails and looms as a vast, rugged region created by profound valleys between peaks ranging up to 4,160 feet. It forms a segment of the Appalachian chain; the Chic-Choc Mountains comprise its spine. This is one of the few places in Quebec where one discovers within the same territory, according to the vegetation and the climate, caribou, moose and deer.