After cruising overnight, we arrive at Havre Saint-Pierre, a small town on the Quebec north shore of the Saint Lawrence River. As not many ships call here, the people here seem really glad we’re here, greeting us with friendly smiles and hearty Bonjours and Bienvenues. (Some even take our pictures – or perhaps it’s our beautiful ship that attracts them.)
The town’s first inhabitants came from the Magdalen Islands (which we visited a couple of days ago) in the nineteenth century, so they speak a dialect that is more closely related to Acadian French than to Quebec French.
Our tour group boards a boat that will take us through the Mingan archipelago, a scattering of some 30 limestone islands and more than 1,000 granite islets and reefs. This necklace of land, which became a national park reserve in 1984, was carved out of limestone bedrock. The area is home to seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales, as well as an abundance of plants.
We are headed for Niapiskau, where a Park Canada guide will lead us through the age-old monoliths that have been carved by Nature. On the way, as we pass tiny islands, the French boat captain points out the monolithic shapes that have been named by the inhabitants: an old man, a sea captain, a Japanese man and various anatomical parts (these draw considerable laughter from our French fellow passengers – the English speakers miss the references).
When we arrive at Niapiskau, we’re greeted by guide Andree-Anne, who is so enthusiastic and ebullient, her love of her job fairly radiates from her. When I asked how long she’d been doing this work, she said it was her first year in a career change from microbiology.
Andree-Anne guided us through loop trails and lookouts – the walk was easy as there were boardwalks rather than dirt trails – pointing out various plants and challenging us to come up with the names of the monoliths. It was like one of those inkblot tests and some of us were better than others at choosing the “right” answer. We saw a turtle, an alligator, a Madame and Monsieur Niapiskau, a Scot wearing a beret – and what Andree-Anne called “the American stuff” – an American eagle and former President Nixon in profile.
She pantomimed the process by which the monoliths were created, the Ice Age and erosion, sharing photographs and charts and answering questions with such pleasure, that I thought she would make a wonderful teacher of children.
When we’d had our fill of monoliths, Andree-Anne showed us the fossils of tiny creatures that had once inhabited the area. As her finale, she read us a moving poem by Roland Jomphe, who spent much of his life studying the area – and gave us a copy of a poem to take with us.
It ends with these lines:
“We are individually responsible for living green because we are part of the whole and every one of us makes a significant contribution, be it positive or negative.”