A colder spell had set in. It had been a summery Autumn, but now suddenly there was a sharp Winter’s bite in the air.
‘November chill blaws lood wi’ angry sugh…’
Funny how a line of Robert Burns should come into my head. Maybe the ghost of some Scotsman who trekked up here before me? I was to come across Scotch traces all over the place, and I met up with more than one Indian with a name like Jean-Baptiste Mackenzie.
(Kenneth White – The Blue Road – Route 175 North)
8 October …
14 h … back on road 138 after a quick meal at the Subway of Sept-Îles. We’re getting used to this kind of fast food restaurant and even begin to like it. Our meal is generally composed of a hot soup, a big ‘submarine’ (what’s that, I wondered when I first heard about it) and a nice pecan or chocolate pastry served with a big papercup filled with a desperately light coffee mixture… quickly served, quickly eaten … and it’s warm inside the restaurant, just what we need!
Our day had begun at Motel Le Château in Port Cartier and our aim was to reach Havre-Saint-Pierre before the end of the day. After lingering a long time in the library ‘Côte-Nord’, then in the harbour of Sept-Îles and finally along the streets lined with red rowans and colourful houses preparing for the approaching feast of Halloween, we suddenly realize that we still have a lot of kilometers to do before reaching Havre-Saint-Pierre. Night falls early in October and we don’t even know where we are going to sleep tonight but, as the road goes on and on, we stop a number of times to enjoy the wild and wintry open spaces of the northern landscapes, the cascading rivers, the roaring waters of the Saint Lawrence, quite indifferent to the passing of time…
At one moment, Janice stops the car in front of a sign which reads ‘Le chemin des Ecossais’ I’ve briefly mentioned it in a previous post. Here it is, on road 138, not far from Sept-Îles, between ‘Le Chemin du Caribou’ et ‘le Cap du Cormoran’, at the entrance of a path which disappears into a wood in the direction of the Saint Lawrence wintry shore. There must be a house over there and if we don’t want to venture any further today to try and know more about the place, we begin to ask ourselves questions about the Scottish presence in Quebec. Don’t forget Janice has Scottish ancestors and she is the first to be interested by the subject! Let us begin our investigations with basic figures:
If we consider the country as a whole, there are no less than 4,719,850 Scottish-Canadians in Canada (versus 5,168,500 in Scotland), which represents about 15.10% of the total population. Below is their repartition in the provinces where the number of Scottish-Canadians is superior to 200,000 which doesn’t mean that they are not representated in the other Canadian provinces but that would require more precise investigations.
British Columbia 828,145
Nova Scotia 288,180
that is about 2.7 % of the Quebec population. The Scottish-Canadians living in Quebec are known as ‘Scots-Quebecers’… not an easy name to pronounce!
Just before arriving at Sheldrake, not far from Rivière-au-Tonnerre, we stop in front of a river flowing amidst a deep pine forest. How we would like to take a walk down the path which leads to the magnificent waterfall we can see in the background…
Here’s a closer look at the kind of pine-trees which compose the wooded environment we find as we drive eastward in the North, along the St Lawrence Gulf…
But what’s a blue road ? I hear somebody asking.
I’m not too sure about that myself. There’s the blue of the big sky, of course, there’s the blue of the river, the mighty St Lawrence, and, later on, there’s the blue of the ice. But all those notions, along with a few others I can think of, while they talk to my senses and my imagination, still don’t exhaust the depth of that ‘blue’.
(Kenneth White – The Blue Road)
‘Une image vaut mille mots’ as we say in France. On these photos you can see that we’re travelling along a blue road, and if it’s not exactly Kenneth White’s Blue Road, how could it be, let me say that we like to be inspired by his writing…
The beautiful village of Rivière-au-Tonnerre, or Thunder River, is called after the eponymous river which flows there noisily, especially in spring when its numerous and impressive waterfalls rush down with a thundering noise. The river has once been nicknamed ‘Boum-Boum-River’
The village is dominated by a very picturesque white and red wooden church which is unique in Quebec. Of course, you’ve not failed to notice the Quebec flag which is flying in the wind. Believe me, with such a wind it’s quite a feat to manage to take a picture of it unfurled But I did it! The church is quite remarkable but it is too late to visit it. It was built between 1908 and 1912, in the Norman style, by a team of 300 volunteers and one of its main characteristics is that it has been decorated inside with about sixty designs carved with pocket knives by the townspeople of Rivière-au-Tonnerre. I’m always impressed when I fall upon such a big building for so small a community (today the population of Rivière-au-Tonnerre doesn’t exceed 400 people but there were probably less inhabitants at the time when the church was built). It would be interesting to know more about the history of the place.
It was 17 h 20 when we arrived at Rivière-au-Tonnerre. Night is falling quickly now and we decide not to linger too long on the place. A few minutes later, however, we stop in front a blue little shop, not far from the church. It is closed but a cheerful Halloween fellow welcomes the visitor. Mind you! Some Halloween creatures aren’t so welcoming and you can also meet on the road grinning witches and ghosts… more likely however to make children laugh than to frighten them … in any case the Halloween traditional feast is much more celebrated on this side of the ocean than in Europe. Look how this funny chap proudly wears the orange colour of the chicoutai
We try to have a look of the inside of the shop through the window and we read some of the many newspaper articles pinned on the wooden walls… a good introduction to what we are to discover in the shop two days later. Just as we are about to leave the place, a very friendly man gets out of a blue sports car and proposes us to re-open the shop. We will soon learn that he is Bruno Duguay, the very charismatic owner of the ‘Maison de la Chicoutai’ and a friend of Gilles Vigneault, the great Québecois poet born in Natashquan. We thank M. Duguay and promise him that we would stop at his shop on our return.
Thanks to M. Bruno Duguay, who is an internationally known expert in chicoutai (known in english as cloudberry and bakeapple), we have learned a lot of very interesting things about this plant, a little orange fruit which grows mainly on peat bogs which abound in the area as we’ve noticed on driving northward. Berry picking, as it is practiced here, is more than a job it is an art. Each plant produces only one fruit and if not picked carefully (early autumn) the plant will not give any fruit for several years. The work conditions are very hard because of the boggy soil and of the swamp mosquitoes and black flies haunting the place. This explains why the chicoutai is rather expensive. The fruit also grows in the European Nordic countries where it has been used for a long time to fight scorbut, thanks to the vitamin C contained in this antioxidan-rich fruit. In French, this fruit is also called : Chicouté, mûre des marais, ronce mûrier, ronce petit-mûrier, mûre blanche, plat-de-bièvre (which means food for beavers) plaquebière et blackbière.
I’ve found a beautiful picture of chicoutai on Wikipedia and an interesting article on Blanc-Sablon website about all the berries which grow in Côte-Nord.
People come from far to pick up berries in Blanc-Sablon, but also the local residents. Over the years, they have learned all about the tasty berries that can be found in the area: blueberries, redberries, bakeapple (in French, chicoutai), blackberries, little wild strawberries, raspberries, etc.
You might know about all of these berries, except for one, which is more typical of Blanc-Sablon. It is a low plant that grows in boggy terrain and produces a nice orange berry. Ready to be picked late in the summer, locals eat them raw, or in form of jams, pies, etc. People who first try bakeapples usually think it doesn’t taste that good because it’s not that sweet and has a strange texture, but when well prepared, the little berries are a treat to eat! The SAQ (controls and distributes alcohol in Quebec) also made liquors with the berries, in limited quantities.
After being introduced to all the Maison’s specialties: jam, coulis, butter, vinegar, herbal tea and many other delights we’re kindly offered to taste some of them… which we enjoy very much. We are very thankful to M. Duguay for his cheerful welcome and his very interesting explanations about the chicoutai! And what a nice Québécois accent though Janice keeps saying that WE, the French people of France, do have an accent From our unforgettable visit at the ‘Maison de la Chicoutai’ we would bring back a few bottles of the nice and delicious orange coulis, jam, herbal tea and some souvenirs of Quebec. We already begin to fear a problem with our luggage at the airport and it would prove to be true at the depressing time of departure at Montreal airport…
As you probably have guessed this visit at the Maison de la Chicoutai only took place on our return journey, two days later.
So now, back on the road to Havre-Saint-Pierre where we arrive rather late. It is dark night and icy cold. Brrrrrrrrr!! freezing cold! The town, in this dark and cold atmosphere seems to us quite inhospitable. We stop at a ‘depanneur’ to ask if there is a motel in the neighbourhood. The young lady at the desk gives us explanations to go to motel l’Archipel which is situated 805 boulevard de l’Escale… inviting names for travellers… but we soon get lost in the town and have to come back to the depanneur to get more information. We finally reach our motel. It’s closed and nobody’s there. A sign on the door gives us a fone number where to call to join the receptionist who is at home at this late hour. We are completely frozen and very eager to get the keys of our room…
No need to say what a good night we’ve spent there after an improvised meal and in spite of the noise of a train passing and passing again very close to the motel… or so it seemed to us…
But I will tell you more in my next post. It will be the 9th episode of our blue road but we’ll only reach the end of road 138 in the 10th episode. I didn’t thought it would take so long to write a resume of this long journey from the beginning to the end of our blue road…
A bientôt! Rendez-vous à Havre-Saint-Pierre.