During his journey to Quebec, about thirty years ago, which he relates so unforgettably in The Blue Road, Kenneth White stops at Sept-Îles, a turning point on his road to the most remote and wildest places of Labrador. He lingers some time there, making friends and sharing life with a few Amerindians he has met there. Several chapters of The Blue Road are devoted to the wintry town and its colourful people. Their titles read like a poem, which reminds me how Kenneth White love haïkus and their strong suggestive power…
The wind at Seven-Islands
On the coast
The big dance at Mingan
The end of the road…
For some time, during our one-month periple in Quebec, we’ve tried to follow Kenneth White’s itinerary on road 138, along the St Lawrence River. We’re soon arriving at the point where our roads separate. That of Kenneth White is going due west towards Labrador, a railroad from Sept-Îles to Schefferville to begin with. Ours will soon turn back southwards from Natashquan to Baie Comeau where we intend to take a ferry to Matane, across the St Lawrence, before driving around Gaspésie up to La Baie des Chaleurs where Jacques Cartier did land in 1534.
But it would have been most surprising if, before turning westwards Kenneth White would not have tried to reach the end of road 138 which, up to October 1996, ended at Havre-Saint-Pierre. Today it ends at Pointe-Parent, near Natashquan but if you don’t fear to damage your car on a gravel road you can drive up to Kégashka.
So, it’s in the wintry town of Havre-Saint-Pierre that we are going to leave Kenneth White, on road 138 at least, for Kenneth White’s ‘blue road’ goes much further…
I like very much the passage of The Blue Road where Kenneth White tells us about his trip from Sept-Îles to Havre-Saint-Pierre…no less than 219 km which he begins on foot and alone, just meeting an old dog who follows him until his new friend hops into a truck… woof ! woof ! so long !
Havre-Saint-Pierre was founded in 1857 by a group of Acadian families from ‘Les Îles de la Madeleine’ who had been deported at Savannah, Georgia, and came to settle at Pointe-aux-Esquimaux on a place which had once been inhabited by a group of Inuit people. The town was originally called ‘Saint-Pierre-de-la-Pointe-aux-Esquimaux’ until it was changed into Havre-Saint-Pierre, in 1927, to focus on its privileged position. Situated as it is on its large bay, in front of ‘L’Île d’Anticosti’ and protected by a number of small islands, ‘île du fantôme’, ‘île du Havre’, ‘île du Marteau’, this little harbour is indeed a true haven…
I’d thought I might hitch up to Havre-Saint-Pierre, but there wasn’t a soul on the road, not a soul. No matter, it was the beginning of another day, fresh and blue, and I was glad to be out there walking, in the middle of nowhere, on my own, watching those big gulls gliding on the wind:
‘It is a great thing to realise that the original world is still there, perfectly clean and pure, many white advancing foams, and only the gulls swinging between the sky and the shore.’
Brother Lawrence again.
I travel with my ghosts…
A dog left the porch of the sleeping house where it had been sunning itself and started trotting along the road beside me.
I’d have preferred to have been all alone, but that old dog felt like some company and a little walk. So I let him pad along beside me.
I’d been walking for about an hour when a truck passed, and I gave it the sign. It went, then changed its mind and stopped. I said ‘so long’ to the dog, ran to catch up the truck, and hopped in.
(Kenneth White – The Blue Road)
Now, back to the motel L’Archipel where we had arrived the night before, at the end of a cold and wintry day. In my last post, I have told you how, after a quick meal, the three of us had fallen asleep in spite of a regular noise which sounded like the sound of a train passing and passing on a railway track not far from the motel…
October 9th …
The weather is fine and not so wintry than the day before. Having been awaken early in the morning by the sound of our mysterious train, we are eager to go out and see what it is and where it comes from. So, after a hot and comforting breakfast we drive off.
Things get clearer in daylight and we soon discover that our motel L’Archipel is situated quite close to the harbour. Here, a boat is being loaded with what looks like coal and a big caterpillar is going to and fro amidst a huge heap of black coal with the sound of a train…
We walk amidst barbed wire and rusty engines to try and have a closer look at the boat, the Oakglen ship, a big red and white bulk carrier built in 1980 and registered in Montreal. We’ve made our investigations since and also learned more about the kind of ‘coal’ which is loaded here. It is not coal but titanium…
In fact, Havre-Saint-Pierre is located near Canada’s only titanium mine which is situated about 45 km northward. Since 1948, the Quebec Iron and Titanium Company mines deposits of ‘ilmenite’, a mineral composed of iron and titanium which is carried by rail cars to Havre-Saint-Pierre. The mine is the main industrial activity of the town but, thanks to the proximity of The Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve which is internationally reputed for its flora (the Mingan Thistle) and fauna (puffins), tourism is also a key activity at Havre-Saint-Pierre. Fishing, of course, is also quite flourishing here. There are numerous rivers and lakes in the neighbourhood and if I had to retain a single name of the many local species you can find here, it would certainly be the ‘snow crab’, for its beautiful name
While the Oaklen is sailing off we stroll around the harbour, looking at the names of the boats, parked side by side on the ground, like cars, for the winter season : le ‘Perroquet de Mer’, le ‘Calculot’, le ‘Bout du Banc’, la ‘Relève II’…
Not far from the harbour we fall upon the church…
A green and white wooden house, two benches and three inscriptions on the façade :
Labrador Store 1943-1963
Hudson Bay Company 1963-1970
Maison de la Culture Roland Jomphe
This house is an old lady, though not so old for a house, but it has a long story to tell. It was built in 1943, by the Clarke family, as a ‘magasin général’, under the name of ‘Labrador Stores’. In the olden times, in Quebec, a ‘magasin général’ was a very busy place where villagers could buy all sorts of merchandise, from food to clothes and tools. In 1963, the building was bought by the Hudson Bay Company which used it for business until 1969. Then it was abandoned and it is only in 1981, that the municipality of Havre-Saint-Pierre decided to buy it for cultural purpose. Now the ‘Maison de la Culture Roland-Jomphe’, named after a poet who was born and lived until his death in Havre-Saint-Pierre, is a very dynamic cultural centre which also serves as a Tourist Information Board.
Comme la goutte de rosée
La vie se glisse sur la feuille
Chaque saison chaque journée
C’est une branche qui s’effeuille.
(Roland Jomphe -1917-2003)
* De l’eau salée dans les veines (1978), Léméac, Montréal.
* Sous le vent de la mémoire (1982), Dominique Cormier, Havre Saint-Pierre.
* Aux îles de Mingan (1984), Environnement Parcs Canada.
* A l’écoute du temps (1983). (self-published)
* Amour et souvenance (1985). (self-published)
* Sur le rivage de la vie (1986). (self-published)
* Iles de Mingan ou de chez nous (1986). (self-published)
* Confidences des îles (1987). (self-published)
* A l’ombre d’un village (1988). (self-published)
‘Rue de la Berge’, ‘Rue Boréale’, here are names which must not have escaped Kenneth White’s eyes… the place-names are indeed a central theme in The Blue Road… just have a look at what Kenneth White writes in the chapter entitled ‘The walk to Pointe Bleue’ in the English version and just ‘Pointe Bleue’ in the French edition. Don’t forget to take your map of Quebec… a beautiful map which makes you dream
We pull out of Chicoutimi on 170 West, from which we soon switch to 169 North, rolling through the Kenogami forest then skirting the Lac Sain-Jean.
I wonder if we’ll ever get rid of this evangelical toponymy. I can’t say what this lake’s Indian name was, but I’m willing to bet it was beautiful, and precise too. Something like Blue Water Lake, or Summer Storm Lake or Many Tree Lake. Named by people who knew it, who were in touch with its physical reality. But Lac Saint-Jean, I ask you. Was St John ever here? Not at all. He hung around Galilee. And the folk who named the lake ‘Saint-Jean’, they were never really here either. (Kenneth White – The Blue Road)
It reminds me of one of my favourite books about Scotland, a book published in 2001, written by Kenneth White and illustrated with superb black and white photographies by Jean Hervoche.
The title of this book is Le Pays derrière les noms, the country behind the names…
And here is another of our daily ‘golden nugget’, as would say Janice, another very inspirational name written in beautiful letters, but we don’t know what kind of reality is hiding behind this name for we didn’t pay a visit at l’Auberge Boréale…
We are not in a hurry to leave Havre-Saint-Pierre for it’s quite pleasant to walk along the streets of the town, even if it’s fresh at this time of the year…
1122 Boréale Street (how long this street must be !) a cat is inviting us to enter the welcoming gîte ‘Chez Françoise’ which can be a good and more personalized alternative to the motel accommodation…
There are funny details to discover at each street corner
Halloween is welcoming us at nearly each house entrance. In front of this nice typical wooden house a friendly ghost welcomes the visitor while a beautiful red rowan tree loses its last leaves indifferently…
Quite a cheerful atmosphere, better than on our arrival yesterday night!
11 h 50… time to go now if we want to reach the end of road 138 before it’s dark!
Let us end our tour of Havre-Saint-Pierre on a blue note…
…a blue house on our blue road
A last sign with the arms of Havre-Saint-Pierre offers us some piece of advice before leaving the town!
‘Drive carefully’ it says… a good piece of advice if you want to follow road 138 between Havre-Saint-Pierre and Natashquan, as you will see in my next post!
Bonne lecture. A bientôt. Mairiuna