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Friday, December 9, 2022
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The Whale Route

Discovery on Quebec’s North Coast.

What are the chances we’ll actually see a whale?” whispered Collin as we pulled on bright orange rain gear and climbed aboard a 20-seat zodiac. From experience, I had to admit his skepticism was not without warrant. None of us could have guessed the wonder that was in store.

Plans for a summer trip had been through several permutations due to shifting Covid conditions. My friends — Cliff, Gary, and his son, Collin — and I had finally settled on Plan C, which included exploring to the end of the road on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Also known as The Whale Route, it’s part of Highway 138, which extends 1,420 km from the southwest corner of Québec to its terminus in Kegaska, a tiny fishing village only recently made accessible by road.

Surrounded by Whales

Our first whale sighting was the breaching of a humpback in the distance — impressive, but a long way off. Our pilot, however, brought our vessel to a standstill above an underwater valley (the Laurentian Channel, 300 metres deep) where freshwater meets salt and warm water meets cold, creating the perfect feeding grounds. Soon, we were surrounded by nine (!) humpbacks, which often surfaced right next to our zodiac, plus numerous minkes, and even a few fin whales, which are second only to blue whales in size. Our dinghy was dwarfed. When a couple of playful seals began to accompany us, our guide turned to the English-speakers, “We have a family with young children aboard, and I just want to assure you: I am not swearing. ‘Phoque’ is French for ‘seal’.” With a knowing smile, she added: “This is a PG tour.”

We had been warned it could be 10 to 15 degrees colder than it was on land out on the St. Lawrence. That, plus a moderate wind with sea spray, made certain the chill reached our bones. But, numb as we were, we all stood convinced that Tadoussac, QC., deserves its reputation as one of the best whale-watching locations in the world.

Wild Camping Challenge

My companions had been eager to delve into wild camping, and Gary’s Suzuki V-Strom 650, Cliff’s Honda CB500X, and Collin’s Kawasaki KLR650 had been modified and packed with stoves, sleeping bags, and tents. (My bivy sack and lack of tent raised questions about my sanity.) That night, we found a secluded spot in the woods off an abandoned sideroad just east of town. Foreboding clouds spared us a soaking, and we were grateful for a relatively warm night while the haunting call of loons drifted across the nearby lake.

Stopping the next morning at the St. Laurent-Saguenay Marine Environment Discover Centre in Les Escoumins, we met a delightful young ranger who was in her final year of university at…

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