The St. Lawrence River - Riviere du Loup to Quebec City
I still love the province of Quebec! Of all the places I have lived over the last forty years, including my twenty years in British Columbia, this province still stirs something deep inside more than any of the others. Something must get in your blood when you are born and raised there. I can't explain what it is but I can feel it every time I return to visit. The history, the countryside, the people, the art and culture, the signature architecture and even the countless dairy farms that dot the landscape with their characteristic old barns and silos. Vancouver and Quebec City are not only separated by distance but also by a mindset that is just as huge. But once again, I am beginning to ramble as I reminisce about our last motorcycle trip along the banks of the St. Lawrence River.
Today, a wonderful grid of boring, super highways unites most major areas of North America. But if you leave these asphalt wastelands, there is much of interest along the smaller, original roads that they replaced. One such route is the old Number 132 along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River from Riviere du Loup to Quebec City. Take any one of a number of exits just south of Riviere du Loup and you are in for a treat.
Along this older, winding road you get to see the real side of the province as you pass within spitting distance of peoples' front porches. The old Quebec villages, farms, and small towns have a sense of history and most look like little has changed in decades. Friends sitting on porches and chatting, farmers working their fields, casse croute rest stops, burger joints, and the rocky shorelines of the mighty St. Lawrence kissing the road here and there all provide a scenic vista for future memories. The only negative side is running into patches of road construction which you are bound to do in Quebec during the summer. They do have some of the worst back roads in the country! Much of the roadwork on this trip was due to damage done by flooding and washouts along the route.
On a clear day, the view would be something but on this trip the other side of the St. Lawrence disappeared into the haze and fog in the distance. Of course, the largest structure in most of these towns was the Catholic church, usually the focal point of the surrounding area. Anywhere we stopped for gas or food, I got to practice my French that is slowly getting a little rusty. You won't find a lot of English along this route but the few that do speak it are more than willing to do so. As when I was learning the language as a youngster, I refused to break into English unless I got really stuck!
And this short drive includes some well-known towns. The small municipality of Kamouraska dates back to the 17th century and was the location of the 1839 murder of Louis-Pascal-Achille Taché. The event inspired Anne Hébert's 1970 novel Kamouraska, which was made into a film in 1973 by Claude Jutra. The author of the French lyrics to "O Canada," Basile-Adophe Routhier, was a judge of the Superior Court and lived there from 1864-1891 and the second verse of the Anthem reflects his love for Kamouraska ("Sous l'œil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant, Le Canadien grandit en espérant"). Today, it is popular as a weekend escape for urban residents who want get away from it all for awhile. There are picturesque shops scattered throughout the town and a variety of bed and breakfasts in the area that cater to visitors. We had the good fortune of returning to this beautiful town the following summer and staying for a weekend at a friend's cottage located right on the shores of the river.
Down the road a little further is the famous town of St. Jean Port Joli. It was established in 1721 and is known for its craftspeople and artists, especially woodcarving and sculpture. Pick up a traditional Quebec wood carving at a souvenir shop anywhere in Canada and, chances are it came from this small town. The tradition of wood carving began in the early 20th century with the Bourgault brothers, Médard, Jean-Julien and André. Although it is no longer as crowded with tourists as it was during its heyday thirty or forty years ago, many wonderful galleries still line both sides of the road from one end of the small town to the other. Even if you have no interest in buying anything, it is well worth spending time in some of the shops to admire the skills of the local carvers. This small town is also the location of several great restaurants and hotels.
Although we did this short jaunt on our motorcycle as part of one of our cross-Canada trips, it would make for a great week-end car road trip. I would recommend getting back on the main highway before you arrive at the city of Quebec. The small road eventually becomes a part of urban sprawl as these roads always do when they reach a city. Soon, the old and the new bridge will loom into view and Quebec City beckons. But that is another hub!