The Long Road to Natashquan

Natashquan, Quebec.

Stop in Innu and French in Pointe-Parent. We did, and headed for home.

Natashquan is a village in Quebec, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence; in Quebec, but 800 miles northeast of Montreal. If you want to travel farther east along the shore, you can take a dirt road for another 28 miles, then you would need a boat to take you on to Labrador. Last month, my daughter and I spent two weeks driving to Natashquan and back from Connecticut. We stopped a lot along the way. I suppose, if you pushed it, you could do the trip in a week, but what would be the point of that?

Our journey actually ended a few miles beyond Natashquan, at the edge of the Innu community of Pointe-Parent. We parked the car on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence, and started to picnic out of the trunk. Two Innu men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, stereotypically carrying a case of beer. Hey, it was Friday! The younger of the two examined us suspiciously; the older, the one holding an open Bud, sat on my fender and started a conversation (in French, which the Innu here speak alongside their own Innu or Montagnais language). Were we from Quebec? The United States! We were, he said, bienvenue, and repeated his welcome in Innu – kwe kwe. Then they strode off through the dunes, the older man calling to his friends who were starting to fish for salmon.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

We had crossed from the south shore of the St Lawrence to the north on a two-hour ferry trip from Matane to Godbout, 340 miles “upstream” from Natashquan. After that, the navigation was very easy – keep following Route 138. It wasn’t all remote and beautiful, at least not until the last 100 miles. Particularly as far as Sept-Îles, Quebec’s hydroelectric and mining industries were much in evidence. Sept-Îles is an ugly town on a beautiful bay. But the farther east we went, the more the taiga and muskeg took over from dams and transmission lines. We spent a day exploring the Mingan Archipelago by boat and on foot, enjoying shorelines that reminded me of the very best of the Great Lakes.

Then, on that sunny Friday, we drove the last stretch. Natashquan dines out on being the end of the road (a status it’s losing) and the birthplace of Gilles Vigneault, an iconic Quebec singer-songwriter (“My country is not a country, it is winter”). But it is also quirkily beautiful, at least in the July sun. I have posted pictures of the village, and the journey to it, here.

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