What began as a family history trip turned into an unforgettable five day road trip. Port Daniel, my mother’s birthplace, where my parents were married and where my grandparents are buried, is a place I wanted my daughter to see. However, while researching the Gaspe Peninsula, I discovered so much more: a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the world’s largest gannet population, and the immense Perce Rock. But what really caught my interest were the 14 lighthouses that dot the shoreline of the Peninsula.
What is the allure of a lighthouse? Is it the romantic notion of the lone sentinel standing guard; protecting all who enter its water? Is it a beacon of hope for those lost trying to find their way home? Surely, it is both. Our late August road trip became the lighthouse tour along Quebec’s longest highway. Some lighthouses were more interesting than others, some needed of a fresh coat of paint, but all are historical.
Our first stop, 600 kilometers from Ottawa, was Rimouski. At Pointe au Pere, Father Point, we explored the old buildings, the 1909 lighthouse station, the keeper’s house and the foghorn shed. After climbing up the lighthouse stairs to the lantern room, we had a commanding view from Canada’s second tallest lighthouse (33 meters). Rimouski is also home to the Onondaga, Canada’s first submarine museum. Being claustrophobic, I passed on the 90m self-guided tour of the tight quarters but my family ventured on to learn about the lives of the 70 men who served on it. Rimouski’s last attraction is the Empress of Ireland Museum. In 1914, the Empress collided with the SS Storstad and swiftly sank in less than 15 minutes. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 perished making it Canada’s worst Maritime accident.
As we continued along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence, our day ended at Pointe-a-la-Renommee. This site marks Guglielmo Marconi’s first Canadian marine station which provided radio communication between ships and the coast. When we arrived we were disheartened to discover it was closed for the day, but it turned out to be a blessing; we had the grounds to ourselves. We were not able to get into the building but we poked around, looking in windows, enjoying the views and ended our day in peace and quiet.
The following morning, we continued onto the Cap-de-Rosiers lighthouse. Sitting atop the cliff near the village of Cap-des-Rosiers, the lighthouse has the distinction of being Canada’s tallest lighthouse at 34 meters. Climbing the 9 story spiral staircase, we reached the lantern room and were met with spectacular views of the river. Located where the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence meet, the lighthouse still guides boats today.
The Gaspe Peninsula is not only home to historical lighthouses, but it’s also the home to Forillon National Park. The park offers hiking trails including the great hike we took to Land’s End to view the Cap Gaspe lighthouse. In 1942, Fort Péninsule, a part of the park, became one of Canada’s primary military stations during the Second World War when German submarines routinely entered the St. Lawrence. With 23 allied ships that had sunk, the war became more of a reality for people at home in Canada.
Continuing along route 132, we arrived at Perce Rock. Perce Rock is an 88 meters high and 433 meters long limestone monolith jutting majestically out of Mal Bay in the St. Lawrence. Formed over 375 million years ago, it’s the keeper of over 150 fossil species. Beside Perce Rock lies Bonaventure Island, home to 293 different bird species and one of the world’s largest gannet populations. Although once populated, the island is now a bird sanctuary.
Our last stop was Parc National de Miguasha, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park offers fossil cliffs and a museum which has preserved fossils approximately 419 million years old from the Devonian period.
From Parc National de Miguasha, we finished our circuit of the peninsula at Rimouski, our last. Five days and 2584 kilometers later, we returned home with great memories and gratitude. This fabulous five day trip will be etched forever in my mind and heart.