For my birthday weekend, I was presented with an opportunity to get off the grid and visit a little town a few hours north of Quebec City called Lac Edouard. Cell service is non-existent, Wi-Fi is iffy, and there doesn’t seem to be a true center of town delineated by cafes, shops or commerce of any kind. Was I interested? Heck yes.
The whole trip appealed to my desire to skip town with my eight year old daughter and ignore my responsibilities for a few days – beginning with the train ride. The route from Montreal to Lac Edouard (the train continues on as far as Jonquière), is one that serves people who aren’t on a deadline. The travellers are relaxed and friendly. People get comfy and play games and cards or read, and everyone appreciates the view of endless lakes, rivers, fields, barns… It’s a part of the province that most of us don’t get to see very often, especially since the train cuts through the landscape in areas where there are no roads.
Le Sanatorium du Lac Edouard
We hopped off the train at a post just short of Lac Edouard station, where we were greeted by Simon, the proprietor of the Sanatorium, his girlfriend/right-hand man Stephanie, and their black llama —who offered us a warm welcome. Llamas are to girls what… llamas are to adults. Llamas!!! We were sufficiently wooed and it was only minute five of our getaway.
“Le San”, as it is colloquially referred to, was official opened in 1909 to treat patients with tuberculosis. It has a long history, with its ownership and mandate changing hand several times (from hospital to vacation center) until it closed in 2004 and was ostensibly abandoned.
It was with nostalgia that Simon, an agriculturist by trade, used a field here on which to grow his specialty late-season strawberries (which ripen right between summer and fall strawberries). His grandmother and grandfather both worked at Le San back in the day, and he has memories of childhood summertime visits. The decision to acquire the site – at the time in complete disrepair – was fuelled by love. Over the past five years, Simon Parent and Stephanie have been slowly and carefully restoring the land and buildings on this heritage site.
So far they have managed to transform the barn (llamas! geese! ducks!) and the main building, which has five bedrooms for guests. Within a year, they will finish renovating three more houses and will increase capacity to 20 rooms, making it a perfect destination for families. The site’s campground already has six tiny-home-like tents equipped with two double beds each. There’s also a municipal beach and playground, several docks, and they offer kayak and canoe rentals as well.
And it has one more amazing thing: Chimney Swifts. These endangered birds used to roost and nest in hollowed out trees, but with colonization, fewer were available. They progressed to chimneys, but for many reasons their numbers dwindled. The long, tall chimney at Le San, abandoned for so long, served as the perfect roost, and the rest is history.
More chimneys have been built in the area specifically for them, organizations including the Quebec Wildlife Foundation and the Granby Zoo (among others) got involved, and the bird population has been increasing. At sundown in late spring and summer you can witness a most amazing sight as they dive down into the chimney to settle for the night.
Lac Edouard’s “Town Center”
With a population of about 150, the center of town looks about as rural as the rest of Lac Edouard. Let’s put it this way: the designation is based solely on location. On one side of the street you’ll find Lorraine Hallé’s boutique, Les Coffrets de Lorraine, selling her re-vamped jewelry and clothing creations as well as local mushrooms. Stop by and let Lorraine, who has lived in Lac Edouard for decades, teach you about the local mushroom scene – then get out there and forage!
Across the street is the Gîte d’Edouard, a modest and quiet B&B perfect for people travelling through the area. Over breakfast I met a lovely couple who were ATVing their way back home, nearly 200kms away. Now that’s enthusiasm for the sport!
For both provisions and a history of the town, stop by the Co-op farther down the street, which offers a surprising variety of foodstuffs, local handmade products and a pretty decent selection of wine. And of course, they’ve got supplies for hunters and fishers as well. Make sure to go upstairs to check out the modest historic center telling the story of Lac Edouard in words, pictures and artifacts.
Other Fun Things to do in Lac Edouard
If you’re looking for a one day getaway, or remote all-in hotel for an extended stay, the Seigneurie du Triton is truly special. And, you’re guaranteed to feel in-the-know if you find yourself in this pontoon-access-only spot. Treat yourself to a few nights, or just pop in for a meal, but don’t miss this historic spot.
The eponymous Lac Edouard is 25km across, and the area itself has over 300 lakes, big and small, and more forest than you can shake a stick at. No wonder it’s a big draw for fishing, seasonal hunting and nature lovers. The main part of town includes a public beach, playground, mountain bike trails, boat rentals and more. There’s nothing better than discovering a little spot and making it your own. Even better is finding a little spot with llamas. Llamas!!!