Looking to escape the stifling city heat for a few days this summer? There are the classic and uber-popular destinations we all know of, and then there are the havens you’ll find off the beaten path. Quebec’s Bas-Saint-Laurent region, nicknamed “Bas-du-Fleuve” (which translates to “Lower-River”), sits on the south bank of the mighty Saint Lawrence River near the point where it begins to open up into a bay—and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. And in this region, sitting at water’s edge and at the mouth of the Rimouski River, is Rimouski proper, the region’s social and cultural capital.
World-renowned as a maritime sciences hub due to its prime geographical location, Rimouski is home to Université du Québec à Rimouski and sees students come from all over the world to fill its lecture halls, giving it the vibrant feel of a university town from September to May while having the charm of a vacation destination during summer months. But leave your textbooks at home and enjoy all that this gem of a town has to offer from the time you disembark at Rimouski station. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
RMS Empress of Ireland
From the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald to the demise of the Titanic some 400 km off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada has a sort of poetic heritage of ill-fated vessels and their place in the annals of maritime history. Off the shores of Rimouski sank the RMS Empress of Ireland in 1914. Though never immortalized in a Gordon Lightfoot song, it was the worst peacetime marine disaster in Canadian history, with 1,012 of the 1,477 souls on board having lost their lives. Visit artifacts of the historic wreckage at the Empress of Ireland Pavilion at the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père, a maritime museum located in the Rimouski showcasing 200 years of maritime history.
Ever wonder what it would be like to spend the night aboard a submarine? The museum offers the experience of spending the night tucked away in the hull of the Onondaga, a retired 90-metre behemoth of a vessel that stalked the depths of the Atlantic for more than three decades. However, wakeup time is 7 am sharp—don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Les Grandes Fêtes Telus
Every year, Les Grandes Fêtes Telus serves as Rimouski’s marquee summer celebration as both locals and visitors alike flock to Parc Beauséjour in the centre of town for a three day music festival. And if you’re thinking this place is too small to attract the bigwigs, think again! Past performers include Bryan Adams and Weezer. This year Pitbull, Éric Lapointe and Nickelback will rock the festival’s stages and ensure it will be one to remember.
If you’d like to try your hand at some weekend camping in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, the Parc National du Bic offers breathtaking views of the Saint Lawrence River and the Baie des Ha! Ha! (yes—it’s really called that). Located in the Estuary of Saint Lawrence, this provincial park offers camping for those looking for full wilderness immersion (read: very rustic option for die-hard campers). For those of us who are less experienced and enjoy a few creature comforts, there are more modern options complete with running water and electricity.
Le Bic, as it’s endearingly nicknamed, is a true playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Go on a guided sea kayaking excursion and see marine and bird wildlife typical to the region, including seals, or go geocaching, hiking or biking. Rimouski houses some of Canada’s most important maritime sciences research centres, which means prime location for spotting awesome littoral fauna. And though it may sound a bit geeky (no hate mail please), geocaching is a pretty amazing and unique way to discover a new town, and Le Bic (with all it’s nooks and crannies) is the perfect place for it. The Parc National du Bic’s SEPAQ website offers all the information you’ll need to plan your outdoor activities.
Following a night or two of camping, you may find yourself craving something other than campfire-roasted hotdogs and s’mores. Lucky for you, Rimouski offers a number of excellent gastronomical options in the centre of town. The restaurants here do an excellent job of incorporating regional ingredients into their local food and drink options. Make sure to try Restaurant Arlequin*, a charming open concept kitchen and dining area with enticing options such as shrimp ravioli with sea urchin cream or roasted duck breast with a carrot emulsion. Make sure to reserve well in advance, seating is limited at this uber-popular eatery!
For a drink that’ll warm you up on a cool Rimouski summer evening, there’s award-winning Gin St-Laurent, hand crafted and distilled in small batches locally. Their secret? After a steam infusion of exotic spices in a custom designed gin-basket, their gin is slowly macerated with laminaria seaweed hand-harvested in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region. Sounds weird, tastes amazing. If you are left with a few questions about the process, you can go on a tour of their in-house distillery. The 45-minute walk-though will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the distilling process. And as long as you’re there, do partake in the tasting.
If you’re a coffee fanatic like me, you’ll want to check out Cafés du Moussonneur*, where their specialty is a green coffee steeped in seawater (are you sensing a nautical theme here?) of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine before being dried and roasted.
Lazing around town
For those looking to get in some exercise in all while soaking up the rays and the seaside air aromas, the sleepy little town of Sainte-Luce sits about a one-hour bike ride away (20 minutes by car for lazy bums like me!). It has a charming little beach, so pack your bathing suit and goodies for a picnic. Make sure to bring a book or two, the multi-colour houses that line the beachside waterfront will serve as a lovely backdrop to your afternoon reading as you lose track of time. But most of all, enjoy it—before you know it, you’ll be on the train heading home and already thinking of your inevitable return.
Header image: Kayaking at Parc national du Bic. Credit: Christian Savard
*Websites in French only