The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
We lean against the rails as the Island slips by. Souris, Little Harbour, Basin Head, South Lake, East Point Lighthouse… until the Hermanville wind turbines sink below the horizon and we are alone with our ferry and the open sea.
We are en route to Montréal, by water. First north to the Magdalen Islands/les Îles de la Madeleine; change ships and head west to the Gaspé peninsula; then sail on up the St. Lawrence River past—well, past everything—to Montréal. The whole time we will be floating on the same water that flows in and out of the Cove every day.
The Magdalen Islands CTMA ferry has lounges with reclining seats, a pub with a sing-along, and a cafeteria that serves sugar pie. After four delightful hours someone spots the immense rock of Entry Island rising from the deep, and everyone heads outside to stare at gannets (white cliff-dwelling birds with long black-tipped wings) as they plummet into the sea in search of mackerel and capelin. Another hour and we’re there.
One day is not enough on the Magdalen Islands, but we’ll come again. Now we have a cruise ship to catch! It seems impossible that this group of small islands could have its own cruise ship line, yet once a week all summer long the luxurious CTMA “Vacancier” sails back and forth between Montréal and Cap-aux-meules, carrying 400 passengers and 100 crewmembers, plus vehicles and cargo. Most passengers are Québécois, but there are a few anglais such as ourselves and we all feel perfectly welcome.
On board Le Vacancier no effort is spared to entertain and feed us; the bedrooms are immaculate; there is a cinema, a gym, a hair salon… but the main attraction is the St. Lawrence itself. We learn that the gulf is like a huge lake with two small outlets to the Atlantic Ocean. The river is salty and tidal upriver as far as Tadoussac (we glimpse the fins of two whales), and the lighter freshwater starts to mix with the heavier saltwater in visible stripes of blue and green at Ile d’Orléans (famous for strawberries). At Québec City the river narrows for the first time: historically, whoever possessed this point of land controlled the river. Herring was once so plentiful in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that “you could almost cut the water.” The Magdalen Islands employed 2000 workers in the smoked herring industry. The town of Gaspé, with nine consulates, was as important as Boston or New York, and shipped ten millions pounds of cod overseas annually…
On our last night we slip past the twinkling lights of Trois-Rivières, and follow the narrow channel through Lac Saint-Pierre, taking on pilots as needed. At daybreak we pass under the Jacques Cartier Bridge, coast past Habitat for Humanity, and ease into our berth near the Five Roses flour silos.
The day is golden and fresh, full of possibilities. We have arrived at Montréal, from Prince Edward Island, by water.