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Point-au-Pere Lighthouse at Sunset

10 Best Things to Do in The Quebec Maritimes of Eastern Canada

Author Lori Sweet and Sylvio Roy
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The Quebec Maritimes in Eastern Canada has so much to offer. The multitude of cities and towns have their own unique culture, cuisine, and scenery. One of the best ways to explore the region is to take a road trip. You can take many routes, including at least one ferry, so you don’t have to backtrack. Don’t worry; the ferry rides themselves can be considered an excursion.

The stops on this list follow the ever-changing landscape of the mighty St Lawrence River, where the sea dictates the rhythm of life.

About The Quebec Maritimes

The Québec Maritimes is the easternmost tourist region of the province where Quebec meets the Canadian Maritime provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. United by the St Lawrence River and the Atlantic, these regions consist of Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord and the Îles de la Madeleine.

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Quebec Maritimes

Whale Watching in the Quebec Maritimes

humpback whale breeching in Quebec Maritimes
A humpback whale breeching in the St Lawrence River near Tadoussac

The region has some of the best whale watching in the world. 13 species of whales, including the endangered St. Lawrence beluga, harbour porpoises, seals, and sea birds, can be seen both from the water and land.

Park’s Canada’s Cap-de-Bon-Desir Interpretation and Observation Centre is one of the best places to see whales from the shore. Walk the 375-metre-long Harbour Porpoise Trail to the water. Look out over the shoreline from the observation deck or stand on the large rock outcropping getting even closer to the water. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera! A Naturalist will be there to answer your questions and to be on the lookout. 

You can go whale watching on an organized kayak tour, zodiac tour or larger boat. Although you can do this on your own, it is recommended that you use a certified guide both for your safety and that of the marine life. Regardless of the time of year and weather, dress warmly.

Several companies provide this service, but we recommend Croisières AML. With departures from Baie-Sainte-Catherine, Rivière-du-Loup and Tadoussac, you can choose from Zodiac (inflatable boat) or a large vessel. Bilingual naturalist guides onboard not only share information about marine life, but they serve as lookouts. There are several considerations when choosing your tour, so check out the description on the website to make the best choice for you.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Regardless of the time of year, always bring a jacket with you when you go out on an excursion. The air temperature can be significantly colder out on the water.

Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM)

Marine skeletons
Marine Skeletons hanging from the ceiling of the Interpretation Centre

Before or after your whale watching excursion, we recommend visiting the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM). Located in Tadoussac, this impressive exhibit of the whales of the St. Lawrence contains the most extensive collection of whale skeletons in Canada.

As you approach the building, there are five life-sized beluga whale sculptures. The building is located beside the water, so you may be lucky enough to see some in the wild just before entering the building.

On display is the skeleton of a 13-metre-long sperm whale. Also on display is the baleen (plates of whalebone from the mouth used for straining plankton from the water) of a right whale they affectionately call Piper. 

The exhibition is in French, but an easy-to-follow booklet is available in English. Many of the displays talk about the research currently being done. In addition, naturalists are present to answer your questions in both English and French.

Make sure you stay for the impressive light show. It highlights the exhibits interwoven with recorded whale sounds. It is eerily beautiful.

Lighthouse Trail

Faux lighthouse
Faux lighthouse at Par de l’Ancien Quai

There are more than 40 lighthouses that dot the coastlines of the maritime regions of Quebec. Some of these are still operational today, while others remind us of the heritage of the area and the relationship people have with the water.

Lighthouses hold such a fascination for many that you will see symbols of lighthouses adorning the lawns of homes and businesses. Some lighthouses are now museums or cafés. In addition, several of the lightkeeper’s houses adjacent to various lighthouses offer overnight accommodation.

At Parc de l’Ancien Quai St-André, there is a faux lighthouse. You are welcome to sit inside to enjoy the water and wildlife that frequent the area.

Visit the lighthouse at Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre before you head down to the water to search for whales that come close to the coastline.

Located at the Point-au-Pére Maritime Historic Site, the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse, erected in 1909, is the second tallest in Canada.

Follow the Lighthouse Trail map below to discover the history of this region.

Lighthouse Trail Map

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Be aware that you will likely be on a ferry or two during your trip. For example, taking the ferry from Matane to Godbout will take you approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes for the crossing. Note that you are required to leave your car for the duration of the trip on most ferries. A comfortable lounge, restrooms, and cafeteria make your journey very comfortable.

Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon

Statues in the water
Statues emerging with the tide at Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon

The Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon is a treat to the senses. Located along the mighty St-Lawrence River, in the village of Sainte-Flavie, the centre welcomes you with the sight of sculptures emerging from the sea. The scene changes with the mood of the weather and the movement of the tides.

A series of buildings with beautiful stonework adorned with fanciful sculptures give you a hint of some of what you are about to experience. Once inside the main building, you can make your way directly to the boutique, art galleries, the restaurant, or check into your room.

The Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon is truly a feast for your senses.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: It isn’t necessary to speak French while visiting the province of Quebec, but knowing some words is always a plus.

  • Hello/Bonjour
  • Thank you/ Merci
  • Goodbye/Au revoir
  • Restroom/Toilettes

The Onondaga Submarine

Onondaga Submarine
Onondaga Submarine and Museum

If you enjoy history, be it maritime or military, then the Onondaga submarine is a must. Operational with the Royal Canadian Navy from 1967 to 2000, this 90-metre-long ship sailed the Atlantic to protect Canada and its NATO allies. It is Canada’s first publicly accessible submarine.

This Oberon-class submarine is now a museum at Pointe-au Père, near Rimouski, Québec. It took 70 crew members to operate the submarine. They would work in tight, almost claustrophobic quarters, for months-long patrols, being tossed around by the sea, without stepping outside once to breath fresh air. It took a special breed of people to endure such working conditions.

The sub is a self-guided audio tour. The tour will explain how the submarine works and how the crew operated this Cold War weapon.

Even if you are not a big fan of history, visiting the submarine is an eye-opening experience. You will gain a new level of respect for people who choose to serve their country under the sea.

The Empress of Ireland Museum

Empress of Ireland Museum
Empress of Ireland Museum in the shape of the wreck.

In the wee hours of a foggy night, May 29th, 1914, a mere two years after the Titanic disaster, the “Empress of Ireland” collided with the “Storstad.” Despite having watertight bulkheads and doors, just like the Titanic, it sunk in only 14 minutes. Unfortunately, of the 1,477 souls on board, 1,012 perished with the Empress making this the worst peacetime maritime disaster in Canadian history.

Located at Pointe-au Père, east of Rimouski, Québec, and using a unique multi-sensory experience, the museum will bring you back in time from when the wreck lay at the bottom of the St-Lawrence River to when she was sailing the Atlantic Ocean.

Visitors are transported back to a time when travelling was as much a part of the experience as the destination. As a result, you better appreciate a travellers’ risk in the early 20th century to visit the new world.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Since you will need a car to get around the Quebec Maritimes, take the opportunity to stop at some of the smaller towns and villages along the way. There are many things to do and see without stopping at the major tourist areas.

Rivière du Loup, Quebec Maritimes

The Cinéma Princesse in Riviere du Loop, Quebec Maritimes
The Cinéma Princesse in Riviere du Loop

Rivière du Loup (Wolf’s River) is a city of about 20,000 inhabitants on the south shore of the St-Lawrence River and east of Québec City. Founded in 1673, this small city offers various attractions and entertainment.

“Parc des chutes,” located close to downtown, has a picturesque 33metre-high waterfall. Next to the falls, established in 1928, is one of the first hydroelectric dams of the lower St Lawrence. You can stroll around the base of the dam or walk some of the 9 km of trails crisscrossing this stunning forested park.

A block and a half from the “Parc des chutes” is the fascinating street, “Rue La Fontaine.” Getting out of the car and walking this street is the best way to get the whole experience. You can enjoy some local beer made at the Microbrasserie Aux Fous Brassant (Crazy brewers) along the walk. With beer names such as “Chien Jaune” (yellow dog), “diable vert” (green devil), and “Fun noir” (dark fun), you can rest assured that you will enjoy those brews.

A few steps from the brewery is one of the last non-franchised cinemas left on the continent. Established in 1917, Cinéma Princesse projects classic and new release movies in the historic building. After a film, you can enjoy a nice meal at one of the many local restaurants on the street.

Approximately a block past the cinema is the charming Café de la Brûlerie, a perfect way to finish visiting Downtown Rivière du Loup. You will come out of this small town delighted to have taken the time to experience some of its secrets.

Kamouraska, Quebec Maritimes

Café du Clocher, Kamouraska, Quebec Maritimes
Beautiful Café du Clocher in Kamouraska

Here you will find an idyllic village lost in time, on the shore of the mighty St-Lawrence River. You can slow your pace and stroll along its narrow streets to the Quais de Kamouraska, the local pier. Enjoy the smell of salty air from the sea, and open your appetite for what is to come, great food with a view!

We recommend stopping at the Café du Clocher (Steeple’s café), across the street from the church. This small restaurant may be hidden behind some trees, but the view is fantastic. On a clear day, you can see the town of La Malbaie across the St-Lawrence River, some 23 km away. It serves a healthy menu from delicious local products.

A short walk to La Fée Gourmande (the hungry fairy) for dessert will be worth the effort. This chocolaterie will make you a chocolate addict if you are not one already. It has a wide variety of treats, from boxes of succulent chocolate and baked goods to a myriad of chocolate-dipped ice cream cones.

If you are more into cultural experiences, go to the old courthouse, which has been re-purposed into the Centre d’art de Kamouraska (Kamouraska art centre). There you will view paintings, sculptures, and different visual arts from local artists.

There is also the Musée Régionale de Kamouraska. This museum is in an old convent built in 1851 and sits next to the church. You will learn how the pioneers lived in the area. You might also be surprised to learn that the village has been used for several movies and TV series, including a film titled “Kamouraska.”

For a village of less than a thousand inhabitants, Kamouraska will teach you to slow down, enjoy the food, the people, and the roots of its origin. It is surprising how much it has to offer!

Parc Nature De Pointe-aux-Outardes

Accommodations in Parc Nature De Pointe-aux-Outardes
One of five giant “birds nest” accommodations in Parc Nature De Pointe-aux-Outardes

If you don’t like to hike for hours to enjoy nature, this is the place to be. In this park, you can find no less than nine different ecosystems within a short distance! All those ecosystems are intertwined with a network of 10 km of easy access trails. That means you are never far from your favourite spot while having the opportunity to discover new ones. There are lookouts on some of the trails where you can observe some of the over 200 species of birds. If you are lucky, you might see a red tail hawk or a bald eagle. There are also plenty of sheltered rest areas where you can let yourself be one with nature.

French and English guided tours are a great way to understand the importance of this unique location better.

Are you visiting with young family members? No problem, there are activities for all ages. Besides the traditional playground, they have a themed scavenger hunt, “Alice in Nature.” Over the 2.5 km path, which includes a labyrinth and secret doors, you will learn about the area’s early settlers.

Is Star gazing more your speed? You will be in awe of the night sky. They provide guided tours of the night sky, and you can observe planets with their 45 cm reflective telescope.

You will want to settle in for the night after these activities. They have your traditional camping sites as well as locations for your RV. A popular alternative is any of the five giant “bird nests”! These “birds nests” are themed to a particular local bird and are multi-level heated cabins with running water and a solar power lighting system.

No matter your preferences, you will find Parc Nature de Pointe-aux-Outardes, an ideal place for the entire family to enjoy nature while being comfortable.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: There are so many unique bed and breakfasts and small independent hotels/motels that you might choose not to stay in a chain hotel the entire trip.

Quebec Maritimes

In the Quebec Maritimes, there is so much more to do

This list of the ten best things to do when visiting the Quebec Maritimes is just the beginning of your adventure. You may wish to concentrate strictly on maritime activities or follow a wilderness theme. No matter what you decide to do, you will find yourself wanting to add more to your list for a return trip.

Travel assistance was provided by Le Québec Maritime Tourism. All opinions are entirely those of the writers.

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