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Nothing escapes the heightened senses of a traveller who takes their time: the mesmerizing soundtrack of the waves, seals lounging on the rocks as the tide ebbs, the bracing scent of wild roses, a capelin fish darting by, a snorkeller harvesting seaweed, tiny strawberries eaten straight from the field, or the northeast wind bending the beach grass. To soak up the spirit of a place, you have to slow down. You have to stash your cellphone, certainties, and to-do list in the glove compartment, get out of the car, and be open to whatever appears on your path.
When you walk or run, you become more attentive to the little things. Your pace syncs up with nature and with the footsteps of the people you encounter.
What if the best way to get to know Gaspésie was slowly?
Last summer, a group of athletes from Montréal, tired of the pandemic and confinement, imagined exactly such a trip.
The idea first occurred to them during a backyard barbecue in the metropolis. Pierre-Alexandre Cardinal, Samuel Ostiguy, and Jérôme Grenier-Desbiens were talking about all their plans that had fallen through that year when their vision of sharing an athletic experience near the sea was born. “We didn’t want to head off on a guys’ trip together. That sort of thing has been done over and over. We wanted a community representative of the Québec of today, of its diversity,” explains Pierre-Alexandre, a Gaspésie lover and runner for more than five years.
The trio submitted their idea to Tourisme Gaspésie, whose mission is to promote the region’s natural beauty, the warmth of its residents, and its gourmet delights. Together, they developed a project they called Terroir d’Aventure (Land of Adventure): a 1,000-kilometre relay race starting in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts and finishing at Mount Albert, with a tour of the peninsula in between. The athletes would travel the route day and night, stopping to visit several of the region’s artisans along the way.
“We wanted to be inspired by the grandiose landscapes while respecting the land and the people who live there. We were curious to meet them and chat with them. When you visit a place with humility and curiosity, you can learn more, and you’ll leave with something a little more permanent,” explains Samuel, a runner, former soldier, and “adventure architect” for Expériences d’impact (Impact Experiences).
The trio recruited a diverse group of participants from their circles, all of whom were passionate about running and challenging themselves. At the end of September 2020, Pierre-Alexandre Cardinal, Matthieu de Babef, Karine Corbeil, Sabrina Feddal, Marie-Josée Hotte, Jérôme Grenier-Desbiens, Mike Nicolas, Samuel Ostiguy, Gabrielle Pedneault, and Alexandre Provost took off together for Eastern Québec, feverish at the idea of covering a combined 1,000 km—about 20 km per day per person—over roads and beaches, through the forests and the mountains.
Note that strict COVID-19 health and safety measures were applied throughout the journey.
Garden to Table
In Matapédia, the athletes were welcomed for lunch in a 150-year-old royal blue house—the estate of Casimir Gallant, the first Acadian of that name to settle in the area. The establishment, Chez Casimir, is now owned by his great-great-grandson, Dany Gallant, and Isabelle Côté. The pair acquired it in 2018. They wanted to create a café-inn, a place to socialize in this municipality of just over 600 people located near the Matapédia and Restigouche Rivers. First business partners, Isabelle and Dany soon became close friends.
Isabelle is the chef of the café. The traceability, freshness, and quality of her ingredients are paramount: “At the beginning, Jérôme Bolduc, from Le Potager du Restigouche (the Restigouche Vegetable Garden), supplied our produce. When he decided to put an end to his project, we suggested he come work with us, as we were wanting to put in a vege- table garden. Ever since, we can serve produce from our garden at our tables and show our customers where our ingredients come from. It fits in perfectly with our environmental values.” The chef dreams of one day having 95 per cent of her menu come from Québec, and Gaspésie whenever possible. Isabelle offered the athletes a bagel with smoked salmon from Monsieur Émile in Percé, along with a seasonal vegetable soup.
Chez Casimir’s vegetable garden is open to Matapédia residents, and the café-inn has also set up a communal root cellar. People garden and cook together, and when they help the Chez Casimir team out, they’re given vegetables or a meal in return. The community spirit, desire for self- sufficiency, and respect for nature are palpable in Matapédia, which could soon become an ecovillage.
The Peninsula in a Bottle
A little later that day, in Carleton-sur-Mer, the athletes stopped by Le Naufrageur (The Shipwrecker). One of the earliest microbreweries to join the Route des bières de l’Est du Québec (Eastern Québec Beer Route), Le Naufrageur was set up in a former theatre in 2008 by four Gaspésiens-at-heart: brothers Louis-Franck and Sébastien Valade along with Christelle Latrasse and Philippe Gauthier.
“We greeted the athletes with a thirst-quenching beer made with sea water from Chaleur Bay. It’s a sour beer with a slightly salty taste. Because they’d picked up William B oysters from the Ferme Maricole du Grand Large sea farm, we rounded off the tasting with an oyster stout,” explains Camille Ouellon, communications and event manager for Le Naufrageur. The runners were also treated to a guided tour of the brewery.
The Valade brothers began their entrepreneurial venture in 1997, when they opened La Mie Véritable (The True Crumb) with their mother, Doria. The bakery and brewery later merged. “When we brew a beer, we use whatever’s left of the malt—the spent grains—to make bread,” notes Camille.
Since Le Naufrageur’s beginnings, the team has drawn inspiration from local resources, explains Christelle, one of the co-owners. Some examples of their creations made from local treasures include a gose beer made with sea buckthorn and Saskatoon berries, a strong beer made with strawberries from the Ferme Bourdages Tradition farm, and an NEIPA (New England India Pale Ale) featuring hops grown locally by Bout d’Ligne. Their beers are sold on site but are also bottled and distributed throughout Québec. In summer, a small farmers’ market selling local products sets up out front.
Christelle, Philippe, Louis-Franck, and Sébastien employ 26 people permanently and have around 70 employees during the high season. “It’s really important to us that our team enjoys their work and has fun,” stresses Christelle. “We’re a family. In summer, after work, we all gather around the fire and have a good time.”
Originally from France, Sabrina Feddal has lived in Montréal for 12 years now, but the relay race marked her first trip to Eastern Québec. She experienced several incredible moments along the route: “I saw salmon fishers at work on the river, with a backdrop of mountains as far as the eye could see. ‘Beautiful’ is not a strong enough word to describe the scene. It was amazing.” Some white-tailed deer also greeted her along her path. Of course, there were also moments that nearly wiped the smile off her face: torrential rain, difficulty finding her bearings in the forest at night, 70 km/h gusts of wind blowing straight into her face . . . But what’s an adventure without the opportunity to surpass your limits? “On the last day, I felt like I was swallowing wind! I had to push myself hard. But I adjusted and laughed about it!”
The traces of our passage through an area should be easy to erase, like footprints in the sand wiped away by the rising tide. Travel memories, on the other hand, should take root in our hearts. “In bringing two communities together, the idea is that they can inspire each other and push each other to go further,” as Pierre-Alexandre Cardinal sums it up. For Samuel Ostiguy, the experience was particularly revealing: “These artisans are changing the world, one project at a time. This trip reignited my desire to build bridges, to imagine outdoor events that generate thoughtfulness and empathy for other people.” ■
Mélanie Gagné is a content creator and teacher in Matane. The St. Lawrence River has been part of her life since childhood, impressive and amazing, ever calming and inspiring. She enjoys living in the countryside with her family, hiking along the shore or in the mountains, public markets, poetry, and cafés.
Tourisme Gaspésie is a promotion and tourism development organization that aims to establish the Gaspé Peninsula as a major destination in Québec. With over 700 member companies, the organization is an indispensable reference tool to help you plan your trip to the region.