Sainte-Flavie: A Little Village with Big Ambitions
Sainte-Flavie is the gateway to the Gaspésie — one that we pass through too quickly. This coastal village deserves a stop long enough for us to be inspired by its citizens who nourish the region’s vitality, resilience, and beauty.
Text & photos—Catherine Bernier
In partnership with
I remember my childhood summers in Sainte-Flavie. My sisters and I sold my father’s strawberries on the side of Highway 132. There was no better place for attracting vacationing motorists! My parents’ house faced the rest area at the west entrance to the village, where we could read: Welcome to Sainte-Flavie, gateway to the Gaspésie!
Smiles flashing candidly, hair tousled by the salty air, and tiny teeth stained red from fruit, we would bathe in Sainte-Flavie’s local décor, without really realizing how lucky we were to be amidst such beauty.
As a young adult, opportunities to socialize and undertake projects were rare. But today, I’m discovering that my little village has reinvented itself. It is developing civic initiatives and drawing the attention of a new generation of entrepreneurs and outdoor enthusiasts seeking a dynamic environment where life is good.
The threat of coastal erosion, exacerbated by climate change, is hitting the municipality hard, but several families have seen it as an opportunity to strengthen their ties to the region.
East of the village, a gathering of life-sized concrete sculptures by artist Marcel Gagnon emerge from the river. It’s the perfect image: come hell or high water, Flaviens don’t waver; they come together.
The Tremblay family
The Vieux Moulin Meadery
My sisters and I used to cross the field behind the house to secretly go to the Vieux Moulin, where we’d buy honey candies. Normand Tremblay, the owner, used to give us more for our money and, most importantly, he took care to teach us about bees. The observation hive still stands at the entrance to the boutique. Upstairs, the Musée de la Neufve-France is brimming with heritage treasures from New France as well as First Nations artifacts that Normand has collected over the years. The former college professor of economics is also passionate about history and heritage buildings.
A former flour mill built in 1830, the Vieux Moulin bears the name of its first vocation. Its transformation into a meadery and museum is a happy marriage for Normand, who founded it during the “peace and love” era.
Every time we visit, Normand takes the time to ask us about our current projects. Normand is never in a hurry, even when it’s busy; he is there for others.
“My father is the Yvon Chouinard of the company, both mystery and legend of the Vieux Moulin. If you want to catch him, you have to come visit. He’s only available in person,” says Nicolas, one of Normand’s sons who is involved in the family business.
The company runs like a well-established beehive and owes its success to Normand and his sons. “It’s not always easy to work with family, but it has its advantages. Everyone has their own distinct role and drives,” adds Nicolas. While Guillaume (the other son) developed a passion for fermentation — thanks to him, the world-class mead has won several awards and never stops evolving — Nicolas and his wife take care of marketing. Today, their sparkling and still meads can be found at SAQs and specialty grocery stores in Québec, and they sell a wide range of gourmet bee products online.
Just as Nicolas learned the inner workings of the family business on the job, his own sons are following suit. “We spend a lot of time at the Vieux Moulin. Albert and Léo sometimes come help us at the boutique, but never for long; they’d rather go fishing in the creek, and that’s fine!” Nicolas is a great fan of the outdoors. Though as a young adult he considered pursuing a career in music with his band, he chose to participate in the family business to enjoy a more active lifestyle. Outside of the meadery, he can often be seen off-roading on his mountain bike or snowboarding off-piste. Every weekend, he and his family take up the sports they’re passionate about. You have to take advantage of everything such a beautiful region has to offer.
In Québec’s first tourist guide, published in 1929, Sainte-Flavie was mentioned as the unavoidable gateway to the Gaspésie, a crossroads to stop at and choose whether to visit the Gaspésie by coast or by the Matapédia Valley. In time, Sainte-Flavie has become a destination. The resulting dynamism has allowed the region’s business leaders to align their plans with the quality of life they dream of for their family.
The Fortin family
I was impatiently waiting to visit this microbrewery. Not that I’m crazy about beer, but the village badly needed a gathering place like this one — a place to meet up with friends, eat local (and like a local), gossip over IPAs, cross paths with neighbours not seen in ages, and build inclusive bridges for tourists around cultural events.
The Ketch opened in 2018 and brought a breath of fresh air. Beyond its huge popularity with passersby, the Ketch’s project has a fundamental message for the local community: it is possible to do things differently here.
“We had a magnificent abandoned building in the heart of the village that was just asking to welcome people,” says Jean-François Fortin, mayor of Sainte-Flavie and professor of political science at Cégep de Rimouski, who co-founded the microbrewery with nine partners. They needed to finance major renovations and have the building reassessed in order to do commercial activities. “We chose to establish a family business, to share the risks, where everyone would invest — each in their own way — to bring to life a project that would unite us.” A microbrewery seemed an ideal framework for generating excitement in the village and rekindling community vitality.
In three years, their goal has been achieved: the microbrewery nurtures a deep sense of belonging. During the pandemic, the Ketch equipped itself with a canning machine and began selling beer in a unique 750 ml (king can) format that encourages sharing. Ketch beers fulfill the company’s primary mission, bringing people together. But they have also carved out a place for themselves among hop enthusiasts. Guillaume Savard, a former radio host turned brewer, has pushed his passion to excellence. Ketch is now recognized by industry experts for its specialty beers, including fruited sours and the New England-inspired NEIPA — both worth checking out!
The Ketch is like an extended family. “We involve our 45 employees in the decision-making process. We get them going by promoting a horizontal hierarchy, a bit like a co-operative,” says Fortin.
Employees are also trained to welcome visitors and recommend other businesses in the region. “Whether they eat at Capitaine Homard, Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon, or Gaspésiana, we’re happy that people are staying in Sainte-Flavie. Mutual assistance between businesses is synonymous with local synergy and healthy regional development,” adds Fortin.
Carbon neutrality by 2022
“High-tide events made us rethink our region,” confides Jean-François Fortin.
Sainte-Flavie decided to use its precarious situation as incentive to mobilize, placing the environment at the heart of its decisions. The village has since developed a strengthened family policy, carbon neutrality, and community safety. Sainte-Flavie will soon be one of the first “carbon neutral” municipalities in Québec.
Studies carried out by the UQAR Research Chair on Coastal Geoscience have made it possible to target sectors that are most at risk of erosion and coastal immersion. “We are observing climate change on a human scale. For example, the ice forms later and thaws earlier, pieces of land vanish after each storm . . . in the end, there’s no time to wait for actions at the top.” Fortin and his team value participatory democracy in the community.
“When we get people involved instead of imposing a vision on them, the engine of change moves faster,” says Fortin. “With fewer than 1,000 residents, it takes people with conviction to resolutely carry out projects,” adds the mayor.
Among these initiatives is Sainte-Flavie’s participation in a Ministry of Public Safety pilot project that gives at-risk residents compensation for moving their home to either a safe place on their own land or a location elsewhere in the region. When this isn’t an option, homeowners can receive financial compensation for selling their home to the municipality, which will auction it off, to be relocated at the buyer’s expense. “We don’t want to demolish houses. This isn’t part of our vision for sustainability,” says Fortin.
Sainte-Flavie’s new vitality vibrates for miles. The village is attracting a new generation of entrepreneurs looking to expand their families, to the great delight of both citizens and tourists. Small organic farms are emerging alongside more traditional ones. “We can feel a real effervescence in the La Mitis Regional County Municipality. Organizations like the Mitis Lab support innovations in the regions that build bridges between experienced and novice entrepreneurs. Together they are helping enrich the region’s soil and are even setting an example for the rest of Québec.”
In the next few years, Sainte-Flavie will no doubt lose its original geomorphology, and some residents will be forced to leave, but the local identity won’t be eroded.
The resilience of citizens, the mobilization of the village’s elected representatives, and the advent of a new wave of people from here and elsewhere will continue to nourish the field of possibilities.
Freelance writer, photographer, and programming director for Mitis Lab, Catherine Bernier also holds degrees in counselling psychology and teaching meditation. Originally from Sainte-Flavie, Gaspésie, she cultivates a special relationship with the ocean and the vast wilderness.
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.