Finding Home in Gaspésie
Two portraits of people who travelled to the Gaspé Peninsula and decided they never wanted to leave. See, through their eyes, the land of the northern gannet and the endless sea.
In partnership with
“The sky takes my hand
And the wind calls out my name”
— Marie-Pierre Arthur
Do we choose Gaspésie, or does Gaspésie, sensing some deep desire for a more peaceful life, choose us? Either way, more and more people have decided to leave the city, suburbs, or even the countryside to enjoy a new, calmer life on the Gaspé Peninsula. And they have few regrets.
We invite you to meet two transplanted Gaspesiens-at-heart who love their land.
Bewitched by sea, rocks, and birds
In 1994 Guylaine Dubois and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Éric Noiseux, visited île Bonaventure. They were so moved by the distinctiveness of this pocket of Gaspésie that in the middle of a hike, they decided that they would one day live near the sea, Percé Rock, and the northern gannets. Their feeling of being at home in this rugged landscape was something they never forgot. But it wasn’t until 2016 — over 20 years later — that Guylaine and Éric left Dunham and the Eastern Townships to settle in a pretty mauve house in Percé with a view of the blue horizon.
The call of the sea had to be strong: moving was no small task. Not only did they have six children between the ages of 8 and 25, Guylaine also had a small soap business and 25 donkeys to move over nearly a thousand kilometres. “My hat goes off to my husband, who moved us all in our trailer. In one year, he made 20 trips with the vehicle fully packed, sometimes driving all night. It was quite the adventure.” In the end, one of their daughters stayed in Dunham, but the other five children came with them to Percé.
“We’re happy to be here. It’s a different pace, gentler and more Zen. Before we moved, my customers were often in a rush, eager to get back over the bridge before traffic hit. In Gaspésie, people take the time to live.”
Guylaine first learned how to make soap to help one of her children, who had skin problems. She soon discovered that she had a knack for it and began her own company. Today Guylaine creates a whole range of care products made from fresh donkey milk. “Cleopatra used donkey’s milk. Many different skin types tolerate it very well. I always say that whatever you put on your skin, you should be able to put in your mouth.” Poussière d’Étoile, her soap-making company and donkey farm, has been around for 15 years now.
Guylaine works with two of her daughters — Élisabeth, who is a full-time soap maker, and Camille, who runs the store — in central Percé. Every day she soaks in the wild beauty of Gaspésie. She also takes inspiration for her products from the land, and collaborates with local businesses: “I use hemp seed oil from Coop du Cap, balsam fir from Gaspésie Sauvage, rhubarb and strawberry seeds from the Ferme Bourdages, and saskatoon berries from Domaine St-Maxime. There’s so much treasure here.” Guylaine also makes a soap with Les Herbes Folles gin for the Société Secrète distillery and is planning on working beer from local microbreweries — Cap Gaspé, Pit Caribou, Auval, and Brett & Sauvage — into her future creations.
The change in lifestyle made the whole Dubois-Noiseux family happier. “We should have taken the leap sooner! Gaspésie is the most beautiful place in the world. You’re so close to nature that you can touch the stars,” Guylaine says, beaming.
On August 25, 2018, Guylaine and Éric renewed their vows on a passenger boat in front of Percé Rock before an audience of seals, whales, and northern gannets. They did so to honour their love, of course, but also to honour the beautiful madness that led them to their new home and neighbours.
An underwater garden
Originally from Brittany, France, Antoine Nicolas set his suitcases down in Grande-Rivière on August 28, 2011. He had arrived to do an internship for his master’s degree from the École des Pêches et de l’Aquaculture du Québec (the Québec School of Fisheries and Aquaculture). “Ever since I was a teenager, I’d dreamed of having my own shellfish farm. I was also interested in responsible aquaculture — which is why I came to Québec. I very quickly felt like I was in my element in Gaspésie. To go diving, all I had to do was walk down the cape in front of our place.” Antoine has lived there ever since.
In Grande-Rivière, Antoine began harvesting seaweed for a professor in charge of a research project. He was the ideal candidate for the job: he’d been diving since the age of five. After that, he picked seaweed for Gaspésie Sauvage before starting his own company in 2013.
In Cap-aux-Os, Antoine founded Un Océan de Saveurs, a seaweed harvesting and processing company. His products are certified organic — a first for an edible seaweed producer in Québec. He picks 15 different species — green, red, and brown — from Cap-aux-Os and Cap-des-Rosiers, in Grande-Vallée.
Villagers are used to seeing Antoine driving along Highway 132 or walking into the corner store wearing his custom-made wetsuit; seaweed is harvested year-round — even in winter — in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. When he reaches the beach, he ties mesh bags to his small inflatable raft. He fastens a knife to his leg, puts fins on his feet, and pulls on his mask as he enters the water. At two or three metres deep, Antoine dives down and picks seaweed one by one, cutting each plant at its base before swimming back up to stash it in his nets. A day of harvesting can last up to 13 to 14 hours, depending on the light.
“Diving and working in nature are not the easiest ways to make your living, but I chose to follow my dreams. I’m a little nonconformist. I built my own business in a field that didn’t exist.”
Antoine feels like he’s living in a postcard. His work is both intellectual and physical, allowing him to take full advantage of the beauty of Gaspésie. Every day the underwater world offers him a different spectacle, the chance to rub shoulders with whales, fish, seals, and even some birds. “There’s been as many as 12 seals around me at once. They’re shy but curious. The babies will sometimes swim up and nibble the tips of my fins,” he tells me.
After the seaweed is gathered, Antoine places it in coolers, which keep the plants at the temperature of their natural habitat. Antoine is meticulous: it means a lot to him that his product is fresh. “I keep the seaweed alive as long as I can. So, if I rinse it, it’s with sea water, or I manually remove shellfish and crustaceans. I try to process it as little as possible.”
When he first started out, he mostly sold fresh seaweed to restaurant owners. He later expanded his offerings to include products with a longer shelf life, like dried and frozen seaweed. He increasingly sells in grocery stores and fishmongers, as well as through his online store. This diver-gatherer has tasked himself with sharing his knowledge through trade shows and exhibitions; he wants to encourage more people to incorporate sea vegetables into their daily lives.
A proud father of a five-year-old girl — who has inherited her father’s gills — Antoine Nicolas will not be leaving his underwater garden on the Gaspé Peninsula any time soon.
Vivre en Gaspésie is a regional development strategy that places Gaspésie on the map as a living environment. It aims to promote the area, attract new people, and to help welcome and integrate newcomers. To know more about life in Gaspésie, visit vivreengaspesie.com (website available in French only).
Mélanie Gagné is a content creator and teacher. The St. Lawrence River has been part of her life since childhood: impressive, amazing, calming, and inspiring. She enjoys living in the countryside with her family, hiking along the shore or in the mountains, as well as public markets, poetry, and cafés.