Adapting, All at Once

Ouranos helps prepare Québec’s tourism industry for climate change by working closely hands-on with people in the field.

Text—Mélanie Gagné
Photos—Sophie Corriveau

In partnership with

“The true intelligence of human beings
is their capacity to adapt. People can get
used to anything, even the very worst.”

—Sebastião Salgado

Every second, new beings are born while others die. Earth is home to nearly eight billion people and immeasurable life. The planet reacts to perpetual movements. Not only is our planet constantly evolving, it is also warming irremediably. Here in Québec, winters are growing shorter, while heat waves, heavy rains, and rising waters are intensifying. It is essential to think about how we can respond to this new reality.

Since 2001, Ouranos, a Consortium on regional climatology and adaptation to climate change, has been working to make Québec more resilient. Two extreme weather events led to the creation of the consortium: the Saguenay flood in 1996 and the ice storm of 1998. “Before that, the effects of global warming were only felt elsewhere. Policy makers realized that Québec’s society was also vulnerable to climate change. They consequently created a boundary organization to bring together key players to develop adaptation solutions to face this crisis,” explains Stéphanie Bleau, tourism program coordinator at Ouranos.

While all sectors of activity are affected by climate change, the fact remains that for tourism, the situation is particularly challenging. Québec’s natural attractions and northern landscapes are real gems, attracting visitors from across the province and around the world. It is important that we know how to protect them over the long term, particularly since the tourism industry employs many people. The advancement of knowledge about climate change and the support of the industry’s stakeholders will help develop a more resilient tourism economy and seize new business opportunities. We can only gain by better linking climate and tourism in research and development.

Forget the clichéd image of a lonely scientist working in a dusty lab: the team at Ouranos does not fit this caricature. Since 2010 it has supported the tourism community through concerted activities that shed light on the issue of climate change, explore relevant business strategies, and establish and provide cost assessments for climate change adaptation measures. In short: the team talks with people in the field to find appropriate solutions to the reality of the entrepreneurial world.

In practical terms, the organization bridges science and agents of change. “I’ve always been interested in how science has concrete and rather immediate repercussions on society,” explains executive director Alain Bourque. “Many scientists delve deep into the details. When push comes to shove, I’d rather release clear messages and certainties about managing weather, climate, and the impacts of both.”

Ouranos also looks beyond Québec and draws inspiration from best practices of countries that have already had to adapt to climate change. “In the Alps, the Pyrenees, and Australia, the winters and the summers are very hot. In the Alps, for example, ski resorts that were a unique activity have adjusted. At low altitudes, resorts are closing because they can’t guarantee enough snow for customers. They have challenged practices, business models, geographical locations, international tourism flows, and customer behaviour. Their experiences are relevant for us,” explains Stéphanie Bleau. Ouranos is also in dialogue with Canadian, European, and international universities, sharing expertise and creating partnerships.

Here are the stories of three climate change adaptation initiatives taking place in Québec through the Ouranos Tourism program and financed by Fonds Vert.

A living lab in the Laurentians

In the Laurentians, the climate portrait for the next decades includes torrential rains (beware of landslides!), severe thunderstorms, and more frequent episodes of warming winter spells—with dire consequences for a touristic region centred on outdoor activities.

“For our industry, adapting to climate change comes with a lot of challenges,” affirms Maurice Couture, coordinator of Living Lab Laurentides and director of a niche of excellence for ACCORD. It is precisely to mobilize stakeholders of the tourism industry that the Living Lab was established by his organization and Tourisme Laurentides.

But what exactly is a “Living Lab”? It could also be called an open-innovation ecosystem—a collaborative space that operates in a real-life context with a user-centric approach for solution building.


Generally, the people who work in Living Labs come from different backgrounds: their range of experience fosters ideas.

“Everyone is involved right from the beginning, including the customer and various experts. We try to move forward together and co-create a new tourist experience. It brings out ideas that we might not have had at first,” explains Maurice Couture. The lab also shares its results and best practices with the community: if a solution works for one player in the industry, it might work for others too.

Through contacts with tourism organizations and calls for projects, Living Lab Laurentides has supported about 10 teams in co-creating and prototyping innovative adaptations to climate change. The program targets six priority areas of activity: outdoor adventures, camping outfitters, accommodations, winter activities (downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing), events, and off-road vehicles. One such project selected by the Living Lab targets hiking trail redevelopment, an initiative led by four managers.

In the Laurentians, like in many other places in the province, hiking trails were created by volunteers who had no idea how many people would later use them. In some cases, these trails are now quaking under current traffic—and climate change is not helping. Runoff from increasingly heavy rainfall and melting snow causes damage like landslides and broken culverts. The trails have to be repaired and redesigned for quality and for the safety of their users, while protecting the land. Living Lab helped equip site managers dealing with this issue by providing them with a three-day training session.

For Jean-François Boily, director of the Parc Régional de Val-David–Val-Morin, it was a timely initiative: “It opened my eyes to the importance of developing trails with sustainable development in mind. Some of our trails have a lot of rocks: we can use these rocks to build stairs. They’ll take longer to build, but they’ll also be there for a long time.” Boily now knows how to make it easy for water to run off a trail (by maintaining a corridor on either side), a critical practice in ensuring the trail’s capacity to face current and future torrential rains.

Bromont Montagne d’expériences (Olivier Jobin)


Redesigning ski resorts in the Eastern Townships

Gabrielle Larose loves winter: the ground covered in sparkling powder; the pure, true air; the immaculate landscapes. She has several pairs of skis in her closet and is always excited to hit the slopes. “The northern landscapes define us in Québec. It’s in our DNA. I want to believe that winter will exist for a long while yet, even if it’s different. Ski resorts will have to reinvent themselves and be creative so that we can enjoy them whatever the season,” maintains the main project manager for the ASSQ (the Québec association of ski resorts).

Larose is far from the only ski enthusiast in the province; skiing is an essential part of Québec’s tourism industry. The province is home to 75 ski resorts, many of which are engines of regional economic activity. In spite of its importance, the ski industry has taken a hit over the past 30 years due to the province’s aging population, domestic and international competition, and outdated infrastructure—all compounded by roller-coaster weather. The 2015–2016 season marked the industry’s worst performance in 20 years, according to the ASSQ, and highlights the need to examine the impacts of climate change. The unpredictability and variability of the seasons have a significant effect on customers, revenues, and decision making.

In the Eastern Townships, in southern Québec, the ski industry generates more than $150 million annually. In 2016, Ouranos initiated an economic analysis of climate change adaptation measures, in collaboration with Tourism Eastern Townships, Tourisme Québec, two regional county municipalities (RCMs), three major ski resorts (Mont Bromont, Mont Sutton, and Mont Orford), as well as the ASSQ.

Owl's Head (Mathieu Dupuis)

The analysis looked at the impacts of climate change on skier visits, regional socio-economics, and the cost-effectiveness of adaptation measures. “We love Ouranos’ approach, how they turn scientific knowledge into operational knowledge. It helps stakeholders integrate climate risks into their planning,” explains Gabrielle Larose. “Based on a regional collaborative framework, customized decision-making tools for the ski industry have been developed to better inform business decisions and investment practices. That’s what I fundamentally believe in. Businesses shouldn’t be working this out all on their own.”

Charles Désourdy, president of Ski Bromont, a mountain of experiences, stresses the value of the work they’ve done with Ouranos: “It has helped us fall in line and adjust our business model—and that reassures the bank. For example, December is a major time for customer demand. We now know that we have to set aside a certain amount of cash each year to make snow at marginal temperatures, namely when it’s -4, -5, or -6 °C, and  equip ourselves for automatization.” The analysis helped the ski resort better plan the development of its activities over the four seasons, which in turn helps reduce the vulnerability to fluctuations in winter temperatures.

Larose maintains that the Alps should serve as a model for Québec: “In the Alps, when the resort is suffering, the whole community helps out. The people know it’s the economic lungs of their area. The ski resort supports local restaurants, hotels, and related activities. In the long run, we have every interest in copying that model. Municipalities and the provincial government will have to be there to support us.”

Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, Charlevoix (Mikael Rondeau – Sépaq)


Québec and Charlevoix going forward

In time, Ouranos wants to identify the vulnerabilities of different tourist regions of Québec so that each adopts a development strategy that accounts for climate-related disruptions in progress—and to come. Because protected land is always more attractive for tourism. After the Laurentians and the Eastern Townships, Ouranos has shifted its focus to the Québec and Charlevoix regions, both popular with travellers.

“They were strategic choices: both are essential gateways for the development of Québec’s tourism,” notes Stéphanie Bleau. “They attract local and international customers.”

Little specialized information is available on tourism and climate change—which is a barrier to awareness and adaptation. “Adaptation is a process,” affirms Gwénaëlle Paque, mobilization and knowledge transfer specialist at Ouranos. “We first have to recognize the climate change issue, understand its impacts, and determine and interpret the risks in order to then be able to develop adaptation plans at the regional level, for example.”

The goal of phase one of the Québec–Charlevoix project was therefore to assess risks, evaluate favourable opportunities that may eventually arise, and come up with a diagnosis—by examining agrotourism, camping, events, golf, snowmobiling sectors, outdoor activities, and winter sports. A wide variety of stakeholders were consulted, including RCMs, which are also project partners.

The results have shown that seasonal activities are vulnerable to climate conditions. Yet some— particularly those linked to agrotourism, outdoor activities, and events—may actually benefit from the fact that summers will become longer. Municipalities, for their part, will have to take climate trends into account to better invest in buildings, infrastructure, and in the design of towns and villages.

Karine Horvath, director general of the Charlevoix RCM, believes that they would not have had access to such complete and relevant data without Ouranos: “We have land developers, urban planners, and de- velopment officers, but we don’t necessarily have the knowledge, expertise, and partnerships needed to conduct research like this. Ouranos has done a colossal amount of work that will greatly help our industry.”

In phase two, stakeholders of the tourism industries in the Québec and Charlevoix regions will be reunited, this time to elaborate an economic development strategy which will integrate a regional adaptation plan.

Valcartier, Québec (Mathieu Dupuis)

Adapting to climate change is a determining factor in the economic resilience of the tourism industry—a major sector of activity for Québec. Destinations must look far into the future and ensure their capacity to support their own development, despite uncertainties. And for that, “they have to maintain the integrity of the environment, take care of the health and safety of local communities, preserve their heritage, ensure social equity, and aim for an innovative, prosperous, and environmentally responsible economy,” explains Sébastien Viau, vice president of marketing and development for the Québec Tourism Industry Alliance. A vision in which we all also have a role to play. Now more than ever, we have to favour “mindfulness tourism”:  explore the outdoors with modesty, humility, and the utmost respect.


The following are five other projects of specific adaptations to climate change across Québec.

– 1 –

Coastal zone ― Gaspésie

Combatting erosion and coastal submersion with a beach development.

Completed in the summer of 2018, Percé’s new boardwalk, the Promenade de la Grave, takes into account the risks of climate change. A true collective project, this beach development helps counteract the coastal erosion and submersion problem caused by increasingly frequent storms. Its tourist appeal also generates regional economic benefits.


– 2 –

Fauna ― Northern Québec

Working together to protect the region’s socio-cultural heritage.

Changes in the abundance and distribution of caribou have had social, cultural, and economic consequences for the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach. Community members have collaborated with scientists to come up with an action plan that includes wildlife and habitat monitoring, as well as the creation of educational material on caribou and climate change.


– 3 –

Ski ― Laurentians ― Eastern Townships

Diversifying activities to manage seasonal variability and extreme weather.

Les Sommets now offers year-round activities, such as a water park and toboggan runs. These allow Les Sommets to reduce their risk and avoid financial losses, while enhancing the tourist experience.


– 4 –

Festival ― Montréal

Rethinking a site’s design to adapt to seasonal variability.

To both alleviate the discomforts of the cold and adapt its infrastructure to above-zero temperatures, Igloofest has had to innovate.. For instance, the ice on the Nordik slide has been replaced by a light installation, which makes the client’s experience just as immersive, but less dependent on Mother Nature.


– 5 –

Agrotourism ― Montérégie

Ensuring year-round agro-tourism ― almost.

To help offset agricultural and economic losses caused by extreme weather, Domaine Labranche in Montérégie now offers a unique food service concept. In addition to their traditional sugar shack, they also boast an “apple shack” and a “holiday shack,” so they can now host tourists for three seasons.

Mélanie Gagné is a content creator and teacher in Matane. The St. Lawrence River has been part of her life since childhood, and continues to amaze, calm, and inspire her. She enjoys living in the countryside with her family and hiking along the river or in the mountains, as well as public markets, poetry, and cafés.

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This article is featured in Issue 09.

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