blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Gaspé

In the spring of 1534, Jacques Cartier set sail from France (St. Malo), reaching Newfoundland 20 days later. He and his crew, in two ships, explored the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Baie des Chaleurs. Attempting to sail around the Gaspé peninsula they got caught in a storm and took shelter in the Baie de Gaspé for the next 11 days, meeting a party of Iroquois fishermen. On July 24th, thankful for their deliverance, the French explorers erected a cross on dry land in what is now Gaspé, claiming this land for the King of France. Thus began the establishment of French Canada.

Nowadays, a stone cross stands on the waterfront commemorating Cartier's arrival here, part of a historic reconstruction by the water, where the wharves used to be. On Sunday, local people were dancing to recorded music on the promenade here, all in step with one another; they had obviously done this before! Further to the right is the site of the old naval base, also interesting. Many ships were moored here during the two World Wars, and German submarines penetrated the area during the Battle of the St. Lawrence, 1942-44.

Across the road from this site is a Jacques Cartier shopping mall, a supermarket and a colourful cluster of buildings on the Rue de la Reine, in Gaspé, named thus after a visit from the Queen in 1959. The Rue Jacques Cartier, parallel to this a little further up the hill, is less touristy, festooned with electric cables.

The hotel (motel) where we stayed was up a steep hill from the Rue de la Reine. Its main building, built in 1842, used to be a family home belonging to the Carter family. Alfred Theodore Carter, who added the little towers, lived here all his life, becoming the American Vice-consul, Captain of the local militia, JP, President of the first Chamber of Commerce, mayor of Gaspé, etc. It was his daughter and son-in-law who had turned the place into a lodging for tourists. From the row of Muskoka chairs in position outside the Motel Plante, you can look down on the Café des Artistes with its orange siding, near the bridge. At one time, this building had been a general store, and had even served as Gaspé's town hall for a while.

Across the bridge is the marina where ocean-going yachts, some with two masts and serious looking equipment, were moored. Coaches from the former VIA-Rail train stood on a track that no longer runs to and from Gaspé. When we last visited this place, VIA still had a station in operation there, but apparently the tracks got damaged and are no longer considered repairable. In its place is a newly (2012) constructed Information Centre, with a birch-bark Micmac shelter on display inside, fox and beaver furs hanging in it, a Micmac drum tambourine decorating the doorway. The Micmacs are the local first nation. A cruise ship lay at anchor in the bay on Sunday morning and small boat loads of cruise ship passengers came ashore one by one, disembarking near the Info Centre, so that they could walk around on the mainland and visit the museum up the hill. They were all away again by early afternoon.

Mary Bolduc with her band, in 1928
A boardwalk takes you from the town to the new Musée de la Gaspésie along the water's edge, with informative historic plaques all the way along. We watched the seagulls swooping for fish out in the bay and a heron, too inhibited to fish while we were watching, in the shallows. The museum building perches on a rocky headland. By the entrance to the museum is a former fishing schooner, La Gaspesienne. With your ticket to the exhibitions, you are given a virtual reality headset and earphones, and when you put them on, you get a 360⁰ 3D view and can imagine being out at sea on the boat, in the 1960s, with the men who worked on board. Dried cod on display at the museum still had a distinctive smell! When we visited, the temporary exhibition about a famous Gaspésienne, a singer of local music, Mme Bolduc, filled two galleries. Another person with a claim to fame in Gaspé was this French aviator, Jacques de Lesseps, who surveyed the area from his plane but died in a crash in 1927. There was more about him on display at reconstructed naval base by the water's edge.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Back to Gaspé after 13 years

This afternoon we landed at Gaspé. It is hard to believe, but the last time we spent a night here (at the other motel) was in 2005, on our way to visit Halifax. Not much has changed since then, although Jacques Cartier's memorial cross has been moved down, to the new waterside cultural interpretation area, and the cost of accommodation in the town has gone up. We are paying $149 for tonight's sleep at the Hotel Plante; admittedly, it is a palatially large room, a "suite" no less, with two desks, a bathtub, and a panoramic view of the wide, blue bay; this is because, when I made the booking from Mont Joli airport this morning, all the cheaper rooms had been taken.

We came to Gaspé today because our first choice of destination, Bonaventure, also had fully booked hotels. It is just as well. Had we flown there from Mont Joli, we would have encountered problems at altitude, because clouds were building over the Chic Choc mountains and those clouds would have put ice on the wings. The freezing level was as low as 5000 feet.

I was anticipating a turbulent flight all the way in the strong wind, but to my delight the only turbulence came in the final 20 minutes of our 1.7 hours of airtime, when we headed away from the coast direct to Gaspé airport over the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The rest of the way, following the spectacular coastline northeast from Mont-Joli, over Matane, Ste-Anne-des-Monts and beyond, was in fast flowing but smooth air above and below stretches of thin, white or pale grey stratus or white cumulostratus, with the Gulf of the St. Lawrence widening to our left, large ships on it, and the forested hills getting steeper and steeper and more and more covered with wind turbines, facing into the northwest wind, to our right. Some of these appeared to be glaciated valleys with silvery rivers winding through them.

On our descent, the winds became very gusty, reported as gusting to 22 knots at the surface, and at right-angles to our runway too, more or less. Chris seemed to rely on his experience, making the requisite adjustments on the rudder pedal automatically, so he tells me, when a particularly strong gust (or wind shear?) tipped us sideways at only about 100 ft from the ground. He corrected our angle of attack and did an excellent landing on the centre line, although the oleo juddered like mad as we rolled to a halt. Pulling onto the apron and climbing out near the fuel tanks we were asked to move PTN elsewhere quickly, because a Jazz plane, a Dash 8 turboprop, was about to land too and would need fuelling first, with passengers waiting to board. Chris observed its landing and saw that that one too was affected by the turbulence.

The views we had during our approach to Gaspé were worth any amount of fear (on my part): so beautiful were the cloud shadows on the hills, with such clarity and blueness of sky and water in the two bays.

I'd hoped to find a car rental at the airport. There were two rental desks but both were closed, so we had to wait half an hour for a taxi into town instead. To my delight the Café des Artistes near the two motels is still in business and is still well worth the visit, being packed full of quirky sculptures, hanging stained glass artworks, and with original paintings, by different artists, all over the walls. The café displays a menu des artistes as well as a food menu there. The waiters, waitresses and clientele, even, all seem to be romantically inclined people: typically being young, long haired, unconventionally dressed. The table tops are mosaics, featuring ducks. The wifi password is artistes.

I omitted to mention, above, that we had made the acquaintance of an interesting gentleman during breakfast at our Auberge in Ste.-Flavie, called Tim Cole, from British Columbia. He too flies a Cessna 172 (his was parked next to ours up the hill), but had also flown larger aircraft professionally, chairs the western branch of COPA and knows many famous members of the Canadian aviation community including Chris' friend Kathy Fox. Like all these people, he has a wealth of stories to tell.

For the rest of this afternoon we walked through the town, aka the Berceau du Canada, Birthplace of Canada (because of Jacques Cartier, the first French explorer of the New World, landing here and laying claim to the land in 1534), getting our bearings, finding the Musée de Gaspé on the hill, the boardwalk along the shore and by the river and the Information Centre across the bridge where the VIA-Rail station used to be situated, but was closed five years ago, due to an un-maintainable railway line. The new centre is an attractively modern, wood and glass building, with a birch-bark teepee inside---Do Not Touch---displaying a wolf and a beever pelt, reminding visitors of Gaspé's Micmac (Mi'kmaq) heritage. Tomorrow we might see some latter day Micmac people arriving by boat to put on a show at the docks, if I understood the lady at the information desk correctly. The marina is there too, only one yacht on the water this evening. The sky has become very clear during the last few hours. The sun sets 45 minutes earlier in Gaspé than in Ottawa, quite a noticeable difference!

Rockcliffe to Mont-Joli

I'd suffered a sleepless night and didn't feel well, but yesterday (Friday, 7th Sept) was determined we'd set off anyway. Chris did all the work. We were off the ground at 10:34 for our one-and-a-half flight to Trois-Rivieres, Chris exclaiming, "We're going on holiday!" as we rolled along the runway for take-off.

The Ottawa air controller was busy with other traffic, so it was hard to interrupt him with our request to get the IFR clearance for our flight-plan; eventually he allowed us to fly via the TAKOL and AGLUK waypoints, climbing to 7000 ft on our planned route. It was a beautiful morning with smooth air, great! A thin layer of cumulus between four- and five-thousand feet, that was all. Above that was some haze apparently (according to Serge at the Club who knows about these things) formed of particles of smoke from forest fires thousands of miles away to the west.

We know the route so well that on a fine day such as this we hardly needed the map, and landed (an easy visual landing) at Trois-Rivieres into quite a strong wind, parked on the apron and ordered lunch from Le Pilote, a procedure with which we're also familiar. Chris had a choice of routes from there onwards to Mont-Joli, and the controller gave him the second option to follow, direct PESAC, Victor 316, YQB, Victor 98 to Fleur, thence over YRI to EPMAL and finally YYY: a beautiful route following the southern bank of the St. Lawrence with the islands on our left. Towards the end of the journey we could hear the radio transmissions from pilots approaching the airport of Wabush---Waa-boosh the male pilot pronounced it. The female pilot, flying a passenger plane, "Provincial 921", sounded very competent and confident in her communications with Montreal Centre. She didn't seem at all fazed by the report of moderate to severe turbulence on the way down to Wabush and didn't mention it on her own descent. Our own approach (to Mont-Joli) was a "contact approach" with the circuit flown out to sea which gave me good photo opportunities.

We spent the night at the Gaspesiana motel, in the Auberge annex, where, after supper in the main part of the hotel, we spent 12 hours in bed. That cured me!