Foie gras on a communion wafer?
Unusual, yes, but it seems to work here.
After all, we ARE in a church, and the church IS in the oldest surviving French settlement in the Americas, and our hosts (pun intended) who are serving this unique appetizer couldn’t be happier to see us.
We are in Tadoussac (pronounced TAD-a-sak) a village that sits where the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers meet, bordering Canada’s Quebec Province. Our group of 169, passengers on the Ocean Endeavor, have come ashore in 20 Zodiacs (motorized rubber rafts).
This historic town is our first stop on a 10-day cruise offered by Adventure Canada. Called The Mighty St. Lawrence, the cruise takes us from Quebec City to St. John’s, Newfoundland, with stops on Cape Breton; Prince Edward Island; Magdalen Islands; and Saint-Pierre, France. (More on that later.)
The stops will not include the usual ports in these places; instead, the itinerary calls for expeditions to natural land features, birding, hiking in national parks, photography and art classes, storytelling, music, visits with some of Canada’s First Nation peoples, and lots of educational sessions.
We enjoyed the first of those presentations the previous evening when we gathered in the ship’s lounge to hear naturalists and other science experts speak on the human and natural history of the landscape through which we are sailing.
We awoke this morning to see it.
The Ocean Endeavor glided between the walls of Saguenay Fjord, carved out by a glacier thousands of years ago. One side of the fjord is a national park, one of Canada’s 40-plus and part of the country’s plan to eventually preserve 12 percent of its varied ecosystems.
After lunch, we board the Zodiacs and our expedition leaders pilot us over a choppy ocean to Tadoussac. On this cool, rainy morning in early June, we are warmly greeted by a welcoming committee that offers platefuls of hors d’oevres, drinks and live music supplied by an onstage trio.
Tadoussac’s economy is built on summer tourism, especially whale watching, explains Simon Grenier, director of marketing for Escale Tadoussac, so when climate change began to effect marine mammal behavior, city planners realized they had to diversify and develop a sustainable business plan.
“We may be a village of only 822,” Grenier says, “but we provide jobs for 1,200.”
The connection with Adventure Canada was a perfect fit. Ships the size of the Ocean Endeavor (198 passengers) are just the type of business that the town wants to attract.
“We really don’t want the big cruise ships here,” says Mayor Hugues Tremblay. “We can’t handle 2,000 or 3,000 passengers on the island at one time.”
Despite today’s gray skies, a nearby field of dandelions virtually glows, and the only casualty of the day is a late-afternoon bonfire on the beach. Some head to the town’s business district for souvenirs and probably hot coffee; we walk to nearby museums.
The Poste de Traite Chauvin is built to resemble an early fur trading post, and has displays on Tadoussac’s history. Explorer Jacques Cartier came ashore here in 1535, and the town was established in 1600. It was France’s first trading post in New France, and eventually became the center of the fur trade between the French and First Nation peoples. Whaling was important, too.
Today Tadoussac is the oldest surviving French settlement in the Americas, and for more than 90 percent of residents, French is their first language.
Not far down the road is the Centre d’Interpretation des Mammiferes Marins (Marine Mammal Interpretation Center). Relatively small compared with other like institutions, this center is packed with displays and a film on ocean mammals. Several bilingual docents are on duty to answer our questions, and I marvel at the size of the full whale skeletons and individual bones suspended from the ceiling and mounted on the walls.
Eventually our visit comes to an end, and we take one of the last Zodiacs back to the ship. We carry with us the warmth and hospitality of the people of Tadoussac.
“The Mighty St. Lawrence” cruise, offered by Adventure Canada, has been named by National Geographic as one of their “50 Tours of a Lifetime.” Visit adventurecanada.com. For more photos, visit facebook.com/elouise.ondash.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org