Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Eastern Canada: L'Isle-aux-Coudres

by Kathy 27. September 2012 12:15

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After the big cities of Toronto and Montreal, we relished a few days in the natural landscape of an island in the Charlevoix region—L’Isle-aux-Coudres (Hazelnut Island).

To reach the island, we drove northeast from Montreal, following the St. Lawrence River. Six hours later, we arrived at the ferry terminal in the tiny town of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive. A free ferry service carries vehicles across the 8-mile stretch of river, departing every half an hour in the summer months.

Genevieve, waiting for the ferry to arrive:

The ferry approaches:

All aboard!

We left our small rental car on the lower deck and headed upstairs for a better view:

Twenty minutes later, we reached the port of L’Isle-aux-Coudres:

Welcome to the island:

We stayed for two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast along the waterfront:

The river level fluctuated greatly with the tides. Here is Genevieve, across the street from our B&B, at low tide:

Our B&B was run by a French-Canadian couple who prepared sumptuous, 4-course breakfast feasts. The main course on our first morning was home-made waffles with fruit:

After breakfast, we set off to explore the island, which is less than 7 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. 

I was excited to visit the two places that were promoted as “economusées”—living museums where you are supposed to be able to see artisans at work practicing their craft.

The first was “Les Moulins” (the Mills), and it was excellent. It is one of the few sites in Canada where you can find both a water mill and a windmill for grinding grain.

The watermill was built in 1825, but was inefficient in grinding all the grain, especially during times of drought, so the windmill was added in 1836. The two mills operated together until the early 1900’s, when large flour mills were introduced on the mainland. The ferry began operating in 1930, replacing the traditional canoes as a means for getting grain across the river, and the mills on the island no longer were profitable. In the 1980’s, both mills were fully restored, and the site was opened to tourists.

The source for the watermill was a large reservoir . . .

. . . that was behind a wooden dam:

The water had to flow down a very long trough (partially hidden by trees below) to reach the mill house . . .

. . . where it entered through the side, continued down an interior trough, and dumped onto the large wheel to make it turn:

The water wheel turned a large grinding stone that transformed the grain into flour:

With a wind mill, the miller was dependent upon the wind, and he often worked during the night when the wind was the strongest on the island:

The first step was to turn the rotating rooftop so that the sails faced into the wind:

The moving sails turned the grinding stone that made flour. Inside the windmill:

During our visit, a free guided tour with a flour grinding explanation was offered, but only in French.

We were the only non-French speakers, but we had read all the placards (written in both French and English) before the tour, so we had a good understanding and were able to follow along as the guide went through the different steps of the grinding process.

Les Moulins also had a small museum, with descriptions all in French. A large fellow was guarding the back entrance:

The second economusée on the island was an apple cider and vinegar maker (Cidrerie et Verger Pedneault), which paled in comparison to Les Moulins.

The marketing materials had promised that we would learn all about the harvesting of fruit and the production of various products. And we did . . . from large placards of information.

Although there was a video that ran on a small TV monitor in one corner of the visitor’s room, no live demonstrations were offered. The main focus of the economusée seemed to be the store that sold hard apple cider, sparkling apple cider, vinegar, and other high-priced products.

Many of the products were beyond our budget, but we did splurge on some sparkling cider that we enjoyed with our picnic lunch (baguettes, pate, cheese, fruit, and chorizo) by the water:

The picnic area had a river view out onto an area where beluga whales were once heavily fished. Although belugas were first caught by the Native Peoples, the fishing greatly escalated when the European settlers arrived in the early 1700’s. In the 18th and 19th centuries, about 3500 logs were collected each year from island residents and were used to build “C” shaped traps in the water. Currents would sweep the belugas into the traps, where they would ultimately be stranded as the tide receded. In May 1923, island fishermen trapped an astounding 125 whales, whose oil was very valuable. The beluga traps ceased in 1927, due to a decrease in whale numbers combined with a diminished demand for the oil.

Near the picnic area was a playground with a wooden ship, see-saws, and swings—aka “Heaven” to our kids.

At 13, Genevieve’s eyes still light up when she spies a fantastic playground, and I wonder how many years (months?) she has left until she no longer finds them enticing. Perhaps she’ll never lose that spark completely; after all, even I can’t resist the call of a teeter-totter now and then. (I don’t have any photos of Ben and I playing on the one here!)

Down the street was the picturesque Church of St. Louis, built in 1885 and sporting a shiny roof:

The modest processional chapel of Saint-Isidore was built in 1837:

Here are a few more photos from around the island:

Many of the people we met on the island did not speak English; however, all were very accommodating and gracious about our inability to speak French.

One of the most memorable meals that we had during our entire trip was a dinner at Hotel Capitaine, where the cook was brought out to wait on us because she was the only one who spoke fluent English, and the hostess squeezed in an extra table in the dining room for us (on her own initiative) because we didn’t have reservations and the restaurant was totally booked for the evening.

Hotel Capitaine:

Our visit to L’Isle aux Coudres was not only relaxing, but the rural community introduced us to yet another side of Canada’s multifaceted personality.

Au revoir, L’Isle aux Coudres!


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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

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Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

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Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin