Anticosti Part 1: The Passenger Ship

Sept-Îles and Port-Menier (Anticosti Island), Quebec (Map)

Fall 2014


I was amazed to find the Sept-Îles hostel that had an open room on Saturday night, somehow didn't have an open room this Monday night. This means it was into the bunk room with me, although I can't complain because I never saw the one other guy & my backpack remained untouched through the night.

That Monday night, I rushed out of the hostel in search of food and to explore Sept-Îles by the last light of day. After passing a church that made me curse not having my bicycle at the sight of its handrails and steps, I strolled down to the sea to find boardwalks and planters that felt like an English seaside town.

Then again, since I've never actually been to Brighton or Bournemouth, maybe I should stick with how it also felt like the waterfront in Sarnia Ontario.

It was chilly along the water, but with a lingering sunset and view out to the namesake seven islands of this place, I was in no hurry to move along.

I could stay on the waterfront even longer than the sunset though, as the bar I had scoped out was situated along the shore. This place was the Quebec chain sports bar called Le Cage, which I was sure would be showing the Monday Night Football game.

Alas, this being distant Quebec in late September, the bar closed sometime in the second quarter & I was spit out into the now cold and empty streets. I tried to go through a couple of downtown loops, but found every bar I knew closed & even the ones I discovered were closed as well. My last gasp was this bar in a plaza that I had seen while buying groceries when I first arrived in Sept-Îles.

Out by the Provigo, PFK & car dealerships, Le Pub was amazingly showing the game! Noticing they sold large Quebec-sized Budweisers, I ordered one of them and dissolved into the quiet atmosphere. Le Pub was so relaxing and good that it made me rethink my strategy of seeking out Irish Pubs and downtown places in the future.

After a brisk post-midnight walk back to the hostel, I was off to slumber and soon ready for the next day.

The next morning I found a main street coffee shop where I was the only person in the dimly-lit space. Plopping down my heavy pack upon a strange elevated platform by the front windows, the ceiling couldn't have been more than 6.5 feet. Regardless of my ducking concerns, it made for a cozy place to read about Anticosti & watch the hustle-bustle of sleepy Sept-Îles on this random Tuesday.

The port I was leaving from was a short walk from downtown into a more industrial area. Leaving the main road behind, it felt like an area where I was going to soon be yelled at en Francais because I wasn't supposed to be wherever this was that I happened to be.

Apparently I was in the right place though, and really, my large vessel was hard to miss. There was a mostly empty container box where I dropped off my backpack, then a boat worker told me to follow him onto the metal walkway, onto the boat, through shipping containers and into the cabin. The guide is in place because of the confusing directions, where the shipping company wants the passengers to be safe & get out of the way of goods being hoisted into the area where they are cutting through.

It's these big items that I watched the crane operator pick up and ferrymen adjust for the next hour. Sometimes it was boring shipping containers, but for the majority of the time I stood there it was open-sided containers holding full-sized vehicles.

I've always thought about taking this ferry from Blanc-Sablon for 3 days down the Quebec coast and as I stood here today, I yearned to have a picture like this with the Intrepid being loaded onto the boat.

After watching them load a handful of vehicles and guide about 15 people onto the ship, I went for a walk and checked out what would be my new digs for the next 8 hours.

I made a note of these leather chairs with personalized seat back TVs and knew that I had a date with them soon enough.

Back outside, a whole gang of dock workers had emerged, crawling beside and tying ropes to an entire building!

I mean, why send building supplies up the coast when you can just ship the whole building!

And onto the boat she goes.

You can drive 418 km east from Sept-Iles, but that's where the road ends and there's 5 Quebec villages which aren't connected to the highway; the villages only serviced by this cargo and passenger ship. One would believe one of these places like Tête-à-la-Baleine or La Romaine was getting a new pre-fabricated building, but it also looks like a work camp trailer. Who knows.

The above picture also shows the precarious position of the previously loaded vehicles. I know the shippers know how to transport cargo, but a rough sea would still have me outside, worried about the Intrepid on the edge of the St. Lawrence.

It was about an hour before the boat pushed off and we were on our way. Headed out to sea, we had to pass the Iron Ore Company of Canada's docks, where the iron ore from Labrador City is brought via railway and shipped to steel mills around the world.

It was outside these docks, as we curved around an iron ore shipping vessel, that I noticed a surprise shipwreck being swallowed by the sandy point. What was this mysterious wreck?

I've been unable to find anything about this shipwreck in a brief search of English-language websites. The obscurity of Anticosti was already paying off.

I guess I should say something about my destination here.

Located above Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula and below the North Shore after Sept-Îles, Anticosti Island is located after the St. Lawrence turns from a river into a gulf. I know that I’ve always noticed Anticosti on maps & wondered about it, but I can’t assume that all of you have, because I’ve also noticed other obscure places like the Belcher Islands, Moose Factory, Uranium City, etc.

My interest would grow to more than just my base interest in obscure places, after I begun researching Anticosti Island and started to see some of the ruins there.

Anticosti Island with the Avalon Peninsula (Newfoundland) and Essex County (Ontario) laid over top.

Reading up about the island, I discovered that it’s the world’s 90th largest island and about 1.4x the size of Prince Edward Island or 2.5x the size of Rhode Island. 217 km (135 mi) long and not even 50 km (30 mi) at its widest, it's a long slab of wilderness out to sea, only bisected by the gravel Transanticostienne Route which connects the one town with various lighthouses, lodges, cabins and the odd campground; as well as sites previously home to settlements & lifesaving stations.

As I googled & read more and more about Anticosti Island, it grew in desirability until I crunched the numbers and concluded that the time commitment and cost were within reason. In the following updates, you’ll come to see the sights that drew me to the mysterious and rarely-visited isle.

To reach the island, you only have two choices: 1, take the boat that I am on now, which goes over on Tuesday afternoon. The boat then continues up the coast to Havre-Saint-Pierre, Natashquan and the Quebec coastal villages that aren't connected by road, all the way up to Blanc-Sablon right next to Labrador. Once at Blanc-Sablon, the boat then starts an upstream journey, coming back to pick you up on Sunday afternoon.

(Your other option would be to take one of the rare/expensive flights from Montreal through Sept-Îles to the Anticosti airport at Port-Menier, or pay for an outfitting trip and fly a chartered plane to one of the two gravel airstrips on the east side of the island.)

Because of the way the upstream/downstream schedule works, you can stay on Anticosti for 2 days, 5, 9, 11, 16, etc.

I decided on 5 days.

I went to the front of the boat to watch all of the seven island excitement to come. There were a few rows of seats up here, but I didn't see many other passengers come out onto the deck.

I'd see how few fellow passengers I had now that it was time for a safety drill. All of the passengers on the boat were called down to the seventh deck and where the boat can apparently take 381 people, there were only 31 people here in late September as passengers. We'd then be split into French & English groups - thankfully for my safety and understanding of procedures - where this was even more funny when there was only a grand total of 6 of us Anglos.

Then again, I paid more attention to the cute dockhand ferry girl than the safety demonstration anyway. Safety, schmafety.

I returned to my perch and noticed the passing of the far-off Île du Corossol Lighthouse.

You can take a boat tour around the seven islands (including the Île du Corossol Lighthouse), but you're not allowed to land there because of the bird habitat.

After passing the easternmost Sept-Îles of La Petite Boule and La Grosse Boule, it didn't take very long to be out at sea without land anywhere in sight. I was surprised by this, as the St. Lawrence doesn't seem that wide when you absent-mindedly look at a map of Canada, but on a hazy day with limited visibility, we found an aquatic wilderness in short order.

I sat on the upper deck for a while, then read for an hour and eventually tried the food offerings. As for the food, I was surprised with a decent sized & satisfactory Montreal smoked meat sandwich at a reasonable price.

This confused me. You mean these ferrymen don't bleed you for even more money with overpriced food? What kind of clueless management does this ferry have?! They need to get some good ole boys from the NS-NF ferry on board!

There wasn't anything all that exciting on TV, so I went back outside about halfway into the 8 hour journey. While moving up to my beloved top deck, I saw a jaeger of some sort, a bird commonly found in areas far out at sea.

The oceanic jaeger's sharp turns combined with meagre photography skills to leave me with an unsatisfactory picture. The bird only hung around for a minute making these sharp turns, until it darted off for the waters and space on the other side of the Bella Desgagnes ship & further out towards the North Shore.

Into the evening, the air grew chilly & I grew tired of watching the ocean. Returning inside, the Bruins and Habs had started their preseason game, so I relaxed in one of those comfy leather chairs off by myself in an almost empty room.

This also made me extremely happy because there were seat-back TVs. Seat-back TVs! I didn't understand how I was able to make my own choice as to what to watch, after all of the experience with Marine Atlantic showing the dumbest choices, and locking the TVs no matter what important political or sporting event was going on. If only these Relais Nordik folks could take over the Newfoundland to Nova Scotia ferry! (Then again, I was paying twice as much for this 8 hour journey then I pay for the 7 hour Newfoundland journey ($162 versus $82). Hmmmm.)

I made sure to go back outside when I started to see the late evening light, but standing out in the now freezing winds, it was one of those sunsets that's very bright for a short period of time, instead of the beloved ones that cast red hues upon hundreds of cloud puffs for what seems like hours.

I felt a bit silly shrugging off the sunset, as here I was on some obscure cargo ship with white waves crashing into orange plateaus, exploring an off-the-beaten path portion of the country in this moment. All of this was very much agreeable.

I went outside one more time while at sea, where I could then only see the white caps near the boat and flashing green beacons from some buoy out in the St. Lawrence. I expected to see Anticosti by now, but there were only a few lights far off in the distance. Going back inside, I watched a bit more of the preseason hockey game, but quickly fell asleep.

I'd wake up with the boat completely stopped and people already exiting onto the long quay at Port-Menier (on Anticosti Island). As I had nowhere to be, I took my time & tried to let the hoopla die down, but my excitement quickly overcame me & I headed downstairs to disembark.

Planning on camping somewhere in this town tonight, I already had a fair amount of my warm gear on so that I would keep myself warm until I got in my tent. In a matter of seconds upon leaving the boat behind, I thanked my lucky stars as it was one of those cold windy nights, the coldest and windiest you can imagine outside of winter. The long, exposed quay was battered by winds and as I pulled up my hood and squeezed together my shoulders, I could feel my eyes water and sting, the blustery wind forcing me to turn my body away from its direction.

In addition, throughout the whole time this was happening, every other passenger must've been getting off the boat, but they were smart enough to line up rides. I walked this quay road absent of streetlights, trying to look at the ground to save myself from the winds, but also having to force myself to look up and behind me for the intermittent cars, trucks & vans that I surely wouldn't hear in this wind. My black parka wasn't doing me any favours & with how fast people were driving on this glorified breakwall, I pictured behind knocked off my feet and into the drink, perishing away with my 70L pack pulling me down to all of the shipwrecks and limestone shoals of Anticosti.

Terrible picture. I'm aware & sorry.

The quay in Port-Menier stretches for an entire kilometer (0.6 mi) into the deep water and away from the limestone shelves near shore. Where I usually walk a kilometer in about 10 minutes, I felt every last minute of this one and was overjoyed to reach the dirt intersection of town. Here I was finally close to camping, but I was also occasionally in the wind shadow of buildings.

My previous research showed that along the shore seemed like a good, inoffensive place to camp for the night, but with these winds and temperatures, that idea was quickly thrown out the window. I walked down the main street that divides Port-Menier and thought about the riverside park they have, but I was called over by their big ole church - a big square wind block upon a soft expansive lot of grass. If I tucked in here behind the church & was going to get up early, I couldn't see anyone having too much of a problem with it.

Throughout my walk, even though I had bigger concerns with staying warm and avoiding getting hit by a car, I once or twice noticed a faint green wave off in the northern sky. Now standing out of the wind behind the church and with my heavy backpack on the ground, I had the time & comfort to stand here and take it in. These were the northern lights & throughout putting up my tent, it seemed that they were growing in intensity.

Where my initial plan was to get right to bed at this late juncture, I suddenly wrestled with wanting to stay up and watch this marvelous sight unfold. Even though I live in a northern location with very little light pollution, I'd never seen northern lights like this before - the cold night was paying off at least in one way.

Unfortunately I had someone to meet tomorrow, so I knew I had to get to bed. I stood there in the yard and watched for 10 or 20 minutes (while taking terrible pictures), then climbed into my tent and finally hit the hay.

I was nearing slumber as I heard the ship's horn blow to indicate that it was leaving. Peeking my head out of the tent, I could see that I was now here on this remote island for 5 days, until that same boat came back from (pretty much) Labrador.

Continue to Part 2...


Go Back to the Main Page of this Website

< Older Update:
The Old Newfoundland Railway:
Badger to Deer Lake, Part 1
or Part 2

< Older Update:
The Quebec Island, Part 0.5:
Baie-Comeau's Centre Henry-Leonard and the Outardes Powerhouse


Newer Update: Anticosti Part 2:
Leaving Port-Menier. Falls & Caves >

1 - Anticosti Island, Prince Edward Island - Wikipedia (for area measures)

All text & pictures on this website created by Belle River Nation are copyright Belle River Nation. Please do not reproduce without the written consent of Belle River Nation. All rights reserved.

I appreciate when people let me know I'm using punctuation wrong, making grammatical errors, using Rickyisms (malapropisms) or words incorrectly. Let me know if you see one and the next 40/poutine/coney dog is on me.