Anticosti Part 2: Leaving Port-Menier

Port-Menier, Kalamazoo Falls, Pointe Carleton & the Potato Cave (Anticosti Island), Quebec (Map)

Fall 2014


I must’ve been more tired than I imagined because I didn’t wake at all during the night. By the time I rolled over and opened the tent fly, daylight was already here and moving along into the morning.

Stretching my bones & taking in the illuminated surroundings, it took a minute or two before I noticed three docile deer nibbling on grass nearby. One of the things Anticosti is known for is the amount of deer, but I always write these things off as a drummed-up tourist-enticing statement. Lo and behold, it took me all of 2 minutes to have deer around me this morning.

It is said that Anticosti is home to more than 150,000 deer nowadays - or 625 deer for every person (Anticosti human population: 240). The deer aren’t natural to the island as they were introduced for sport by chocolate baron Henri Menier in the late 1890s. Without any natural predators here, the deer thrived and blossomed from the original 220 imported deer to the bulbous estimates of today.

After folding and mashing my nomadic home back into my 70L pack, I decided to check out this church that I was camped behind. It may not have been much on the outside with its white vinyl siding and lack of architectural flourishes, but the craftsmanship and beauty were hiding on the inside.

One can't blame the Anticostians here either, as there was an older church but it burned down over Easter in 1964. This church is what they could construct as a replacement.

In an interesting twist, it just so happened to be the day of the year that my grandmother died about 20 years ago. I used to stop at church only on this one day every year, but fell out of this habit with the always locked Holy Redeemer of Corner Brook.

This means that I knelt down on the pews for the first time in a very long time, even though I'm not all that religious (my grandma was; she'd be happy).

Walking across the small town, I was 30 minutes early for my car reservation. Noticing some abandoned cars behind the rental garage, I relieved my back by stashing my heavy pack amongst the cars. Now free from that burden, I took to exploring this new-to-me Port-Menier.

Once I returned from checking out a small neighbourhood and the town's simple arena, I found out that the car rental owner had been looking for me. The weathered, quonset hut garage really should have led me to realize that this was one of those operations where someone lives at a house and only drives down when there's a reservation.

Although I feel guilty about saying this, being late for my rental appointment worked out great. The gas station attendant was pretty and nothing like what you imagine when you envision “Anticosti Island Gas Station Attendant.” She spoke a bit of English and we had a great, pleasant chat while waiting for the rental car woman to return. I could easily think of worse ways to spend time this morning. In addition, I felt like a bit of a big shot when I was asked if I was here for work or scientific research, where I responded that I was simply here on my vacation.

Back to that walk for a second though, as it brought me to a couple points of interest.

After passing their arena which was eerily similar to one of those sheet metal rectangle arenas of rural Newfoundland, I found a seaside trail and scared off herons while heading down to the Baie Ellis Range Rear Lighthouse.

This lighthouse dates to 1905, answering the need to guide ships safely into Ellis Bay and to the end of the already constructed kilometer-long quay (the one that I walked last night). A front lighthouse was placed on the quay & the range rear light you see here was placed on land near the chocolate baron Henri Menier’s chateau.

I say that these lighthouses were placed instead of built because Menier ordered them from Sauter & Harle, a French lighthouse prefabrication firm. This also meant that these two lighthouses are very rare in North America, since the Department of Transportation often cookie-cuts lighthouses and usually used the same firms (and the American Coast Guard doesn't have many ties to France).

That a French lighthouse was privately brought into service without consultation with Marine Services Canada brought about a minor kerfuffle, but eventually the Canadian government evaluated these lights and found them to be good enough to inform mariners about their presence.

While Baie Ellis Range Rear is in rough shape nowadays, it would be much worse without the much appreciated 1989 renovation taken on by the Anticosti Islanders.

(Also, yes I quite enjoyed the sign warning me to stay back because of the dangereuse lighthouse.)

Only a tiny stretch of dirt road separated the lighthouse from the site of Henri Menier's chateau.

When I earlier mentioned chocolate baron Henri Menier, I imagine you're like me & didn't fully grasp what wealth a French chocolate baron could possess. For example, 'The Chocolate King of France' longed for his own island paradise and for ten straight summers, sportsman Menier & his best friend Georges Martin-Zédé maneuvered Menier's three-mast, 800-ton ship through the waters of Morocco, Italy, Eivissa/Mallorca Spain, Norwegian fjords and to Spitsbergen (between Norway & the North Pole). In the 10th year, they even set off with 45 men to India & China in search of an adequate island, although they would be thwarted by a cyclone in the Red Sea.

Finally in 1908, an island came to them instead of the other way around. French broker Jules Despécher arrived at Menier's mansion with knowledge of his desire for a sparsely-populated island with good fishing & hunting. He showed Menier a map of Eastern Canada and a price tag of $125,000 for the entire island of Anticosti. Menier was sold.

Menier Villa, Anticosti Island. Valentine-Black Co. Courtesy: BAnQ.

Of course a chocolate baron is going to need a chateau fit for a chocolate baron.

Four-stories tall with 8 bedrooms amongst 30 rooms, Menier's chateau loomed over Port-Menier while a spectacular fleur-de-lys stained glass window greeted Gaspe & the North Shore. This window would cast light upon the baronial hall, a 60-foot long by 30-foot wide by 30-foot high space with a balcony for musicians to perform for guests in attendance of events.

A great example of the absurdity and opulence of this house comes from a description of Menier's bedroom from Mackay's Anticosti: The Untamed Island, "In the turret above his master bedroom, reached by a fifteen inch-wide secret staircase, Menier mounted a huge naval telescope on a swivel so he could watch the deer feeding on the grassy avenues he had carved out of the wood across Ellis Bay..."

(The yellow arrow indicates the turret the Anticostians attempted to recreate.)

Port-Menier, Hall De La Villa. I.R.N. 1904-1926. Courtesy: BAnQ.

Henri Menier would pass away in 1913 and his brother would sell off the island in 1926. Chateau Menier continued to house guests up until the Second World War, but within a few more years, the villa had reached a point where the foundation was failing, the plumbing was deteriorating & they were running out of replacement pieces of pre-WWI hollow stained glass for the fleur-de-lys. It was decided to vacate the chateau in 1948. With expensive furnishings and elaborate carvings removed, the house then became the fanciest barn in the world as it was used to "store fodder".

By 1953, with insurance adjusters visiting Anticosti, the insurance men warned that the Chateau Menier was now a fire hazard. The Consolidated Bathurst Ltd logging company decided to demolish the building like they do throughout much of the east coast, by setting fire to the vacant structure on a windless day. In only two hours, the chateau that was once the talk up and down this coast, would only be the talk one last time. It was reduced to nothing but a rubble base.

I climbed the steps of Menier’s turret, but found a locked door separating me from all of the historic information boards inside.

Standing at the top of those stairs, there was something I noticed here that I hadn't ever seen before: headstones in each of the foundation spaces denoting the purpose of each room! While it was easy enough with the rooms named Salle A Manger and Hall, there were some headstones where I stressed my brain trying to remember the definition of Glacerie (Icebox).

Walking back into the garage, this is where I discovered that the car rental agency woman was looking for me.

She was back in short order, but she was very French & I was thankful for the presence of the gas station attendant who knew enough English to translate between the two languages. The rental woman would say something I didn’t understand, then the attendant would laugh and chime in, “oh, she um, she says doesn’t care about you, but she cares about her vehicle.”

For some reason the gas station attendant didn't follow us out to the truck, so the rental agency woman & I struggled even more out there while she gave me some more detailed instructions.

If this seems like a lot of instructions, than you should know that this isn’t your normal rental agency or vehicle. First off, the only rental company on the island, only rents trucks. There are two main reasons for the trucks – first, they come with a giant grill on the front to counter the 150,000 deer on the island and their propensity to dart across the road. Second, the vehicles need to be rugged enough to handle the 264 km (164 mi) gravel Trans-Anticosti Highway, a fact stressed by the two full-sized spare tires resting in aftermarket tire cradles behind the back window.

With the car rental lady finally being satisfied with her warnings and acquisition of a dozen of my signatures, I was now free to pull away in my giant truck.

Brimming with excitement, I sort of wanted to get out of Port-Menier before this woman could change her mind!

There were a few errands to run in Port-Menier first. After happily finding white gas at the hardware store, I stopped at the tourist office for a postcard & just so happened to grab one of their maps. Lastly, it was into the grocery store for four days worth of food, water and maybe a few cans of Black Label.

The total? $163!

I'll admit there were some expensive insular beers in there, but this total of $163 made me wish I knew that the ferry wouldn’t be so strict with the weight restrictions. I would have saved quite a bit of money buying some things back at the Provigo in Sept-Iles.

Anyway, now that I was ready to head out on my adventure, there are two ways out of town and I happened to take the 6km paved airport road. Once I reached an intersection with the Trans-Anticosti Highway in all of its gravel glory, there stood a sign indicating 'Port-Menier 6 >' or '< Cap Sandtop 258'.

Eagerly turning towards Cap Sandtop, it was here that I already realized my GPS only had the Trans-Anticosti Highway and an inaccurate version of it. I thanked my lucky stars I grabbed that detailed map in the tourist bureau, although in hindsight, I don’t know why I thought it would be okay to rely only on my GPS & a poor map from a book I brought. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t find much of a better map online?

Regardless of not having a GPS, I knew I had over an hour of driving to my first destination. After only 15 minutes, I eased the car over onto a side road, for a light lunch of prosciutto & mustard on a croissant with the last of my coffee. Not a car passed during the entire time I lazed about leaning on mah truck. What a glorious afternoon on Anticosti Island. I was finally here and I was finally free. This was great.

The first stop was a very short trail1 to Kalamazoo Falls. As I pulled onto the driveway off of the main highway here, I came upon some cabins and a man leaving in a similar truck as mine, for whatever he was off to this day. We didn't say anything to each other.

The trail switchbacked down a forested path until it came to the Kalamazoo River. I could already hear the falls off to my left and I realized that the trail wasn't very long or hard at all.

1 - 500m or 3/10ths of a mile.

Where I only decided to visit these falls because of their Michigan name, I was now pleased with the decision. The layered limestone, fall trees and calm water made for a lovely scene.

Even though the water was cold, I removed my shoes and walked across in order to actually see the Kalamazoo Falls from the far side of the river. I’ve read about people swimming here in the summer, but in late September my feet hurt just crossing the river. Sitting on a rock, I clutched each of them and grunted with pain on the other side, before they warmed up enough to enjoy the scene before me.

I'd spend another hour on the road, already growing concerned with my gas levels after only this minor amount of driving. I had plans all across the island & the levels already being at 3/4 or 2/3rds was unacceptable. Thankfully my tourist map showed a little gas icon at the McDonald Lodge, which was more like an outpost that had a gas storage tank, but whatever, it did the trick & I was thankful.

Soon after, I found myself at the almost dead center of the northern coast of Anticosti Island. It is here that Pointe Carleton Lighthouse stands so close to the Trans-Anticosti Highway, that you can see the lantern room over the trees as you drive by.

The main keeper’s house was clearly abandoned. Inside I found items from its last life as a tourist centre or guide building. Scattered pamphlets, a small restaurant area, a few offices upstairs.

I took to watching a flock of yellow-rumped warblers outside, who either didn't realize I was in the building, or Pointe Carleton is such an isolated place that they didn't care. The birds were so nonchalant towards my presence that I could see the yellow markings on their back, i.e. their yellow rump.

I also found a bird stuck inside the living room of this keeper’s house. Looking at him & looking at the one small broken window, I then went about coaxing him in that direction instead of towards the kitchen where he tried to fly. This coaxing went on for 10 minutes, but I would eventually steer him in the correct direction back out to the natural world.

Pointe Carleton Lighthouse was built in 1917. It is the middle piece of the three Anticosti lighthouses built at the time to make the Strait of Jacques Cartier to the north of Anticosti Island safer & the choice of shipping and passenger companies.

With ships headed to Europe that would eventually move through the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador, if these ships could leave places like Duluth, Detroit or Montreal and stay north of Anticosti instead of having to go underneath it, this meant that they could reach their destination quicker & at a lower cost.

In addition to the keeper’s house, there was an assistant keeper’s house in even better condition. It was in such good shape that I had to consider sleeping here for the night, but in the end I knew I couldn’t call it a day at 3 o’clock.

I was very surprised to learn that the local park group SEPAQ moved out of here in 2006, but surely they must’ve been using this building past that time? I’d guess that the main keeper's house may have been abandoned for 8 years, but not this place.

The third lightstation building here had been converted to a small science center.

I’m not sure of the original purpose of this building, but it was the most surprising building to find myself inside.

All of these lightstation buildings were abandoned with the construction of the nearby McDonald Lodge (where I got gas earlier).

I had to go inside the McDonald Lodge to pay for my gas, but I didn’t look around their buildings long enough to see if these are leftover science museum artifacts, or if they simply don’t have a building like this anymore.

The next spot was only another 10km up the road, so I raced against the fading daylight to make it to one more destination today.

The autumnal soft light was now in its late day form, spilling over this valley as I walked, pleasantly reminding me of adventures in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In addition, the rock piles here that didn't support much vegetation were very similar to the poor rock piles of the mines that dotted the Upper Peninsula.

For all of the great things I experienced on Anticosti (teaser alert!) this swell evening lingers in my mind, even though it wasn't all that crazy of a hike.

I was nervous as to whether I would have time for this hike before nightfall, but the good vibes and pleasant reminders of Michigan squashed any negativity as I gleefully hurried along.

The parking lot for the Potato Cave wasn’t very high up and it quickly spit you out towards this river valley. After an easy water crossing, it was up the hill and onto a path that sat about halfway up the valley incline. As I walked parallel to the river, I could see the valley sides spreading from up here, along with the ever-retreating line of light on the hillside.

The forest ahead looked more and more congested with fallen trees, but thankfully it was here that I came to a small creek, an information board & the opening of the Potato Cave. I had made it in time & was happy to be going no further in more ways than one.

Back in the fall of 1980, neither the short road or this trail to La Patate Cave existed.

Hunting guide Denis Pedneault was in the area hunting along the Potato River, when he happened to come upon an opening and a cave unbeknownst to man before that time.

By 1982, professors and students from the Université de Sherbrooke had visited Anticosti Island to map and measure the Potato Cave. At 625m long (580m explorable), Anticosti's Potato Cave instantly became the third longest cave in the province. (Boischatel (Quebec City area) is #1 & Saint-Casimir-de-Portneuf (halfway between Quebec City and Trois-Rivières) is #2).

The fact that this cave was only discovered in 1980 remains a bit of a mystery. It is suggested, that although hunters & fisherman use this area today, a forest fire that decimated this land in 1955 kept recreational users away for the 60s and 70s.

I had barely stepped into the cave when I knew that I had made the mistake of bringing an insufficient flashlight. Not having been in very many buildings lately, I didn't realize how low the batteries were; not to mention how poor the flashlight is in the first place.

The opening area is easily explorable without a flashlight, the big entrance providing enough light to illuminate your path through the Large Chamber. This large chamber extends 80m (260ft) into the hillside, where no matter the size of the opening, the light dissipates as you go deeper and you're only left with your crummy light.

It was around here that I noticed the ceiling angling down towards me and a curve in the cave path. I tried to give my eyes time to adjust, but my flashlight was simply paltry, pitiful & pathetic. I snapped a horrible 8 second exposure at high ISO, before calling it a day and vacating the Potato Cave.

I now headed back to a campground I had checked out earlier in the day. With a kilometer limit on the truck & worries about having enough gas to get to the other side of the island, I didn't overly want to backtrack, but it was only ten kilometers each way. Ten kilometers to have my own empty self-registering campground, fire pit, picnic table and nearby bay, was without a question worth the worry & risk.

My plan was to quickly make dinner and set up my tent, before heading down to the shore for sunset. Unfortunately things wouldn't work like that. For the next two hours I worked away trying to get my MSR Whisperlite camp stove to work. It wasn't windy. I reread the fuel I had and I reread the instructions to make sure the words matched up (which they did). I didn't close the valve too quickly. I didn't jerk the equipment around.

Regardless of all this, the stove would burn up the fuel I bled into the little cup, but wouldn't keep burning released fuel through the hose to the compressed fuel canister.

After two hours, I gritted my teeth and glared at the camp stove. I had enough and it was time for a bowl of Froot Loops with canned milk. I had bought enough nuts, Froot Loops and canned milk just in case this happened, but I certainly wasn't impressed with the thought of eating uncooked food for the next 4 days. This is why I don't buy new technology: because it never works and it isn't worth the hassle.

At least I didn't risk life & limb for the golden potato back at the cave. I would have had nothing to cook it with!

There was some half burnt firewood at one of the other campsites, so I tried to forget about the dumb stove and drank fairly cool beers while looking up at the intense stars.

A fox had been bothering me throughout the time I was trying to get the camp stove working, long outlasting my initial warm thoughts towards the furry visitor. The same fox continued to camp in the shrubs right next to my campsite, 10 feet from me, making dog-like yelping noises but with odder sounds; periodically annoying me while I sat on my picnic table and tried to relax & let my annoyance of technology go.

I have good memories of this night, so either I had a few beers and forgot about the fox, or it took a nap and stopped with the yelping. Not a single car would go down the Transanticostienne throughout the two more night hours I sat here. The only noises were occasionally the fox and the constant lapping of the ocean on the shore nearby.

Eventually I'd crawl into my tent and call it a good Anticosti day.

More to come!


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

< Older Update:
Anticosti Island, Part 1:
Sept-Iles & the Ferry


Newer Update:
Anticosti Island, Part 3:
The Wilcox & The Escarpement
Bagot Light

1 - Municipality L'Ile Anticosti - History
2 - Anticosti: The Untamed Island, Mackay, 1979
3 - Baie Ellis Range Rear - Lighthouse Friends
4 - Pointe Carleton Lighthouse - Lighthouse Friends

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