Les Îles de la Madeleine

Magdalen Islands, Quebec (Map)

Spring 2016


I had some business in New Brunswick, so following that I took the bus up to Charlottetown to visit my old friend Christian.

There was still an early spring chill about Newfoundland, so it was refreshing to be here in Prince Edward Island on a fine evening, climbing out of his kitchen window and on to the warm roof.

I was at Christian's for the whole weekend and it flew by between enjoyable Leonhard's breakfast, checking out the Ravenwood grounds and eating unbelievable Korean food.

Before I knew it, it was Sunday morning and I was driving my rental car across the eastern half of Canada's smallest province. The plan wasn't to fly home just yet, but as I hadn't travelled anywhere recently, I decided to take a couple days of holiday and finally visit the Magdalen Islands.

Although part of Quebec, the Magdalen Islands are much closer to PEI and Nova Scotia, and I've actually got cell service from them while camping at Red Rocks in Newfoundland. In order to reach them, the ferry departs from the northeastern PEI port of Souris (about an hour from Charlottetown).

Christian was initially going to come with me, but it had rained all May and his job depended on sunny days. Where the sunny days made for a pleasant drive and ferry crossing, they also meant that I would be going alone since his boss couldn't give him the time off.

And so, tired and hungover, I moseyed in my rental and thought about staying in Charlottetown or turning back throughout the drive. Even as I arrived in Souris and looked for somewhere to leave the car, the rest of the tourists were much more excited to get on the boat. I knew that tomorrow was Monday and Christian was working and the good times would end, but it was still goofy to be getting on this boat alone. The post-drinking blues weren't helping either.

I walked around aboard the boat for a short while, laughing at the tiny dance floor that was actually being used by people buying wine and beer at 12 noon. I went outside and checked on the general scene, but eventually ended up at the front desk splurging on a $40 cabin so I could lay down and take a nap to quell all of this pouting.

The crossing takes five hours and after a long nap and a bit of reading, I found myself on the deck as we entered the archipelago of the Magdalens. We curved around Entry Island - home to the highest point on the islands - with its red cliffs and dramatic shoreline. This was like a combination of Prince Edward Island's landscape with Newfoundland's elevation and this scenic sight was making me feel a bit better.

(There's a separate ferry that goes from the main Magdalen Island to Entry Island but I wouldn't make it on this trip. As there's a lighthouse on Entry Island, I plan to go back one day.)

After Entry Island, the boat curved towards the middle of the islands and the biggest community of Cap-aux-Meules. Departing the boat, there was a raucous school group which I was very happy to hurriedly pull my rolling luggage away from and leave behind. In addition, many cars scooped up older couples who I assumed were staying at B&Bs.

Reaching the main road, Cap-aux-Meules to the south seemed sizable and worthwhile, but I was headed north towards the cottage I had rented away from town.

I'm not sure why I didn't get a cab, maybe because I didn't see any, but to go north from Cap-aux-Meules there's a steep road and a rough sidewalk. Pulling my rolling luggage with its one broken wheel and its one worn down wheel, I also twisted my upper body to try and keep my work laptop on my back and not hanging off of my neck. (I eventually stuck said laptop inside my luggage.)

I was ecstatic to reach the point on the road where I believed my cottage was located, but I turned a bit early and ended up with my rolling luggage on grassy, red dirt hills, pulling the thing through backyards and small ditches. I even ended up behind a cottage that I thought was mine, but reaching for the glass door, I found the inside under renovation. I wracked my tired brain to try and remember what my cottage looked like, while also cursing myself for not printing a picture.

That's what I get for not renting a memorable yellow cottage I suppose.

Thankfully my cottage was very close to the cottage under renovation. I was already excited for my handsome little temporary home, but it was extra sweet as I dropped my heavy luggage and gazed out upon the golden cove stretching towards Pointe-Basse.

I couldn't complain about this. In addition, this was one of the things I liked most about the Magdalen Islands: their reasonably priced cottages. This place was only $85/night taxes in, and there were plenty of other places slightly cheaper (although the other places were a bit further from where the ferry docked).

I walked back into town with thoughts of going to dinner, but places were either closed or looked like they were going to close soon. Not entirely in the mood to try and work through ordering in French, I ended up at some dépanneur buying beer and some food to cook back at the cottage.

Still feeling a bit blue and after spending a boozy weekend in Charlottetown, I didn't feel much like drinking, but I knew gross weather was coming tomorrow. The mosquitoes weren't out yet, the wind was calm and the sunset was pleasant - I had to stay outside and soak this in. I opened a beer, but it was one of the slowest I've ever drank.

Night would fall and I would go inside, but without a TV, I walked back into town yet again, to buy a DVD so I'd have something to watch for the next few hours. I know lots of people are happy to read or space out at the end of a travel day (Clarkman), but I really like watching TV for some reason. And that's with the fact that I watch almost no TV in my day-to-day life.

I'd climb up to my loft after the movie, laughing at how I got this stupid cottage with a loft because I thought it would be hilarious to yell back and forth while one of us slept on the couch.

The weather folks were right about the next day, as there wasn't a chance of showers, there was an actual storm and guaranteed nasty weather coming for the duration of the day. I made some coffee and looked out at the now tumultuous cove.

I'd initially planned to deal with this weather by hanging out with Christian in our cottage for the day and leaving the lighthouses of the island for another time. Last night that plan went out the window though, as I had reserved a car in Cap-aux-Meules. The islands aren't that big and I was limited to driving 100km (60mi) before having to pay for more kilometers, so I still wasn't in that much of a hurry.

Through wind and rain, me and my rain jacket made it over the hill and down the other side into Cap-aux-Meules. Along the way there was a crowded cafe and needing a bit of a warm-up, I went inside.

Now I decided against dinner last night because I was hungry and didn't want a piece of toast with salmon on it like I always accidentally order from French menus. This was different though because all I was ordering was a coffee. The same "uhn grande caf-eh avec uhn lay" that I get from Tim Horton's during all of those QMJHL hockey trips.

The first sign things weren't right was when I was given a receipt and told to sit down. Appreciating the warmth and chance to relax, it was about 10 minutes before my number was called. Approaching the counter, I picked up a frothy cup with a musical note made of chocolate syrup atop. The actual drink turned out to be hot chocolate. I had no idea where I went wrong, but I wasn't going to attempt to order lunch.

Things went smoother at the Hertz outlet and soon enough I was picking up an actual"uhn grande caf-eh avec uhn lay" at the Cap-aux-Meules Tim Horton's. I headed south as I knew that was the direction of the first lighthouse, but ended up in a seaside village of well-maintained, colourful shacks with artist galleries and appealing lunch spots in Havre-Aubert. All of this was set on a gravelly spit of land between two coves, where if the weather was any better it would have been enjoyable to walk around.

It was a 15 minute drive from Havre-Aubert to the southern tip of the Magdalen Islands and the Anse-à-la-Cabane (Shack Cove) Lighthouse. Along the way there were continuous homes, although spread out, with interspersed businesses as well. There are 12,700 people who live on these islands and the people seemed to have spread out.

With the Magdalen Islands being close to the shipping lanes of anyone leaving the St. Lawrence towards the cut between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, you had a lot of shipwrecks here. In fact, the house of Henry Sr Clark and the St-Peters-By-The-Sea Church, both located in the northern village of Old Harry, were constructed using shipwrecked wood. The Magdalen Islands are still home to three English-speaking settlements and most of the people can draw their heritage back to English, Irish & Scottish shipwrecks, where the survivors simply decided to stay.

And so, because you can't have a place with over 400 shipwrecks and 48 shipwrecks during a single storm, the Magdalen Islands were quickly outfitted with four lighthouses between 1870 to 1874. The oldest one still standing today, as well as the tallest, is the Anse-à-la-Cabane Lighthouse you see above.

Up ahead, the village of Millerand looked a bit bigger and worth driving through, so I went for an spin even further to the southwest even though I had that 100km (60mi) limit hanging over my head. In Millerand there was a woman putting on a wetsuit to go surfing in this weather, and I had to laugh at all of my complaining about a little bit of wind and rain while lighthousing and exploring from my car.

On the way back towards Havre-Aubert, I had to pull over for this turquoise mansard-roofed home I absolutely loved. It turns out I can rent it next time I'm on the islands.

The rain was letting up by this point and it was only spitting occasionally with a small amount of fog here and there. As the islands are long and thin, there's one main highway that runs north to south & retreating back up the QC-199, I was almost back in Cap-aux-Meules before turning west towards the second lighthouse of the day.

Along the way I would pass schools and churches that made me wish I had my bike, while also passing restaurants that I wondered about, but was unsure if they were open. (In hindsight and with Google Reviews, it looks like I messed up by not taking the time to seek out restaurants. I WANT this breakfast with a honey twist.)

Another of the four original lighthouses was constructed here at Cape Hérissé as the Borgot Lighthouse. Unfortunately that two-storey lighthouse home with a lantern atop was demolished in 1967.

A new metal tower was constructed at that time and lasted 20 years. The current fibreglass tower was built in 1987 and very much reminded me of the 1989 Point Aconi Lighthouse in Nova Scotia that some dopes burned down in 2014.

As much as I like a good fibreglass lighthouse tower from the 80s, I couldn't help but walk up and down the shore and around the point of land here at Cape Hérissé. Cliffs and creases were everywhere, leading down to angry seas and gorgeous rocks that looked like they belonged in Arizona.

LighthouseFriends.com says this is a very popular sunset spot & I can see why. The rocks were shining brightly even on this overcast day.

Although some of the further places on the Magdalen Islands have one road in and one road out, now that I was on the main island, there was another route back to Cap-aux-Meules. I would pull into town near where the ferry docks, head past my cottage and up to the Pointe-Basse area that sprawled outside my back porch.

Along the way I saw another person windsurfing & I wondered how much the Quebecers here have that Newfoundland attitude of having to do things regardless of the weather. Then again, I guess it seemed like a good day for windsurfing.

Cap Alright was the last lighthouse I could see on the main island chain of the Magdalen Islands. Located on the western side of the island, it was built in 1928, although charts as early as the 16th century mentioned the dangerous waters here.

The lighthouse looks a bit rough in my pictures, but it was freshly painted for Quebec Lighthouse Day just a couple of months ago.

As Cap Alright would mark my 10th Quebec lighthouse and to celebrate double-digit Quebec lighthouses, I eyed a gorgeous old convent turned restaurant with thoughts of a celebratory dinner. Unfortunately it was inundated with cars and fancy people going inside, and where I was dressed like a schlub, I thought better of it.

Instead I went to Restaurant La Patio, which was like a Pizza Delight or a Chili's, but the waitress was nice and the food was fine, so it was whatever. It's only now in hindsight that I see all of these exciting restaurants and appealing food pictures that I'm kicking myself for not putting more research in. I think since I live in Corner Brook, I believe that all small, desolate places on islands are going to fail to support exciting restaurants. Then again, that's not even really true for Corner Brook anymore, and the Quebecers love of food makes it seem like they wouldn't put up with mediocre food options in the first place. This would be a lesson learned for the next remote place I visit in Quebec.

The main thoroughfare of Cap-aux-Meules.

After dropping off my rental, I briefly entertained walking into one of the bars, but the ferry was leaving at 8am and I knew the weather would be better tomorrow.

I headed back to my cottage and watched my newly acquired copy of Friends with Benefits yet again before hitting the hay.

Even though I was once again dragging all of my luggage the next morning, I knew I had to get down here early and photograph Cap-aux-Meules' gorgeous Arena Wendell-Chaisson.

There's the standard quonset hut-style barn to Arena Wendell-Chaisson, but then there's added unique windows accented with red shutters and chocolate wooden shakes covering the whole thing. There's a front porch too, where I picture fans outside on windy, wintry nights, socializing with one another beside and underneath the red puzzle piece brackets. I stood here and struggled to think of a more attractive arena exterior.

The QMJHL usually plays an exhibition game here every September & when I learned of that, I certainly pondered the Deer Lake-Halifax-Montreal-Quebec City-Gaspe-Magdalen Islands flight that comes up if you search Deer Lake to Magdalen Islands.

Going into this, I remembered my friend Nick telling me that the Magdalen Islands were fine and nice enough after his own visit. That certainly affected my sense of urgency for coming here, but although my one full day didn't have the best weather, I still found it much more worthwhile than just a "fine" place.

It's a difficult place for me to visit because I usually have two ferries between me and PEI, but I would like to return one day. Especially with more time, more kilometers on the rental or a cycletouring bike. My love of Quebec might be affecting how I see the Magdalen Islands, but I certainly find it scenic, unique and delicious enough for a visit.


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1 - ANSE-À-LA-CABANE LIGHTHOUSE - Tourisme Iles De La Madeleine
2 - A tempestuous isle of 1,000 shipwrecks - BBC Travel
3 - CAP ALRIGHT LIGHTHOUSE - Tourisme Iles De La Madeleine
4 - BORGOT LIGHTHOUSE - Tourisme Iles De La Madeleine

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