With a population of over 15,000 and a history that stretches back to the dawn of European colonization in what is now Canada, Gaspé is the largest city and unofficial capital of the region with which it shares its name. As the Gaspé Peninsula's most important service centre and transportation hub, almost every visitor to the region will pass through at one point or another on their travels.
But Gaspé presents something of a conundrum: no one comes to this part of Quebec in search of urban creature comforts, and — especially for tourists who've just been wowed by the majestic scenery while driving into town along the St. Lawrence, or spent a day taking in the touristy atmosphere of Percé down the road — at first glance Gaspé can seem like a workaday, all-business kind of town, a bit lacking in charm.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you should hit the road as soon as you've touched down at Michel Pouliot Airport, stocked up on fuel or provisions, or whatever has brought you to town. Stick around awhile and dig a little deeper, and Gaspé's low-key but worthwhile range of attractions might surprise you.
In 1971 — under the auspices of one of the Quebec provincial government's frequent spates of municipal reorganization — no fewer than eleven surrounding municipalities were annexed to Gaspé, among them Cap-des-Rosiers, Douglastown, Haldimand, L'Anse-au-Griffon, Rivière-au-Renard, Saint-Majorique, Saint-Maurice, and York. While you'll still see these old place names on road signs along Route 132, and locals still often refer to them in conversation, all the points of interest within these former towns are contained within this article.
Additionally, Gaspé's city limits encompass the entirety of Forillon National Park, which is not covered in this article.
Gaspé's paramount importance in the colonial history of North America is unbeknownst even to many Québécois. Indeed, this city lays claim to the title of "Cradle of French America": in 1534, seven years before his failed attempt to establish a settlement at Cap-Rouge (and nearly three-quarters of a century before the foundation of Quebec City), the famous explorer Jacques Cartier, while sheltering in Gaspé Bay during a storm, came ashore briefly somewhere in the city and planted a crude wooden cross in the ground in the name of the French crown, thus setting the 200-year history of "New France" in motion. The indigenous Mi'kmaq people referred to the area as gespeg (meaning "land's end"; a reference to Cap-Gaspé at the east end of the peninsula), which was Gallicized by the colonists into its current name.
Despite its historical significance, the area remained a backwater for pretty much the entire two-century period of French rule. It was not until 1763 when settlement of what is now Gaspé began in earnest — and those first settlers were Englishmen, to whom Gaspesian land was given away free of charge after control of Quebec was firmly in British hands. They were followed in short order by waves of French-speaking Acadians expelled from their former homes in Nova Scotia, "United Empire Loyalists" driven out of what's now the United States after the revolution there, and immigrant fishermen and shipbuilders (the latter largely hailing from Jersey) who came from Europe to take advantage of the rich cod fishery in the surrounding waters. Gaspé's first post office opened in 1804, and the village was officially incorporated in 1855.
Gaspé hit its stride in the 19th century, with an economy centred around its importance as a port for the trans-Atlantic shipping trade — indeed, for a brief time around the turn of the century Gaspé figured among Canada's major seaports, with hundreds of foreign ships every year pulling into the deep, sheltered bay to take advantage of the city's status as a duty-free port, hundreds more setting off for distant lands with stocks of wood pulp, copper ore, dried cod, and other local goods, an impressive presence of branch consulates of countries such as Italy, Norway, and Brazil helping to further grease the gears of international trade, and a culture much more multilingual and cosmopolitan than the sleepy fishing and logging villages elsewhere in the region. However, despite the arrival of the railroad in 1911, Gaspé's port ultimately was unable to compete with larger and more centrally-located alternatives like Montreal and Halifax, and today it derives its significance mostly as a regional centre of population, business, and industry; the kind of place small-town folks from around the region head to go shopping, have a nice dinner out, and enjoy a semblance of city life.
Gaspé Forillon is the official tourism website for the titular city and park: a comprehensive source of information including a visitor's guide, listings of hotels, restaurants and events, a lovely photo album, and even a mobile app for iPhone and Android users to download.
Gaspé's main Tourist Information Centre (Bureau d'information touristique de Gaspé) is located in the former VIA Rail station at 8, rue de la Marina, just across the bridge from downtown Gaspé. It's open year-round on weekdays from 8:30AM to 4:30PM.
A number of the outlying hamlets that make up the modern-day city have their own tourist information centres. The 1 L'Anse-à-Valleau Tourist Information Centre at 884, boulevard de l'Anse-à-Valleau is open daily 9AM-5PM from June 12 through September 30. Additionally, the building at 17, rue de la Langevin that houses the Forillon Yacht Club (Club nautique Forillon) and the Fishery Interpretive Centre (Centre d'interprétation des pêches) also does triple duty as the home of the Rivière-au-Renard Tourist Information Kiosk, open between June and September.
As with the vast majority of the peninsula's cities and towns, Provincial Route 132 — Quebec's main trunk road along the south shore of the St. Lawrence river and estuary — serves as Gaspé's main drag.
Coming from the direction of Montreal and Quebec City, follow Autoroute 20 eastward until the highway dead-ends at Trois-Pistoles. From there, make a left, following the signs for Route 132, then turn right and proceed eastward 314 kilometres (195 miles) to L'Anse-Pleureuse. From there onward, you have several options:
- The quickest and most direct route into Gaspé would have you turning right at the junction with Provincial Route 198, the inland route via Murdochville that dumps you directly in the town centre. However, this option comes at the expense of missing out on the most majestic of the Gaspé Peninsula's shoreline scenery, and it's not really that much shorter.
- You can also follow Route 132 itself all the way into town, though the route it takes is circuitous indeed: after entering the city limits and passing through L'Anse-à-Valleau, Rivière-au-Renard, and other outer hamlets on a southeastward trajectory along the shore of the St. Lawrence, the road turns sharply to the southwest at Cap-des-Rosiers, winding and meandering its way through Forillon National Park before doubling back toward the northwest along the shore of Gaspé Bay. From there, it crosses over the mouth of the Dartmouth River and turns yet again toward the southeast on its final approach to Gaspé's town centre.
- The Goldilocks option, which is almost as fast as the inland route via Murdochville and also lets you enjoy most of that scenery, involves turning south on Provincial Route 197 at Rivière-au-Renard and rejoining Route 132 just before the aforementioned bridge over the Dartmouth River, thus cutting off the sinewy Forillon portion of the route.
Depending on which of those routes you take, from Quebec City to Gaspé you're looking at a drive of anywhere between seven-and-a-half and eight-and-a-half hours, excluding stops. If you're coming directly from Montreal, add another two and a half hours.
If you're coming from the direction of the Maritimes or certain parts of New England, the route is much more straightforward: pass through New Brunswick via Provincial Route 17, cross into Quebec at Campbellton, then follow Route 132 east from there. Gaspé is about 330 kilometres (205 miles) past the provincial border, a drive of roughly three and a half hours excluding stops.
1 Michel-Pouliot Gaspé Airport (Aéroport Michel-Pouliot de Gaspé) (YGP IATA) is located about 10 kilometres (6 miles) outside the city centre at 60, rue de l'Aéroport, and is served with daily flights from Îles de la Madeleine, Quebec City, and Montreal (Trudeau). Enterprise and National have car rental facilities onsite.
If you're arriving from outside of Quebec, your best bet is to first fly into either of the latter two cities and then hop on a connecting Air Canada Express flight to YGP (or else settle in for the long drive up A-20).
The Orléans Express bus network serves the entire province of Quebec, including the Gaspé Peninsula. Two Gaspé-bound buses depart daily from Rimouski at 2:55PM, each taking a different turn at the fork in the road at Sainte-Flavie along the lasso-shaped trajectory of Route 132. The route through the Upper Gaspé via Matane and Sainte-Anne-des-Monts is quicker, cheaper, and more scenic, arriving in Gaspé at 9:35PM for a fare of $76.15 per passenger. If that one is sold out, the southerly route through the Matapédia Valley and the Chaleur Bay regions via Amqui, Bonaventure, and Percé arrives in Gaspé at 11:10PM for a fare of $83.05 per passenger.
In all cases, fares include taxes and two checked bags, with a $5 upcharge for each additional checked bag up to a maximum of four total. The bus drops you off at Motel-Restaurant Adams at 20, rue Adams.
The main trunk line of the Route Verte — the largest network of bicycle routes on the American continent, with tentacles stretching over the entire province of Quebec — passes through the Gaspé Peninsula. Route Verte 1 largely follows the course of Provincial Route 132, though construction of bike lanes and other infrastructure is not yet complete throughout the entirety of the route. Indeed, Gaspé is accessible by bike from Percé and points south by way of a bike lane along the side of Route 132, but approaching from the other direction along the St. Lawrence, cyclists along 132 must ride directly in traffic lanes for 82 kilometres (51 miles) between Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine and Rivière-au-Renard, where the roadside bike lanes finally re-emerge.
For details of Route Verte 1's trajectory through the city of Gaspé itself, see the corresponding section below.
The International Appalachian Trail (IAT; in French Sentier international des Appalaches or SIA) traverses Gaspé at the tail end of the North American mainland portion of its route. For long-distance hikers approaching from the west, the scenario is at first a continuation of the relatively easy and flat terrain they've been enjoying for the past several kilometres (miles): after crossing into the Gaspé city limits, the trail first hews closely to the coast and/or Route 132 and then, after a brief but steep climb about 2.5 kilometres (a mile and a half) past Grand-Étang, passes along the crest of a high ridge slightly inland. There, you can link up if you like with the Windmills Trail (Sentier éolien), a 6.3-kilometre (nearly 4-mile) loop through the Cartier Énergie Éolienne wind farm. After that, it's a slow and gradual descent back toward the St. Lawrence, passing by the lighthouse at Pointe-à-la-Renommée on another easy stretch of trail. After L'Anse-à-Valleau, though, the script flips: you take a sharp turn inland, loping over hill and dale through dense pine and birch forest, then you turn east through a verdant river valley and continue into Forillon National Park.
Sépaq, the provincial park and wildlife service, operates a number of backcountry campsites and lean-to shelters along the Québécois portion of the IAT. See the Sleep section for information on the ones within Gaspé.
Located at 10, rue de la Marina, the marina at the 2 Jacques Cartier Nautical Club accommodates visitors arriving by boat with over 90 slips conveniently located just outside of the city centre. In 2017, non-members were charged $1.55 per foot per day for docking, with longer-term visitors enjoying a 50% discount for every third day. If you're rigging your sailboat to a boom instead, it's $18/day. Launch fees apply as well; see the marina's website for details on those.
Gaspé's 2 Intermodal Transport Station (Gare intermodale) is located at 8, rue de la Marina, just across from the city centre. Nominally, train service into Gaspé is provided by VIA Rail's Montreal-Gaspé line, formerly known as the "Chaleur", with departures from Montreal Central Station every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening at 6:55PM, arriving in Gaspé at 1:17PM the following afternoon. However, after September 2013 — when signal malfunctions and other unsafe conditions were found on some of the Gaspé Peninsula portions of the track — service was truncated to Matapédia and then suspended indefinitely. Though VIA Rail intends to resume service once repairs are made, there's currently no timetable for when that might happen, and rumours are flying that the Montreal-Gaspé line will soon be eliminated outright.
Walking would be a fine way to get around for those who don't intend to venture beyond the city centre, but let's face it — in a place like the Gaspé Peninsula, that's true of almost nobody. That being the case, a car is pretty much a necessity for getting around these parts.
By rental car
- 3 Discount Car Rental, 164, boulevard de Gaspé, ☎ . M-F 8AM-5:30PM.
- Enterprise Rent a Car, 60, rue de l'Aéroport (at Michel Pouliot Airport), ☎ . M-F 7:30AM-9PM, Su 5PM-9PM.
- National Car Rental, 60, rue de l'Aéroport (at Michel Pouliot Airport), ☎ . M-F 7:30AM-9PM, Su 5PM-9PM.
In the city of Gaspé, Route Verte 1 exists in three discontinuous segments:
- From Rivière-au-Renard, roadside bike lanes along Provincial Route 132 extend eastward for 10 kilometres (6½ miles) into L'Anse-au-Griffon, then divert inland along a gravel-paved off-road trail through Forillon National Park. At the other end of the park, it's another 19.5 kilometres (12 miles) of bike lanes along 132 between La Penouille and the corner of Rue Louise, just outside of Gaspé town centre.
- Beginning at the rear parking lot of the Carrefour de Gaspé shopping centre near the harbour, Route Verte 1 picks back up, following the course of an asphalt-paved off-road "rail trail" for 10 kilometres (a little more than 6 miles) through Sandy Beach and into Haldimand, terminating at the intersection of Route 132 with rue de la Plage. This is arguably the most pleasant of the three segments, with nice views across the bay toward Forillon and precious few hills to contend with.
- A short distance west of Haldimand, on-road bike lanes re-emerge along Route 132 and continue southward past the airport, through Douglastown, and across the city line into Percé.
In the breaks between these segments, the trajectory of Route Verte 1 nominally proceeds along Route 132. However, for the time being, cyclists must ride directly in traffic lanes through these discontinuities as bike lanes and other infrastructure have yet to be constructed.
Bike rental is available from:
- ÉcoRécréo at Haldimand Municipal Beach — from late June through late August, at a rate of $10 per hour, $18 per half-day and $20 all day for adults, $8/$15/$18 for children. Tandem bikes, fat bikes, and other such conveyances are also rented out, see website for pricing.
- the 3 Marcel Bujold Sports Complex (Pavillon des sports Marcel-Bujold), on the campus of Gaspé Peninsula and Îles de la Madeleine Community College (Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles) — call +1 418 368-6939 for rates and availability.
The Place Jacques-Cartier shopping centre in downtown Gaspé serves as the main hub for RéGÎM, the regional public bus network serving the Gaspé Peninsula and the Îles de la Madeleine. No fewer than six of the system's bus routes begin, end, or pass through this nexus.
Routes that are contained entirely within Gaspé's city limits include:
- Route 20, which departs every weekday at 6:30AM from the 4 L'Anse-à-Valleau Post Office (Bureau de poste de l'Anse-à-Valleau) at 922, boulevard de l'Anse-à-Valleau, passing through Petit-Cap, Rivière-au-Renard, and Saint-Majorique and arriving at Place Jacques-Cartier at 7:33AM. Return trips depart daily at 4:47PM and arrive in L'Anse-à-Valleau at 5:36PM.
- Route 21, which departs every weekday at 6:29AM from 5 Dépanneur Bilodeau at 2, chemin du Portage in L'Anse-au-Griffon, passing through Forillon National Park and Saint-Majorique and arriving at Place Jacques-Cartier at 7:35AM. Return trips depart each weekday at 4:47PM and arrive in L'Anse-au-Griffon at 5:38PM.
- Route 23, a loop through Gaspé's western outskirts including the communities of Wakeham, Sunny Bank, and York. There are two trips every weekday: a morning run that departs Place Jacques-Cartier at 7:40AM, returning at 8:25AM, and an afternoon "express" run (passing over most of the stops within Gaspé's city centre) that departs at 3:45PM and returns at 4:19PM.
- Route 24, a loop through Gaspé's southeastern outskirts including the communities of York, Haldimand, and Sandy Beach. Buses depart Place Jacques-Cartier every morning at 7:40AM, returning at 8:30AM.
Routes that arrive in Gaspé from outlying towns include:
- Route 22, which departs every weekday at 6:40AM from L'Anse-à-Beaufils, stopping at Place Jacques-Cartier at 7:38AM, and ending its run a short distance east of the city centre at 6 C. E. Pouliot High School (École C.-E.-Pouliot) at 7:47AM. Return trips depart the high school at 5:50PM, pass by Place Jacques-Cartier at 6:02PM, and arrive in L'Anse-à-Beaufils at 7:02PM.
- Route 26, which runs Friday only, departing at 8:45AM from Murdochville, stopping at Place Jacques-Cartier at 10AM, and ending its run at the 7 Gaspé Local Community Service Centre (CLSC de Gaspé) in York at 10:25AM. Return trips depart the CLSC at 4PM, pass by Place Jacques-Cartier at 4:25PM, and arrive in Murdochville at 5:15PM. There's also an abbreviated midday run between the CLSC and Place Jacques-Cartier only, with departures from the former at 1PM arriving at the latter at 1:25PM, and in the reverse direction departing at 1:20PM and arriving at 1:45PM.
Fare is payable in cash ($4) or with tickets ($3 apiece, available in books of ten from participating retailers or directly from the bus drivers). If you're planning on making heavy use of RéGÎM during your stay in the Gaspé Peninsula, it might be useful to buy a prepaid Access Card (available online for $5), which are good for a whole month and entitle you to the same discounted $3 fare as tickets.
Museums and history
The Gaspé Peninsula is first and foremost an outdoor destination: the stunning views of forest-cloaked mountains and wave-battered shorelines visible from every window practically command visitors to emerge into the fresh air and majestic wilderness. But of course, the weather in this part of the world isn't always cooperative — and if you've got a rainy-day hankering to switch gears and learn a little more about the region's fascinating history and culture, the city of Gaspé is the place to be.
Your first stop should be...
- 1 Gaspé Regional Museum (Musée de la Gaspésie), 80, boulevard de Gaspé, ☎ . Jun-Oct daily 9AM-5PM; Nov-May W-F 10AM-5PM & Sa-Su 12:30PM-5PM. The Gaspé Regional Museum's purview cuts a broad swath, covering the rich history, charming culture, and surprisingly vibrant art scene of the region. In the museum's main exhibit, "Gaspésie... A Grand Journey" (Gaspésie... Le Grand voyage), the region's story is told through the mouths of the men and women who shaped it, but that's just the beginning: fans of old-fashioned chanson can peruse a collection of old photos and heirlooms belonging to Mary "La Bolduc" Travers, the so-called "Queen of Canadian Folk Singers" who lived in Newport just down the road, and those interested in the history of the Gaspesian cod fishery — once the linchpin of the area's economy — can step aboard the Gaspésienne No. 20, a historic fishing boat restored and outfitted to its original appearance, and/or strap on a virtual-reality headset and "set out" on Gaspé Bay with a pair of friendly fishermen to learn more. There's also a range of temporary exhibits focusing on more specific aspects of Gaspesian identity (check website for current offerings), extensive archives of documents and artifacts for researchers, an onsite bistro, and a gift shop selling original artwork and gifts produced by local artists and artisans. Museum entry $11, students (18+ with school ID) and seniors (65+) $9.25, children (6-17) $5.25, children 5 and under free. Virtual-reality film is $6.50 per person. Discounts available for admission to both museum and film and to families; see website for detailed price breakdown.
- 2 In Memory of Her (En mémoire d'Elle). Located on the grounds of the Gaspé Regional Museum, this concrete statue — the work of Percé native Renée-Mao Clavet — was dedicated in 2013 in honour of the contribution of women to Quebecois history and society. 5 metres (16 feet) in height, the sculpture depicts a pregnant woman in a flowing skirt, with a face designed in an ambiguous way so as to be representative of Francophone, Anglophone, and First Nations women alike. The book and the satchel of traditional medicinal herbs that the figure carries symbolize women's contributions to the fields of education and medicine.
- 3 Jacques Cartier Monument National Historic Site (Lieu historique national du monument à Jacques Cartier). Also situated on the grounds of the museum, with an apropos setting overlooking the bay roughly halfway between In Memory of Her and the museum building itself, is this cluster of six upright granite tablets, carved on one side with bas-relief sculptures depicting Cartier's historic landing at Gaspé on July 24, 1534 — the founding date of the colony of New France — and inscribed on the other with passages from the journals of both Cartier and Father Chrestien Leclerq, who accompanied him on the expedition.
Then, if you want to dig deeper, you might also check out the following attractions.
- 4 Fishery Interpretive Centre (Centre d'interprétation des pêches), 17, rue de la Langevin, ☎ . M-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, late Jun through late Aug. Rivière-au-Renard once had one of the busiest fishing harbours in the region, and this interpretive centre traces its history from the glory days of the Gaspesian cod fishery to the cutting-edge, technology-driven industry of today. You can even sample freshly-caught local seafood onsite! Call for rates.
- 5 Gaspé, Birthplace of Canada (Gaspé, Berceau du Canada), 179, montée Wakeham, ☎ . W 9:30AM-6PM, all other days 10:30AM-6PM, late Jun through mid-Sept. Located on the waterfront across from Place Jacques-Cartier, this cluster of about a half-dozen buildings operates as a sort of miniature living-history museum depicting the village of Gaspé as it was around 1900, complete with interpreters in period costume. Tuck in to a nice meal at the tavern, explore the fish warehouse and old general store, tour the Horatio Leboutillier House (the genuine article, built c. 1850), or take off on one of the walking tours of modern-day downtown Gaspé that begin and end here. At the centre of it all is a granite replica of Jacques Cartier's cross, dedicated in 1934 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his landing.
- 6 Gespeg Mi'kmaq Interpretive Site (Site d'interprétation micmac de Gespeg), 783, boulevard de Pointe-Navarre, ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM, mid-Jun through mid-Oct. This Gespeg Mi'kmaq Interpretive Site's goal is to expose visitors to the culture of the Mi'kmaq people, who inhabited the Gaspé Peninsula and adjacent lands for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, as well as chronicling more recent chapters of local First Nations history from the 17th century to the present day. Volunteers are on hand to lead folks on guided tours through a reconstructed village, interpretive exhibits and artifacts detail Mi'kmaq history, cosmology, and everyday life, and there's even a display of medicinal herbs and plants used in traditional Mi'kmaq culture. As well, in the gift shop you'll find a range of authentic handicrafts produced by local artisans. $11, seniors (65+) $9.50, children 7-15 and students with ID $8.50, children 6 and under free, $32 for families of two adults and two children.
- 7 Le Boutillier Manor Socio-Cultural Centre (Centre socioculturel Manoir Le Boutillier), 578, boulevard du Griffon, ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM, mid-Jun through mid-Oct. This National Historic Site of Canada was once the cozy timber-framed house of John Le Boutillier, a shipbuilding magnate and local politico who, in his day, was one of the most prominent citizens in the hamlet of L'Anse-au-Griffon. Nowadays, tour guides in period costume lead you through the main house, servants' quarters, and vast grounds — all restored to the way they looked in the 1850s — furnishing a glimpse at upper-class life in 19th-century Gaspé. There's a gift shop that sells locally-made clothes, accessories, and handicrafts, or cap off your visit with a stop in the attached tea room and pastry shop. Website in French only. $8; seniors and students with ID $6, children under 11 free, $18 for families of two adults and two children.
- 8 Plourde Sawmill (Moulin des Plourde), 5, rue du Moulin, ☎ . M-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, late Jun through late Aug. This is the only remaining steam-powered sawmill building on the Gaspé Peninsula, and was one of the last remaining ones in operation when it closed its doors in 1986 after eight decades of manufacturing shingles for local builders. Nowadays it functions as one of Quebec's famous "econo-museums" (économusées), where you can check out the original equipment still in place and learn the history of the Gaspesian forestry industry as well as that of the Plourde family, who owned the mill. Call for rates.
- 9 Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse (Phare de Cap-des-Rosiers), 1331, boulevard de Cap-des-Rosiers, ☎ . Site open daily 8AM-6PM, late Jun through early Sept; guided tours every half hour 9AM-5PM. The tallest lighthouse in Canada at a height of 34.1 metres (112 feet), Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse has been warning traffic on the St. Lawrence away from the rocky headland on which it stands since 1858 — using the original optical apparatus, no less. Now fully restored and automated, it was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1973. Admission only: $3, children 6 and under free. With guided tour: $10, children 7-17 $7, children under 6 free; families $25 for 2 adults and 1 child, $30 for 2 adults and 2 children, $3 per additional child.
- 10 Pointe-à-la-Renommée Lighthouse (Phare de Pointe-à-la-Renommée), 200, chemin de la Pointe-à-la-Renommée, ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM, mid-Jun through late Sept. Located a short distance west of L'Anse-à-Valleau, the photogenic Pointe-à-la-Renommée Lighthouse was built in 1907 to replace a smaller, wood-frame light dating to 1880, and guided ships along their path for nearly 70 years before it was decommissioned and "exiled" (as the locals put it) to the Old Port of Quebec City, where it stood for another three decades in front of the Coast Guard headquarters there. The lighthouse was moved back to its original site in 1998 thanks to a grassroots community effort, and today the striking red tower — along with its reconstructed keepers' quarters and other outbuildings — serves as a museum that contains two permanent exhibitions: "Pointe-à-la-Renommée: The Space of a Lifetime" (L'Espace d'une vie à Pointe-à-la-Renommée) relates the history of the lighthouse itself, the Ascah family who tended it during its operational life, and the small, tight-knit fishing community that surrounded it, while "Marconi and the Story of Radio Communications" (Marconi, histoire des communications et radio) deals with Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless radio who in 1904 established one of North America's first marine radiotelegraph stations at Pointe-à-la-Renommée. Guided tours include both exhibits and end at the top of the tower, with stunning views over the mouth of the St. Lawrence Estuary. $10 for guided tour, $6 each individual exhibit. Children age 6-10 admitted at half price, children 5 and under are free.
- In Memory of Her (En mémoire d'Elle), on the grounds of the Gaspé Regional Museum. See above.
- 11 La Griffonne Art Gallery (Galerie d'Art la Griffonne), 696, boulevard du Griffon, ☎ . Open early Jun through mid-Oct. Montreal native Pauline Saint-Arnaud is an accomplished watercolourist whose oeuvre is dominated by the placid forest, farmland, and seacoast scenery found all over the Gaspé Peninsula — little wonder, then, that "The Sea and the Coastlines" (La Mer et les bords côtiers) is the title she chose for the solo exhibition displayed at the farmhouse-turned-gallery in L'Anse-au-Griffon, where she spends her summers. Website in French only.
- 12 Le Griffon Cultural Centre (Centre culturel Le Griffon), 557, boulevard du Griffon, ☎ . M & W-F 11AM-9PM, Sa-Su 8AM-9PM, late Jun through late Oct; by appointment other times. Once a cold storage warehouse where local fishermen stored their catches, this handsome old clapboard building overlooking L'Anse-au-Griffon's harbour is nowadays a multipurpose space — there's a breezy seaside café where local seafood is on the menu, a boutique where Gaspesian artisans sell handmade souvenirs, and above all, the Claude Côté Gallery and Workshop (Atelier-Galerie Claude Côté), where the eponymous artist in residence displays his watercolours during the tourist season. Côté has said of his work "I am inspired by my immediate environment, where 'intellectualism' is forgotten and gives way to the poetry of everyday life, the beautiful freedom of simple things", and that's as apt a way as any to describe the stark beauty of his landscapes and nature scenes. Website in French only.
- 13 Marie-Josée Gagnon Art Gallery (Galerie d'Art Marie-Josée Gagnon), 806, boulevard de Pointe-Jaune, ☎ . Working only with a spatula, Marie-Josée Gagnon creates dazzlingly colourful scenes from around her native Gaspé: landscapes, seascapes, and lovely flower paintings where the interplay of colours, light, and shadow are of foremost importance (or, to use her words: "it is the essence of a landscape that I wish to render, rather than a mere imitation of what I see"). In the small gallery in Pointe-Jaune that bears Gagnon's name is displayed not only her work but also the evocative portraiture of Stella Joncas-Veillet, and the abstract-expressionist paintings and sculpted figurines of Estelle Francoeur.
- 14 Christ the King Cathedral (Cathédrale du Christ-Roi), 20, rue de la Cathédrale, ☎ . The only wood-framed Roman Catholic cathedral in North America, Christ the King Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Gaspé, whose territory covers most of the peninsula. Erected in 1969, this is the third church to be situated on this site; its striking design — wherein the fundamentals of traditional Christian religious architecture are totally subverted and reinvented along modernist lines — is the handiwork of Montreal-based architect Gérard Notebaert, working here in the "Shed Style" that had been pioneered only a few years earlier by Charles Moore with his Sea Ranch condominium community on the North Coast of California. Faced monochromatically in glue-laminated slats of red cedar, the sleek lines and angular geometric forms of this vaguely boat-shaped building certainly set it apart from the prototypical Gaspesian church. The interior is no less impressive, austere yet handsome and lit by a quintet of glass skylights built into the slopes of the roof. Bishop Gaétan Proulx himself delivers the Sunday Mass weekly at 11AM.
- 15 (Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-de-Pointe-Navarre), 765, boulevard de Pointe-Navarre, ☎ . Church open daily 8AM-7PM; gift shop M-Sa 9AM-4:30P & Su 1PM-4PM. In a peaceful setting several kilometres (miles) outside the town centre, Our Lady of Pointe-Navarre has been a place of retreat and pilgrimage for the local Catholic community since its founding in 1940 by Father Jean-Marie Watier. The complex consists of a spacious church building that's replete with breathtaking works of religious art and hosts novena recitals, personal visitations, and a Tuesday evening Mass every week at 7PM; the smaller Chapel of Remembrance, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for private prayer and meditation at the site of Father Watier's tomb; and a verdant hillside hermitage out back whose pleasant paths and grottoes offer a peaceful setting for spiritual reflection (not to mention spectacular views over Gaspé Bay). Website in French only.
On the water
Surrounded on three sides by water, Gaspé boasts aquatic fun in myriad forms.
The shore of Gaspé Bay is dotted with beaches that are popular summertime destinations for locals and visitors alike, including three within the city of Gaspé itself:
- 1 Haldimand Municipal Beach (Plage municipale d'Haldimand) is the most beautiful, the most centrally located, and the most crowded beach in Gaspé. Here you'll find pristine water, luscious white sand, a playground for the kids, and even a beachfront restaurant serving Mexican specialties, all a quick ten-minute drive from downtown. Lifeguards patrol the waters in high season (late June through late August), an annual sand castle competition draws crowds of onlookers in late July, and there are even paddleboards and bikes available to rent through ÉcoRécréo.
- For those in search of a more private beach getaway, 2 Douglastown Beach (Plage de Douglastown) lies further south, on the other side of the lagoon. Douglastown boasts a setting almost as beautiful as Haldimand's — and an even greater length, a sand spit fully a kilometre and a half (a mile) long — yet its more off-the-beaten-path location and lack of any amenities means it's more often than not just you, the rustling dune grass, and the crashing waves.
- Finally, in the shadow of Forillon National Park is found 3 Cap-aux-Os Beach (Plage de Cap-aux-Os), the smallest of the three. The water here tends to be a bit chillier, but that doesn't stop folks from coming down to enjoy swimming, sunbathing, a quick meal at the snack bar, or kayak rental courtesy of Cap Aventure. Public washrooms are offered, and leashed pets are welcome.
As you've probably gathered from reading thus far, fishing is a really big deal around these parts. Indeed, the fishery was the region's economic lifeblood for centuries, and although tourism has since usurped that status for the most part, it retains a good deal of importance even today.
But fishing isn't just an industry here — it's a way of life, for locals and visitors alike. Fishing in Gaspé can be as simple as finding a wharf or a dock and casting your line into the water, which can be done any time of year without a license. Mackerel and smelt are popular with Gaspesian wharf fishers: the former are most plentiful in late July and early August, while smelt fishing is strictly a wintertime pursuit — ice fishing shacks are a common sight on Gaspé Bay starting in January, when freeze-up typically occurs.
Away from the shore, brook trout teem in the waterways of inland Gaspé. Locals generally don't bother with trout fishing, which has led to an abundant population — some say an overpopulation — in the fast-flowing streams and crystal-clear lakes of the Chic-Chocs. You can easily reel in some whoppers up here in the mountains; 2-kilogram (four- to five-pound) specimens are not at all uncommon. However, unlike wharf fishing from shore, trout fishing does require a license from the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (Ministère des forêts, de la faune et des parcs du Québec). This costs $20.19/$39.56 per day or $46.30/$148.57 annually, for Quebec residents and nonresidents respectively. Please also see the Ministry's website for information on other regulations that may apply to the specific body of water you're planning to fish.
But if there's one single species that comes to the mind of fishing connoisseurs when they hear of the Gaspé Peninsula, it's the Atlantic salmon — a species that, thanks to the efforts of the Quebec Salmon River Management Federation (Fédération des gestionnaires de rivières à saumon du Québec or FGRSQ), is on the rebound after decades of decline. With 22 world-renowned rivers managed by that organization, you're hard-pressed to find better salmon fishing anywhere — and you'll find two of those rivers within the city of Gaspé itself.
- The Saint-Jean River Wildlife Reserve (Reserve faunique de la rivière Saint-Jean) is the city's premier salmon-fishing venue, with a season that extends from May 25 through September 30 (catch-and-release only through the end of July; a quota of 50 large fish applies thereafter). The Saint-Jean flows eastward through Gaspé's southern precincts before emptying into the lagoon that lies between Haldimand and Douglastown, and is divided by the FGRSQ into three different zones, each with their own regulations. In Sector 1, which begins at the Route 132 bridge and extends about 10 kilometres (6 miles) inland, the number of fishermen on any given day is limited to eight; for Sector 2, which extends further inland beyond the city line, regulations are still more stringent at two per day. Advance reservations are required, and you're best off booking as far ahead as possible. Day passes allowing fishing on the Saint-Jean cost $34.60/$67.20 in Sector 1 and $46.99/$91.98 in Sector 2, for Quebec residents and nonresidents respectively.
- The Dartmouth River Controlled Harvesting Zone (Zone d'exploitation contrôlée de la rivière Dartmouth) runs roughly parallel to the St. Lawrence along the northern part of the peninsula's interior spine and empties into Gaspé Bay a few kilometres (miles) northwest of the city centre. Like the Saint-Jean River, the Dartmouth is divided into seven zones, with Sector 1 comprising almost the entirety of the portion of the river within Gaspé's city limits. Though this sector features "unlimited access" — with no maximum number of fishermen allowed in the water simultaneously — the season is shorter (June 1 through August 31) and catch limits are more stringent (one catch-and-keep or three catch-and-release per person; size limits may also apply). In addition, a short stretch of river near the western boundary of the city falls within Zone 2, where you're back to the advance-reservation system with two anglers on the river at a time. Day passes for salmon fishing on the Dartmouth cost $41.02/$60.51 in Sector 1 and $73.75/$109.63 in Sector 2, for Quebec residents and nonresidents respectively.
Day passes can be purchased at the 8 FGRSQ regional office at 25, boulevard York Est, which is open daily from 8AM-6PM, and the quoted fees are in addition to that of the provincial fishing license mentioned above.
Of course, fishing isn't the only thing you can do on a boat here: from kayaks to sailboats to stand-up paddleboards, the waters surrounding Gaspé teem with fun-seekers of all different stripes. The colonies of grey and harbour seals that congregate on the shore of the bay, in Forillon National Park, are a popular destination for boating excursions departing from Gaspé.
- 4 Aube sur Mer, 2172, boulevard de Grande-Grève, ☎ (in season Jun-Oct), (other times). Sea kayaking is the name of the game at Aube sur Mer, with several different regularly-scheduled excursions setting off from their Cap-aux-Os headquarters. "Ride with the Seals" (Balade aux phoques) is a two-hour jaunt suitable for all skill levels, departing four times daily (8AM, 11AM, 2PM, and 5PM) for a visit to the Forillon seal colonies. More avid kayakers can get up bright and early for the "At the End of the World" (Au Bout du monde) excursion's 7AM daily departure, which goes further afield to the tip of Cap-Gaspé: five to six hours in all. Real kayaking fanatics can inquire about longer two-, three-, and four-day excursions around the region, and if you don't quite trust your sea legs, Aube sur Mer offers a choice of two Paddle Canada-accredited training courses: a one-day introductory class for $115, and a more in-depth two-day course for $225. And if human-powered vessels aren't your thing, Aube sur Mer also offers customized sailboat excursions on the bay accompanied by a trained captain. "Ride with the Seals" excursion $45 for adults, $41 for students (with ID) and $35 for children (14 and under); "At the End of the World" excursion $75 for adults, $69 for students with ID and $59 for children 14 and under; sailing excursions $59 adult/$39 child for 2 hours and $89 adult/$59 child for a half-day. See website for detailed price structure including discounts for families and pricing on longer excursions.
- Cap Aventure, ☎ . "Meet the Seals" excursion departs daily 8AM, "Zodiac Safari" departs 9AM, "Around Forillon" excursion departs 6:30AM on prior request. See website for schedule for "Seals at Sunset" excursion. To describe what Cap Aventure offers as mere "seal-watching excursions" wouldn't do them justice: much more than just another touristy trifle, these tours are true educational experiences, where seasoned guides put their affiliation with the Marine Mammal Watchers' Network (Réseau d'observateurs des mammifères marins) to good use in providing a window into the delicate ecosystem of Gaspé Bay, conducted in a manner that is sustainable and respectful of the natural environment. It's not all dry academia, though — the learning experience is punctuated daily by unforgettable sights like a pod of seals dancing and playing around your boat, the plaintive bellow of whales breeching in the distance, and seabirds by the hundreds taking flight from the top of the sheer seaside cliffs. Cap Aventure offers a range of excursions tailored to customers' individual needs: the short Meet the Seals (Rencontre avec les phoques) excursion is open to participants five and older and sticks to the interior of Gaspé Bay, the longer Around Forillon (Pourtour de Forillon) tour rounds Cap Gaspé, and the self-explanatory Seals at Sunset (Phoques au coucher du soleil) excursion is especially popular. All excursions depart from Cap-aux-Os Beach, with the exception of "Around Forillon", which leaves from Cap-des-Rosiers. Plus: if you like seals but kayaking is not your cup of tea, Cap Aventure also offers two-and-a-half-hour "Zodiac Safaris" out to the seal colonies in a 12-passenger boat helmed by an experienced captain-cum-docent, and if it's vice-versa, kayak rental is offered subject to availability (sit-on-top kayaks go for $14/$20 an hour for solo and tandem respectively, while sea kayaks go for $40/$60 for 4 hours or $50/$70 all day, for solo and tandem respectively). The season begins May 8 (June 1 for zodiac excursions) and runs through October 6, and wetsuits are provided during the spring and fall. Website in French only. See website for detailed price structure.
- ÉcoRécréo, 30, rue de la Plage. Daily 9AM-5PM, late Jun through late Aug. With rental kiosks and organized outdoor activities in locations all over the province, ÉcoRécréo is a familiar name to Québécois of an outdoorsy bent. If you're into stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) — or you're interested in learning this new-school watersport best compared to surfing with an oar — their Haldimand Municipal Beach outpost is the place to go in Gaspé. For experienced paddleboarders, $15 an hour, $32 per half-day, or $45 per day is the going rate for equipment rental, while introductory courses for beginners are offered for $45. Beyond that, ÉcoRécréo also does kayak rental, and if you're thinking more in terms of landward transportation, there's a range of bikes for rent too. See website for detailed price structure.
- 5 Fort Prével Golf Club (Club de golf Fort-Prével), 2035, boulevard de Douglas, ☎ . Daily 8AM-6PM, late May through mid-Oct (weather-dependent during shoulder months of May, Jun, Sept & Oct). Enjoy sweeping views over mountains and sea as you hit the links on this beautifully manicured 6,428-yard, par-73 course on the Gaspé-Percé city line, but don't get too distracted by the scenery: with the ruins of a World War II-era coastal fortification doubling as hazards and a doozy of a second hole at 702 yards and par 6, Fort-Prével presents a truly challenging scenario for the golfer. There's also an onsite putting green for those looking to hone their short game, a practice field that plays host frequently to free training sessions for beginner golfers, an onsite restaurant, and even a hotel and campground. Staff is unfailingly polite and friendly. Website in French only. $39/$22.30 for 18/9 holes in high season, $28.30/$17.23 in shoulder season; children 12-17 $20 before noon and $14 thereafter; discounted admission for arrival after 1PM, with further discounts after 3PM. Other fees may apply, see website for detailed price structure.
If "full-size golf" isn't your thing, Gaspé also boasts a pair of mini-golf courses.
- 6 Cantine du Golf, 1833, boulevard Forillon, ☎ . Miniature golf course in Cap-aux-Os with attached snack bar. Open in season, call for hours and rates.
- Fort Ramsay Mini-Putt (Mini-golf de Fort Ramsay), 254, boulevard de Gaspé, ☎ . On the premises of Motel-Camping Fort Ramsay.
- 7 Le Centaure, 1713, boulevard de Forillon, ☎ . Le Centaure offers a diversity of equestrian experiences whose durations, intensities, and skill requirements vary widely — from one-hour sessions on the grounds of their spacious ranch in Cap-aux-Os that are perfect for beginners, to longer expeditions to Sandy Beach (2 hours) and Forillon National Park (5 hours), to multi-day expeditions to further-flung destinations like Gaspésie National Park. Website in French only. Call for rates.
Festivals and events
- Douglastown Irish Days (Journées irlandaises de Douglastown), ☎ . Tooling through this hamlet south of Gaspé city centre down streets with names like Kennedy, McDonald, and St. Patrick, it's not hard to realize that Douglastown was historically a community of Irish immigrants. This Hibernian heritage is feted each year in late July and/or early August with a weekend celebration of traditional foods, music and dance performances, and workshops and lectures on a wide range of subjects from knitting to genealogy. The 8 Douglas Community Centre (Centre communautaire de Douglas) at 28, avenue Saint-Patrick is the venue. Most events free, but check website.
- Festival Musique du Bout du Monde, ☎ . There's really no way to succinctly describe the typical lineup of acts that converge on Gaspé every year for this music festival, other than maybe "maddeningly eclectic". For ten days in August, a multiplicity of venues around town are packed with dozens of artists and bands from all around the world — alumni include Beninese singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo, British reggae sensations UB40, and Montreal rappers Loco Locass — along with dance performances, street theatre, food and drink, and miscellaneous family-friendly revelry. Traditionally, the headliner of each year's festival takes the stage at sunrise on Sunday morning at Cap Bon-Ami, in Forillon National Park, with shuttle service provided from central Gaspé. Ticket prices vary by performance.
- 9 Cartier Bowling (Salle de quilles Cartier), 8, rue de l'Église, ☎ . A small bowling alley in Rivière-au-Renard with six lanes.
- Cinéma le Cube, 178, rue de la Reine, ☎ . Gaspé's only movie theatre is located inside the Hôtel des Commandants, and it's a modest affair: there's one screen with one showing per day (at 6:30PM) of a feature that changes weekly. All movies are shown in French without subtitles, so if you don't speak the language, maybe stick to the attached video arcade and snack bar.
In the winter
Although National Geographic magazine has ranked the Gaspé Peninsula among the Top 10 cold-weather destinations in North America, the wonders of wintertime in this part of the world remain a well-guarded secret. Don't be fooled by the dirt-cheap hotel rooms and ghost-town feel in the streets: there's plenty to do in Gaspé offseason. (That goes double if you're a winter sports fanatic.)
- Les Bons Copains Snowmobile Club of Greater Gaspé (Club de motoneige Les Bons Copains du Grand Gaspé), 6, rue de l'Aréna, ☎ . M-Th 10AM-6PM, F 10AM-11PM, Sa 9AM-11PM, Su 9AM-6PM, in season. There are over 200 kilometres (125 miles) of snowmobile trails in and around Gaspé, and these folks are the ones to talk to if you're interested in buying an Access Pass to ride them. Not only that, but their clubhouse at the 10 Rosaire Tremblay Arena (Aréna Rosaire-Tremblay) in Rivière-au-Renard is open to members and nonmembers alike: after a long day on the trails, you can warm up with a meal at the café, unwind with a game of pool or foosball, or even belt out some tunes at karaoke.
- 11 Les Éclairs Cross-Country Ski Club (Club de ski de fond Les Éclairs), 20, rue des Pommiers, ☎ . Daily 8AM-4PM in season. No, your GPS hasn't misdirected you — the way to Les Éclairs ski club does pass through a nondescript industrial park in York Centre. But there's nothing ugly about the extensive network of well-manicured trails, open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers alike, on the club's vast forested tract whose back end abuts the grounds of Michel Pouliot Airport. Website in French only. Day/season passes for ski trails: $12/$150, full time students 12 and over with ID $6/$50, children under 12 always free. Family ski passes are also available for $295/season. $10 annual membership card entitles adults & families to discount of $2/day or $15/season. Snowshoe trail access $6/day or $30 season, or free with purchase of ski trail access.
- 12 Mont-Béchervaise Ski Centre (Centre de ski Mont-Béchervaise), 50, rue Eden, ☎ . F-Su 9AM-3PM. Mont-Béchervaise may not be the largest or grandest ski resort in the Gaspé Peninsula, but it has a strong claim on the title of most conveniently located — given its oddly abbreviated opening hours and relative lack of onsite amenities, it helps that downtown Gaspé is only a quick five-minute drive away. Take the chair lift from the chalet to the top of the hill, which not only serves as the starting point for about two dozen ski trails suitable for all skill levels, but also offers a panoramic view over the bay. Off to the side at the base are a couple of shorter hills open to downhill tubing, and there's a small snack bar next to the parking lot. Mont-Béchervaise is also open in the summer to hikers and mountain bikers. Website in French only. Day/half-day: lift tickets $34/$27, seniors (55+) $24/$20, students with ID $22/$19; tubing $12/$8 per person or $22/$17 per family.
- Place Jacques-Cartier: a three-storey mall that connects the main street in the upper town (top floor) to the wharf (lower level). It has a Provigo grocery store, Uniprix pharmacy, Rossy and Dollarama discount stores, and a few other shops.
Motel Adams (listed in Sleep below) has a restaurant.
- 1 Motel Adams, 20, rue Adams, ☎ . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: noon. Hotel in the centre of town. Near post office. Restaurant on premises. Autobus Orleans Express has a ticket agency in the reception counter of Hotel. $86.
|Routes through Gaspé|
|Rimouski ← Percé ←||W E||→ END|
|Rimouski ← Forillon National Park ←||W E||→ Percé → Rimouski|
|Ends at ← Murdochville ←||W E||→ END|