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Paddle Tales: Canoeing and Kayaking in Bas-Saint-Laurent, Québec

My name's Ken Whiting. I'm a world champion whitewater paddler and I've led trips and taught kayaking around the world. As an athlete and explorer my lifelong passion has been to challenge myself, meet interesting new people, discover beautiful places, and share these experiences with others. This is the story of these adventures. This is Paddle Tales.

Hello again everyone, I'm Ken Whiting and this is the third episode of Paddle Tales, The series that goes to some of the most amazing places in the world and does cool paddling trips along the way. Now in this episode we're going to another incredible place in Québec called the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, which is really well known for its spectacular Saint Lawrence coastline, and for the rugged wilderness. But before we get started make sure you subscribe to PaddleTV so you get notified every time a new episode is released.

Now, Québec is a big place. Not only is it the biggest province in Canada, but to put it in perspective, it's almost three times the size of France or the state of Texas. On top of this, Québec is blessed with a whopping 3% of the world's fresh water and has more than half a million lakes. It also has one of the world's largest rivers flowing through its interior, the Saint Lawrence River which empties the great lakes into the Atlantic Ocean. Not surprisingly, it's a river that's rich in history and in marine life, which is why I'm excited to explore the place.

And so in this episode of Paddle Tales we're visiting Bas-Saint-Laurent. On the southern shore of the Saint Lawrence River where its fresh water meets the saltwater of the Atlantic, you'll find the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Québec. It's a place that many people drive right through on their way to Gaspésie without even knowing what they're missing. What they're missing, is a gorgeous landscape with beautiful coastal and rural villages, a stunning coastline and spectacular wilderness. In other words, it's an outdoor adventure traveler's dream.

My first stop, is probably the most obvious stop for anyone that knows the area. Bic National Park. At only 13 square miles in size, Bic is one of the smaller national parks you'll find, but what it lacks in size, it definitely makes up for with its visual impact. Although hiking is the most popular way to explore the area, sea kayaking is recognized as the best way to see the place. And so we're meeting up with Bernard Dugas of Aventures Archipel, who's been kayaking and guiding in these waters for as long as anyone. So, Bernard, tell me a bit about where we're going paddling today.

- [Bernard] Yeah today we're starting with the first island just in front of us, it's called l'Ile Brulee.

- [Ken] Yeah.

- [Bernard] Smoky Island

- [Ken] Okay.

- [Bernard] Yes. A fire occurred many years ago. The blue herons make their nest on the top of the trees. With about 20, 25 great blue herons, on the--

- [Ken] Really?

- [Bernard] Yeah.

- [Ken] Well, let's hit it!

- [Bernard] Yeah, go, let's go! Okay! We are at the beginning of the National Park.

- [Ken] Yes.

- [Bernard] We're at the boundary of the park here.

- [Ken] Right here?

- [Bernard] Right there, yeah, yeah.

- [Ken] So this is the island known for the great blue herons.

- [Bernard] Yes, it's called l'Ile Brulee

- [Ken] Brulee.

- [Bernard] Smoky island you see?

- [Ken] Smoky, yeah.

- [Bernard] Yes, and before the great blue heron were in there, and since I would say three years now, they appeared and now we can count about 25 great blue heron on the island.

- [Ken] Cool. Incredible creatures really.

- [Bernard] Yeah.

- [Ken] And you were saying that a creature, a bird that size is only five or six pounds.

- [Bernard] Exactly, five, six pounds, yeah.

- [Ken] Wild!

- [Bernard] Yeah.

- [Ken] So with Aventures Archipel, you take total beginners out here.

- [Bernard] We can say that, at the beginning, at the first beginning, we're a small company but we decided to improve, and to help both to really discover the park in kayak excursions.

- Yeah.

- [Bernard] And now, we consider we are really in a good spot to practice the sea kayaking, it's a quiet place and yeah.

- [Ken] It seems like a pretty great place to get your feet wet for a first kayaking experience. It's easy to see why Bic National Park is one of the top destinations for visitors to the region. The terrain is dramatic and varied, and even with the strong winds we're facing today, it's easy to find sheltered areas amongst the islands and cliffs.

- [Bernard] You like that, eh?

- [Ken] Like this? Yeah. It's good. This is good.

- [Bernard] It's not really a job.

- [Ken] No, no. This doesn't suck.

Although the scenery is reason enough to visit Bic, one of the park's major attractions is the large seal population that lives here. As the tide goes out, big rounded rocks reveal themselves and provide ideal lounge chairs for the curious animals. I definitely question the comfort factor, but maybe if I wrap myself in a thick coat of blubber those rocks would look more appealing.

With the wind picking up, Bernard and I decide to head back to the lodge. I hate to leave so soon, because this is the type of coastline that can keep you captivated for days. But our adventure in Bas-Saint-Laurent has only begun. Only a couple of hours away is another national park: Lake Témiscouata National Park. Very different from the coastal nature of Bic National Park, Lake Témiscouata National Park is found inland of the Saint Lawrence, and stretches along one of the most beautiful and largest lakes in the region.

Although the pristine wilderness landscape is spectacular on it's own, what I'm really looking forward to learning more about is the rich cultural history of the area. For thousands of years the Témiscouata waterway was a crossroads for trade between a variety of people, with the oldest evidence of human occupation dating back more than 9000 years.

To learn more about these people, I'm heading to Le Jardin des Memoires, or the garden of memories, Where archeologist Marianne-Marilou Leclerc spends her days looking for clues.

- For all the summer with the visitor in the park it is their game. And they can dig with me. This site, it's a native people site, but long time ago. It could be 2000 years ago. I don't know now because I don't have the date because I need the carbon to date it and I didn't find it yet.

- [Ken] But you've already found some real artifacts here.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Some real artifacts.

- [Ken] Yeah, so that one looked, let's see. An arrowhead?

- [Marianne-Marilou] It's a arrowhead, yeah.

- [Ken] Or a shark's tooth. One of the two.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Yeah!

- [Ken] I mean, these are tiny pieces that you're having to find.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Yes.

- [Ken] This is a needle in a haystack.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Yes, almost, almost.

- [Ken] But you do every once in a while find something more substantial.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Exactly.

- [Ken] Watching Marianne-Marilou slowly and methodically work through the ground's different layers of organic material really drives home not just how incredibly patient she is, but the timeline she's working with. She's searching for clues left behind thousands of years ago, and their depth and location lets her tell an important story that has long since been forgotten. Well, I can see why this became such a meeting spot, I mean it's such a gorgeous spot. The end of the lake, the river starts, you can see the current starting to build up.

- [Marianne-Marilou] Exactly

- [Ken] It's a beautiful river.

- [Marianne-Marilou] It's a beautiful place to fish, It's a big bay, so everybody wants to stop here.

- [Ken] Yeah.

With some valuable insight into the history of the region, I'm looking forward to exploring the park itself. And so we're meeting up with Audree Morin, to do some canoeing and hopefully see some of the bald eagles that the park is known for.

- [Audree] So my name is Audree Morin and my position here is I'm a natural environment technician. And my job is to get as much knowledge on the natural environment of the park as possible in order to protect it better. The first thing that makes Témiscouata Lake National Park pretty special is that it's really new, like not so many of our parks are recent. It's just five years old, and the special features of our park, it's lakes. Other special features are, of course, our bald eagle populations, because the habitat of the park here is perfect for the bald eagle with high natural trees and those big, fishy lakes. So we can land the canoe right here, and then we're gonna walk around this point here, it's called the pointe-au-toma. And we should have a good observation spot over there on the other side of the point. The nest is in the bay really high in the pine trees so we should see it.

- [Ken] Cool!

- [Audree] Ready?

- [Ken] Let's do it.

- [Audree] So, look at that. We have, like, right here three pieces of the chert rock that comes from the mountain right across there.

- [Ken] Wow So someone brought this over here and this remains from someone actually knapping, trying to make a--

- [Audree] Exactly, like, that's not the actual tool, but we can still see, like, that it produces really sharp edges. And, yeah, those are the leftovers. And I'm going to put them back in place because we really want them to stay in context because that's how they get their value.

-[Ken]  Leave it the way you found it

- [Audree] So if anyone finds anything like that, it's super important to leave them in their context.

- [Ken] Cool.

- [Audree] The bald eagle is in the nest right now.

- [Ken] So this is the eagles nest that you wanted to find and monitor.

- [Audree] Yeah, exactly.

- [Ken] And so, monitoring is-- what are you looking for?

- [Audree] We're looking at the reproductive success of the bald eagle, so at the beginning of May we come a first time to see if the eagles have hatchlings. And we found a number, so this way, at this time of year when we're close to their first flight, then we know the survival rate of those hatchlings that were born at the beginning of May.

- [Ken] Gotcha. Well, I know you could probably watch these eagle all day. I could too, but we have to get to Jardin des Memoires. The wind is definitely picking up. At least we're paddling downwind to get there, but we should probably make a move.

- [Audree] Bye, bald eagles!

- [Ken] Once again, I'm blown away by what I've discovered on my trip to Bas-Saint-Laurent. My only regret is not having more time, because I know I've only scratched the surface of what the area has to offer.

Well, that does it for this episode of Paddle Tales. Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed it, make sure give it a big thumbs up and subscribe to PaddleTV if you haven't already so that you get notified of the next episode when it releases. Last but not least, stick around for a sneak peak at the next paddling adventure on Paddle Tales.

Next time on Paddle Tales, I'm heading to the Côte-Nord, a more remote region of Québec that's known for its rugged beauty and the diversity of its wildlife. We'll sea kayak with puffins, and monoliths in Mingan National Park. Stand up paddle down one of the wilderness rivers, and challenge white water where the river meets the sea. The Côte-Nord is a wild and wonderful place that's filled with new discoveries. You won't wanna miss it.

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