I am actually quite excited to arrive in this small town. I skip up the stairs and fling open the door of the tourist office. Instantly, I am greeted with a bubbly sounding “Bonjour!” that mirrors my own enthusiasm. The lady behind the counter holds onto her smile and continues speaking in French. I smile back and say, “Bonjour, parlez–vous anglais?” “How can I help you?” she switches languages.
“I read in a brochure this is where Jacques Cartier held his first mass and there is a railway tunnel of importance.”
“Yes both are located nearby.” She reaches under the counter for a map of the town. Placing it on the countertop she starts drawing x’s and lines. “This is where you are now. If you go back out on the main road,” she points with her finger and draws an imaginary line from the parking lot to the the street. “… just up the hill, turn right and around the bend you will see the cross which marks the spot where Jacques Cartier celebrated the first mass in North America in 1534.”
“… and can you point me to the railway tunnel?”
She again marks an x on the map and says, “It is the last railway tunnel still in use in Quebec. There is also a hike up to the cape that has a lovely view.”
“Thank you so much.” She nods ” You are welcome,” she continues to smile as I turn to leave the building.
I make the turn and tentatively drive by a stone church with a sculpture and a cross but decide it is not the spot I am looking for and continue forward, following the course drawn on the map.
The narrow road clings to shoreline along the bay A sign warns of a sharp turn with 30 km/hour speed and I slow to approach the blind crescent. Directly in front of me at the point of turn, the cross is too big to miss. A small shoulder gives me enough room to park and I get out and walk over to see the display. It is flanked on the left by a Quebec flag and on the right with a Canadian flag. The words Jacques Cartier 1534, Port Daniels are etched in the wood.
Back in the truck I continue forward. The road is a loop and it takes me back to the main road where I look for my next turn heading for the railway tunnel. The tracks are littered with falling rock debris and a sign warns people it is dangerous to walk the tracks and not to enter the tunnel.
Just to the right of the tunnel is a stairway leading up to the look-off. I head up the first level. Several of the treads are soft and flex underfoot, definitely in need of repair, and I step carefully. I continue up the next flight, this platform has been fully restored with new boards More stairs.
The trees block the view on the lower levels so I keep heading upward hoping for a good view. I follow a well worn trail through a wooded area that leads to the next platform and more stairs. How can I resist?
This next set is steep and I stop to catch my breath. The harbour comes into view. It is starting to get warm and humid even though the sun is struggling to break thorough. Finally one more set of stairs and I reach the peak. The view was worth the climb.
On the way back down, I count the steps. I can’t remember the exact number but I pretty sure I counted upwards of 300. I check my watch and debate what I should do next. There is a craft market in town – I forgot to ask were it was located – and my tourist guide says novelist Gabrielle Roy and painter Marc-Aurele Fortin are from here, but it doesn’t indicate if they have shops in town. With just a little over an hour to Perce, my excitement to finally get to see Perce rock wins out and I keep going. Perce rock here I come.
Please join me as I make my way to Perce, QC
Happy travels from Maritimemac.