Route of the Navigators

click to enlarge On the Route of the Navigators, the river remains on your side.
  • On the Route of the Navigators, the river remains on your side.

Highway 132 runs through Lower Canada’s history

Highway 132 hugs the eastern shore of the St. Lawrence River, from Quebec City to the Gaspé Peninsula.

Follow this secondary road — the Route of the Navigators — and you’ll revel in the unending vistas and unimpeded foreshore of rocky coves and picturesque villages.

Though the wider landscape is mostly rural, all along the route you find small inns, some with exceptional restaurants, museums that celebrate the sea, artisan villages, and parish churches open daily to visitors.

Most of the route, marked with a blue nautical symbol, is within the Bas-Saint-Laurent (Lower St. Lawrence) region. A reward at the end of the 250-kilometre drive, just inside the Gaspé, are the Reford Gardens, where more than 3,000 native and exotic plants bloom June to October.

Outside Quebec City, I exited Highway 20 to L'Islet-Sur-Mer, the first of dozens of hamlets that have produced seamen, ship-builders and fishers over the centuries. Wood-carvers, too, I discovered at Saint-Jean Port-Joli, with almost every driveway and lawn filled with rough-hewn sculptures.

At the village of Saint-Denis-de-la-Bouteillerie I toured the rambling red-roofed house owned in the 1800s by Jean-Charles Chapais, a tea-totaling merchant who steered Lower Canada into Confederation.

Then I hit Kamouraska, a lush agricultural basin of long narrow fields that run to the river, reminiscent of the early French seigneurial land-holding system.

"In 1759, the English landed two miles from here and burnt everything —200 farmhouses and buildings, but they spared our church," said Guy Drapeau as he stood among his wood-and-wire eel-traps near the edge of the river.

Along with this church, I admired, in the village of Kamouraska, a chateau-like courthouse, now a museum, and the seafarers' cottages that line the low-lying riverbank.

While my map told me the eastward-flowing St. Lawrence remains a river for hundreds of kilometres, it was beginning to look like an ocean. "It's not quite the river and it's not quite the sea — we call it 'la mer' here," Drapeau said.

I stayed at the Auberge des Aboiteaux (the latter word an old French term for a type of dyke built in the area). This four-room B&B near Saint-André-de-Kamouraska overlooks a bright green pasture, with “la mer” in the distance.

While the owner worked magic in the kitchen — a dinner of grilled goat cheese heaped with olives and “filet of lamb Kamouraska,” followed by a sorbet of raspberry and chocolate — her husband handled the fully-booked dining room.


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