Last time we looked at a smaller section of Quebec, the much-populated south. Here, we’ll focus on the much bigger yet much less-known north of the province. Crater lakes and Dorset ruins are just part of the wonder located out in these snowy lands. But what can be considered unique about such a massive area? To start, let’s review some quick geography. Then we’ll get into why Northern Quebec is so special.
Northern Québec: Quick Geography
In Canada’s biggest province, the northern section takes up the biggest part of the land. Northern Quebec starts generally around the Laurentian Mountains and the Gaspé Peninsula in the south, then it’s just up from there. Mostly a part of the Canadian Shield, other major mountain ranges are in the middle and along the northeast border with Labrador, called the Torngat Mountains.
The climate is mostly subarctic with some humid continental in the far south. Down that way are some mixed and boreal forests, with the rest of the province being taiga and eventually tundra further north. The biggest city/urban area is Saguenay, not far from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There’s also the Sea of Labrador, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and James Bay, all large extensions of the Atlantic Ocean.
The biggest body of water inland is the Caniapiscau Reservoir, though there is an infinity of lakes. A fun fact, many of the offshore islands from Quebec don’t pertain to the province but are actually part of the Nunavut territory. Many of the little islands not even a mile offshore belong to Nunavut. But one big island does belong to Quebec, and that would be Anticosti.
1. Because of the Île d’Anticosti
Anticosti, also called Notiskuan in Innu or Natigostec in Mi’kmaq, is a big island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s Canada’s 20th biggest island which is saying something because several of the world’s largest islands are here. It’s even bigger than one of Canada’s provinces! (the smallest one)
Other than its size, this island is sparsely populated and is filled with natural wilderness to explore. It’s in a continuation zone of the mainland mountains and is full of rugged terrain, dense boreal forests, hidden valleys, and blue shores. Canyons here hide spectacular waterfalls for travelers to witness. This place seems like going there would take you back in time to the days when people used to be really isolated. This air of mystique makes this place a quiet gem in eastern Canada.
2. Because of Forillon & the Gaspé Peninsula
These two places go hand-in-hand when talking about Northern Quebec. Stretched out into the Atlantic, the Gaspé Peninsula is home to some of the nation’s most beautiful scenery. Pastured and forested hills sing up and down the coastline. The coast, in fact, would be the highlight of this region.
It is lined with high cliffs and flowery bluffs, some hosting observation decks to take in all the wonder. The beaches I’m sure are rocky and the waters cold, but it’s still an amazing place to take in the views. The most iconic section of the peninsula is in Forillon National Park where some of the best cliffside views can be caught. There are also a number of offshore islands with high table-top cliffs that make for an awesome sight.
3. Because of the Côte-Nord
Since we’re on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I might as well bring up the Côte-Nord (Coht-Noh), or the “North Coast.” This area consists of a long coastline reaching from the St. Lawrence River in the west all the way to Labrador in the east. The magic of this region comes from the little towns dotted all along the shores.
Historic towns share parts of colonial and indigenous life like Blanc Sablon and Port Cartier. In the latter town, there’s also the Parc de la Taiga, a natural park set aside to preserve the forested landscape. Sept-Îles (Seht-Il), or Uashat in Innu, is a town surrounded by historic sites, islands, and nature. In addition to nearby forests, it’s also host to the Tournoi Orange Alouette, a popular volleyball tournament and the biggest recreational event in the whole province!
Rivière-au-Tonnerre (He-vyehr-oh-Ton-nehr) is another town with important sites like Saint-Hippolyte Church, a beautiful white and red Catholic church near the shore. This town is also special for its nature which manifests in beautiful waterfalls and rivers that descend into the ocean, most notably on the Manitou River.
One more area I want to mention is Havre-Saint-Pierre. Besides being an important fishing and boating town, it is shielded by these curious-looking isles and rock formations. They remind me of the buttes found in the Badlands, only out in the water. Mingan is nearby and is home to more of these cool monoliths. The whole area of Côte-Nord is an interesting mix of French, Acadian, Canadian, and First Nations all bundled up into one, and is a unique spot within the country.
4. Because of Saguenay
Further downriver is Northern Quebec’s biggest city, Saguenay. It’s actually made up of a couple of cities that were conjoined to make a larger one. With that said, each of the boroughs has its own little vibe and history. The main central borough though is Chicoutimi which is home to lots of historic sites and cool architecture.
A lot of it sits majestically on hills or over the river like the Chicoutimi Pulp Mills. It’s an old mill still open for visiting and one example of the region’s industrial history. Saguenay is pretty far south as far as Northern Quebec is concerned, so the weather is just a little bit better than in other areas.
A big lake is nearby, as well as the Saguenay Fjords. Sort of a continuation of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, these fjords are lined with daunting cliffs shrouded in forests that tower miles of calm waters below. The area is really great for interacting with the industrial city as much as the serene nature all around.
5. Because of the Interior
One fascinating attraction in the interior of Quebec is its Trans-Taiga Road. That’s right, road trip time! This highway runs through the heart of the province and up into the distant taigas and tundra. The scenery on this road is ridiculous as drivers can witness a seemingly endless array of lakes and ponds scattered into bits of forest. A lot of the road follows the mighty Caniapiscau Reservoir.
Sometimes there are so many lakes that the road looks like a bridge going over them, and the best views seem to come when the sunlight hits the hills and waters at just the right angle. Northern Lights and starry nights just add to this magical road of the Canadian Subarctic.
You can’t really think of northern Canada without thinking of the First Nations, and Quebec’s interior has a number of Native sites and cultural centers to enjoy. One of these places is the Aanischaaukamikw (sorry, no pronunciation help on this one guys). In English, that’s the Cree Cultural Institute, dedicated to preserving and teaching about the regional Cree people.
Besides the cultural offerings, the building itself is just really beautiful and one of the best examples of modern Native American architecture there is. The center is also really close to Lake Mistassini, a big body of water that looks to be popular among fishers and nature lovers alike.
Read more: Cree Cultural Institute
6. Because of the Torngat Mountains
The Torngat Mountains are mostly in Labrador, so I’ll dive deeper into them when we reach that point. Still, a nice section of these Northern Cordillera steeples reaches into Quebec. For those who don’t know, the Torngats are some of the most beautiful and scenic mountains in the entire world, hands down. They aren’t that well-known and are isolated too, which means minimal tourists.
Most impressively on the Quebec side is Kuururjuag National Park, a sweeping area of valleys and imposing mountains that could drop a jaw ten times over. It’s also home to Mont D’Iberville, the tallest mountain in eastern Canada. The core vein flowing through this area is the George River. It snakes through the valleys and canyons, offering excellent fishing and wildlife. I think a salmon run happens up this way too, but the landscapes really drive this area home.
7. Because of Nunavik & the far north
Nunavik, spelled ᓄᓇᕕᒃ in Inuktitut, is as far north as you can get in Quebec. Along with wild tundra landscapes to contrast the forested south, parks like Pingualuit offer up adventure and cultural interaction with the local Inuit peoples. There’s also the Pingualuit crater, once formed from an outer space impact that’s now a circular lake.
The intriguing landscape is somewhat reminiscent of the moon, really, just with a lot more water. There’s also the Tursujuq National Park, a rugged area near the Hudson Bay coast. It is stocked with hills, plateaus, and rushing rivers that turn into waterfalls. It reminds me of some of the places in Iceland, actually.
Read more: What makes Iceland unique?
In the far north is Pamiok Island, home to the Imaha historic site. The site is a set of rocky ruins once thought to belong to Viking settlers. The site is now recognized as belonging to the local Dorset culture, an ancient Eskimo culture that once inhabited the area. Very cool!
8. Because of the Culture (+ last thoughts)
Northern Quebec is such a mystery to many. It’s Quebec, so we know about the French influences. It’s an area that was pushed forward by logging and industry, though that was only in a small section. Acadians historically occupied and sought refuge here, adding to the identity of the region. It is a place dominated by boating and marine life in some parts, forestry and mountaineering in another, and vast icy settings in others.
Historic cultures have risen, fallen, and sustained themselves in the more isolated parts of the country. Northern Quebec is mostly unexplored and untouched, and this adds to the beauty of its land, as well as the uniqueness of its people. With rumored Viking impact, First Nations, and especially Inuit influences, this area is the face of an ancient Canada colliding with modern beauty. Those who decide to make this place a home are strong and hardened for survival, yet friendly and welcoming to show outsiders just how awesome their distant part of the world is.
Read more: Earth’s Face
**Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoyed this corner of the world. If you’re from here, represent! Do you have more to add (or take out) to this post? Please share with us what you like about Northern Quebec. And please do research, check the links, look at photos and videos, and go see these places for yourself! Stay safe and be well.
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