Why is Northern Quebec special? – 8 Cool Reasons 🇨🇦

Aanischaaukamikw ᐋ ᑎᐹᑐᑖᒡ ᐋᓂᔅᒑᐅᑲᒥᒄ Cree Cultural Institute in Northern Quebec
Aanischaaukamikw – from Cree Cultural Institute

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.

Canadian Provinces and Territories, red highlight on Quebec province
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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

Chute Vauréal waterfall on Anticosti Island, Quebec
Anticosti Island – By Thosetimes

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

high cliffs and forest at Forillon National Park, special area in Canada
Forillon National Park – By No machine-readable author provided

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

monoliths at Mingan on the Côte-Nord, north coast in Quebec, near Havre-Saint-Pierre
monoliths at Mingan – By Michel Villeneuve

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

Chicoutimi area at night with city lights across the river, Saguenay, Quebec
Chicoutimi, Saguenay – by Andre Ouellet

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.

Saguenay Fjords in northern Quebec
Saguenay Fjord National Park – By Fralambert

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.

Read more: Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park and Southern Quebec

5. Because of the Interior

green taiga landscape representing Trans Taiga Road in Quebec
Quebec taiga – by Landon Parenteau

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

Kuururjuaq National Park in the Torngat Mountains, Canada
Kuururjuaq National Park – by Parks Canada

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

Pingualuit crater in northern Quebec
Pingualuit crater – By NASA

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.

Contact me or collaborate! tietewaller@gmail.com

Why is Northern Ontario Special? – 9 Cool Reasons 🇨🇦

Checking in for the second part of this huge province, Ontario is definitely too big for one post. For just one of anything, really. We’ll take a look at the biggest section of ON here to tack onto why it is such a unique place. You can read about Southern Ontario here if you wish. Okay, where exactly could this place be? And what makes Northern Ontario so special? Hmm, so mysterious!

map of Ontario, Canada, highlighted northern region
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map of Canadian Provinces and Territories, highlighted Ontario
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Northern ONTARIO: Quick Geography

As you can see on the map, this chunk of Ontario makes up the vast majority of land in the province, but with only a small portion of its people. In a land area about the size of Vietnam, it sits mostly on the Canadian Shield. In the southern portion are lots of boreal forests with more rugged terrain here and in the interior. Further north and inland are influenced more by tundra landscapes. The climate further north is subarctic while the south is more continental with warm summers.

The western edge stems out into Canada’s Midwest forests while the northeast is a vast wetland called the Hudson Plains. The plains cover the coasts of the huge Hudson Bay and smaller James Bay. Also in the Great Lakes region, Northern Ontario touches the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior. Another very notable lake is Lake Nipigon. The French River and Algonquin Park are usually considered the areas that separate north from south in this province. Not far from these parts is Sudbury, the region’s biggest city. Otherwise, you can’t miss this place on a map, it’s really huge.

1. Lake Huron & Sudbury – nature & attractions

rocky and wet landscape around Killarney Provincial Park, Northern Ontario
Killarney – by Sergey Pesterev

Since we’re talking about Sudbury, I’ll start with her. The official name is Greater Sudbury, or Grand-Sudbury in French since there are lots of French speakers here. Besides being the most populous city in Northern Ontario, it’s also the biggest city in the whole province by land area. It’s the main urban center and a nice gateway to the vast north.

One standout feature in this city is Science North, a big science complex dedicated to sparking scientific curiosity. There are underground tunnels, exhibits of different sciences, boat tours, and an IMAX theater. There’s even the biggest coin in the world on the grounds. Sudbury’s the biggest urban attraction in the whole north, so it really deserves its dues. This city isn’t far from Lake Huron which has a number of great parks and trails to discover.

the big nickel, giant coin at the Science North center in Greater Sudbury, Ontario
the Big Nickel – By Phil Harvey

Two special parks on the lake are the French River and Killarney provincial parks. This part of Ontario is very rocky with tons of hills. This makes the perfect contrast along the rivers and lakes in these nearby parks. Particularly in Killarney, there’s a rocky overlook called the Crack that’s awesome for getting a view of the park’s best features all in one spot. There are beautiful forests and wild scenery laced up against tons of little islands and waterways. The French River itself forms a type of gorge with bridges to explore. Not far away, there is one island in particular that needs its own section.

2. Manitoulin Island – big island

view from the cup and saucer trail on Manitoulin island, northern Ontario
View from the Cup & Saucer Trail, Manitoulin – By User:Jhapk

Manitoulin is a very special island indeed. It’s actually the biggest freshwater island in the world, so big that it holds over 100 lakes itself. Some of those lakes even have islands. Dang! More than its impressive size, Manitoulin is home to many great forests, falls, inlets, beaches, and little islands too. Several of the towns here have a nice rustic feel with some of the frontier-style buildings still preserved.

Two trails that hikers seemed to be very excited about are the Great Spirit Circle Trail and the Cup & Saucer Trail. The former offers up adventure from an indigenous perspective, providing rich cultural interactions. Cup & Saucer takes hikers up into the rugged hills, even scaling a ladder to get to a high viewpoint. From there the islands and lakes are free to take in.

3. Lake Superior – nature & hiking

shore of Lake Superior at sunrise
Lake Superior shore – by NOAA

Moving on to the next Great Lake, Lake Superior has some impressive nature as well. The biggest of the Great Lakes (if you don’t consider Michigan and Huron as the same body of water), it possesses a few beautiful parks and trails of its own. With all the forests, rugged coasts, waterfalls, and clear blue waters you would expect, Lake Superior Provincial Park has it all. There’s a nice set of trails to explore the coasts and get down into the cliffs.

Sunrise at Lake Superior Provincial Park, campground on the shore
Lake Superior Provincial ParkCC BY 2.0

Another cool park is Pukaskwa National Park, filled with rocky isles and peninsulas. There are even more waterfalls and inlets here. Hikers can even explore gorges with suspension bridges to walk above the rushing waters. The region is also cut by Ontario’s section of the Trans-Canada Highway, so it’s a logical stop for those driving through.

4. Thunder Bay – culture & history

Terry Fox Monument and lookout in Thunder Bay, special person in Canadian history
Terry Fox Monument – By Richard Keeling

It’s no Sudbury, but Thunder Bay is a really important city in the far corners of Lake Superior. In a region once dominated by the fur trade, there are a couple of preserved sites and villages for learning about the past like Fort William Historical Park. Another park that mixes history with the Canadian wild is Centennial Park. It’s a large natural area with a few historic sites dedicated to TB’s logging past.

A skip away from there is the Terry Fox Monument dedicated to this famous Canadian athlete. He is well known throughout the nation for attempting a cross-country marathon in order to bring awareness to cancer. Oh, and he did this with a synthetic leg! I’d say he deserves a monument, and there’s a nice one right in Thunder Bay.

sweeping snowy landscape in Thunder Bay, city in north Ontario
Thunder Bay – by Jaime Dantas

Further down is Loch Lomond, a quaint ski getaway near to the city. Besides its nature and its seriously sweet name, this city is also home to an important Art Gallery. It’s the biggest in all NorOn (don’t know if that exists, but I’m going with it) and is dedicated to showcasing contemporary First Nations art. To get a break from all the boreal forests, there’s the Centennial Conservatory. It shelters lots of tropical plants and beautiful gardens throughout the year, and it’s free to visit. We like free.

5. Around Thunder Bay – nature

Kekabeka Falls, a unique waterfall in Ontario, Canada
Kakabeka Falls – By Carport

Not just a city, Thunder Bay is practically the gateway to the Northwest which is a whole subregion on its own. There are some pretty amazing sights up here. The Sleeping Giant is a park area and rock formation that stretches out over the water. From the sky, it looks like a giant napping on a strip of land. Ouimet Canyon is a forested area centered on a big gorge. There’s yet another suspension bridge here to cut across and get a nice view of the area.

One of the main attractions around Thunder Bay is called Kakabeka Falls. It’s a big waterfall out in the forest, though that doesn’t stop it from being popular. The waters are so strong and it’s so easily accessible that it’s been given the nickname “Niagara of the North.” Really a unique spot in its own right.

6. Remote Nature – exploration & adventure

Canoes on Lake Temagami, popular lake and wilderness area in Northern Ontario
Canoeing on Lake Temagami – By Jordan Wan

If there’s one thing I feel that NorOn is known for, it’s got to be remote wilderness. There are so many huge provincial parks out here it’s ridiculous. You’ve got Quetico in the boundary waters region shared with Minnesota. There’s Wabakimi and Nagagamisis. I’m just tripping off of these names, though. There’s also a bendy lake called Lake Temagami with lots of parks surrounding it.

a caribou or reindeer at a river in the woods, relating to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, Ontario
Caribou – by Thomas Lefebvre

These places are mostly accessible just by small planes, like seaplanes, or by boat. Visitors to these parks usually fly into some remote part of the forest and spend time camping, canoeing, and trekking all through the wilderness. Another notable park is Woodland Caribou. It’s known for the same stuff as all the other parks but with some ancient pictographs to add. These places are great spots to get away from it all (far, far away) and get immersed in the wild.

7. Hudson Plains – remote towns & nature

a polar bear near Hudson Bay, common sight in northern Ontario
Near Hudson Bay – by Jason Hillier

So moose are pretty common throughout Canada, but polar bears are a different story. That’s why Ontario is home to Polar Bear Provincial Park, its biggest and most isolated park. It’s so isolated that it’s only accessible by air and visitors need special permission to enter. It covers a large section of the wet plains along Hudson Bay and is a much-needed sanctuary for tundra-dwelling creatures, like the polar bear.

Polar Bear Express train in north Ontario, Canada
Polar Bear Express – By Rev40

Speaking of those snowy furballs, there’s a train ride named after them. The Polar Bear Express transports people between the towns of Cochrane and Moosonee and is the only way to get to these two places on the ground. Interestingly enough, Moosonee is too far north to see moose and too far south to see polar bears. Still, I’d ride that train just to feel like I was in a Christmas adventure movie. Despite the lack of big game, Moosonee and Moose Factory Island are still some interesting and remote towns. They offer education about the First Nations and give off a distant feeling of isolation. Way to get away from all that city noise.

8. Agawa – views & trains

Agawa Canyon, beautiful place in northern Ontario
Agawa Canyon – By Carport

The area around Agawa is a canyon and wilderness park just inland from Lake Superior. The really neat thing about the canyon is a scenic railway that winds through it. It seems especially pretty during the fall months. Imagine riding a train over dips and curls across a valley filled with fiery colored trees and a tranquil running river. I’m about ready to drop what I’m doing and go there today.

On the Lake Superior coast, there’s an offshore island called Bathtub that has some beaches and natural pools to “bathe” in. Just leave the soap at home. Other than this beautiful canyon, the Agawa region is also home to some impressive pictographs made by ancient inhabitants in the area. What a cool slice of culture!

9. Culture (and Closing)

Really taking it into the backwoods! Northern Ontario is such a massive area with so much to see. The great thing is that it’s mostly wilderness and woodlands, so it hasn’t been changed much since pre-settlement times. The lakes and rivers are an immediate location of settlement for the people here, contributing to the strong boating, canoeing, and seaplane culture. There’s so much space and nature it could blow your mind way out into the outdoors.

From hiking beautiful shores to enjoying the remote wilderness, this region has been able to preserve lots of its indigenous character. There are a number of galleries and excursions dedicated to First Nations, and several historic sites preserved to show how life was like for fur traders and loggers. The woods are practically in the blood of these hardy folks. Northern Ontario shows how important it is to mesh its different historic identities into one, even if its population doesn’t quite match the south.

**Hey everybody! Did you enjoy learning about Northern Ontario? If there’s anybody out there that wants to add or share more about this place, please feel free to enlighten us! What makes Ontario special for you? Anyway, you’re all special and our whole planet is special, so keep taking care of each other and the Earth. Talk soon!