We finally figured out why everyone was in such a good mood and why there were crowds of people in all the restaurants and hotels in Quebec. It was the Construction Holiday. No, I haven’t heard of it either. Back in 1970, Quebec legislated an annual 2 week holiday for construction workers but most Quebecers also take their holidays at the same time. This was going to make it tricky to find hotels. We stayed in the Hotel Chicoutimi in Saguenay/Chicoutimi, the town with two names. It was a lovely town with great restaurants and river walks but in winter, it has some of the very worst weather one can imagine. Along with snow, the average high temperature in January is -10.7 deg C (13.7 deg F) although in early 2015, they recorded a temperature of -43 deg C which is considerably lower than their average of -21.1 deg C (-6 deg F). A resident told us that once it warmed up to -5 deg c after that cold day he felt he could remove all his heavy coats as it felt so warm!! We saw no sign of any cold weather at all.
Our hotel room overlooked the beautiful Saguenay River and fjord which we only learned was in existence when doing a tiny bit of research on where to head next from Quebec City. The Saguenay Fjord is 65 miles in length with a width of between 1 and 2.5 miles. It has an average depth of 690 feet. The cliffs above the fjord rise to 1,150 feet but average out at 500 feet. It is the fourth largest fjord in the world and yet I have not spoken to anyone who has heard of it. We drove to one of the town’s well-known attractions, Le Petite Maison Blanche, (the Little White House) the only house left standing after a dam burst, located about 150 meters away, sweeping away 488 homes after 2.4 m (8 ft) of rain fell over two days in July, 1996. The rainfall accumulated to the equivalent of the volume of water that tumbles over Niagara Falls in 4 weeks. We could see foundations of the missing homes nearby. The Little White House stands as a symbol of resilience against adversity. By searching You Tube, you can see live footage of the event.
We took an afternoon cruise on the fjord leaving from Parc National du Saguenay from Rivière-Éternité on a picture perfect day. The fjord was truly spectacular with the expanse of water and the high cliffs. A number of sailing yachts were cruising up and down the fjord as well. We wished we could have stayed longer but all hotels were fully booked so we threw a dart at the map and decided to go to La Malbaie via Tadoussac.
Tadoussac is a town at the far eastern end of the Saguenay Fjord where it meets the St. Lawrence River. Ferries cross the fjord every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day for free. We had been driving along in hot weather on Highway 172 which follows a valley with a beautiful trout river. Occasionally we would see people standing in the stream fishing for trout. The mountains were high and lined with pine trees with virtually no habitation until we found ourselves in Tadoussac heading downhill onto the ferry. We couldn’t understand any of the signs on the roadway or overhead as it is a strictly French in these parts.
We waited about 5 minutes and were then guided onto the ferry but had no idea of our destination due to the fog. The 7 kn current was absolutely vicious as there is an incredible change in depth from 156 meters in the fjord rising to a bank just a few meters deep outside the fjord before plunging down to 316 meters in the St. Lawrence. Also, because water at the bottom of the fjord rises to the top of the bank, the water temperature was only 5 deg C. We could make out a couple of yachts hurtling down current into a fog bank towards the east. There are many warnings on the navigational charts in this area. It is such a wild area and wonderful to see. Around 1,000 beluga whales live in the St. Lawrence River so whale watching is a huge tourist attraction in Tadoussac.
After our ferry ride we stopped for lunch at a roadside picnic bench overlooking the St. Lawrence where we could see unusual fog patterns rising from the river. We both sat on one side of the bench which normally is not an issue, however, this picnic bench was completely unbalanced and sent us tumbling backwards before Maynard somehow leant forward and saved us from having this huge heavy table on top of us. Everything on the table slid off and something hit me in the eye. I now have a very nice black eye. My phone also hit the tarmac and shattered. It would have made a great photo for my blog!
We spent a night at the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie which is right on the river. It looked very nice but was our least favourite hotel. With such perfect weather it was very hard to imagine that this massive river freezes over in winter. Our next stop is Sherbrooke, Quebec before we attempt the border crossing back to the US. We need to get back to the boat yard to oversee the work being done on Vanish. But what happens if they don’t let us back in???
(Check out more photos by clicking on Gallery above. Go to Where Are We Going?)