in Québec-du-Nord. Yep, I went there
, in the vacation of a lifetime
. As you will see, I have the photos to prove it.
Why did a friend and I choose to go there? In general were drawn by the remoteness of the taiga forests, and in particular by the desire to see 1. the James Bay, a part extention of the Arctic Ocean, frozen, and 2. the grandeur of the Stairway of the Giants, part of the Hydro-Québec hydroelectric facilities. In other words, the best things of God and the best things of man.
My father has, over the years, occasionally teased my mother that we would move to Hudson Bay because she dislikes the cold. One day in early 2013, I finally grew curious, and looked up communities on Hudson Bay, and its southern extension James Bay, on Wikipedia. Wow, I was taken aback by their splendor, and particularly fell in love with Radisson, a Hydro-Québec company town of about 300 at the terminus of the James Bay Road, a 620-kilometer road through the taiga so gargantuan it has its own fan site
, and nearby Chisasibi, a Cree settlement near the mouth of the La Grande River of 4,000. Not being a driver, for months I was without much hope I could ever venture there, but thankfully, there was my close friend, Louise Chicoine. Vocalist for the area band Rabbit Rabbit
, she is a decidedly adventurous soul, having already undertaken a solo journey to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and later a road trip across the entire United States with a friend. Having already seen the breathtaking documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
, she was also well-disposed for a subarctic adventure of our own, and upon the merest mention in late August 2013, she expressed interest in a road trip to northern Quebec. It took eight months of saving, planning, and stocking up on tasty treats, but by late April 26, 2014 we were ready. This is how it went:
April 26 was a day of numerous delays, but by the late afternoon we were on our way in earnest! The vehicle of choice was a 1998 Saturn that saved us plenty in gasoline (about $5.50 a gallon even in southern Quebec), even if the diminutive car did have some difficulties a few times over the long trek. For a rainy, overcast day, it was quite pretty, and we had great fun listening to a few cassettes in the first indication that it was to be a journey, seemingly, back in time as well as up the road.
We stayed in Montreal the first night. Louise, part Quebecker, had been there several times, while I was there once for an 8th grade French class field trip; I never did learn French, having no knack for foreign languages, but we were able to get by. We ended up in a small "bed and breakfast" (the latter consisted of a muffin or croissant, and about 8oz each of orange juice and your choice of coffee or tea) on Rue Saint-Denis, a major party district as it turned out, but rather pleasant lodgings even for two wholesome individuals.
As a Catholic in Montreal, the subdued Sunday morning April 27 was a happy occasion, and my first time attending a Traditional Latin Mass in over two years, at St. Joseph's Church
, the metropole's SSPX outpost; Louise took photos with a film camera, so these are from the website (for anyone planning to attend Mass there, despite the outdated website info the Sunday Mass is 10:00 AM, not 11:00; thankfully I checked out the PDF bulletin ahead of time and knew). Certainly it was a beautiful Mass, alien as both the Latin and the French
were to our ears, and I was happy to be partaking in an act of liturgical defiance while the canonizations of two lackluster-at-best pontiff-saints took place in Rome, and of the city's degenerate culture: on the way out I spotted numerous banners advertising a rally against "homophobie". There were not as many families as in most traditionalist churches, but there were still enough children to cause the trademark happy ruckus after the long liturgy was over, and the four altar boys (one a university student) looked like prime priesthood material. Afterward, as we were about to leave, we were invited to coffee and croissants downstairs, and received the warmest kind of welcome! Always a lover of snacks, that was the first of many excellent croissants I would enjoy during the journey, and I was happy to have French Canadian cuisine. Several of the church ladies spoke English, so despite one facetious "Americans? Go home," we sat down for a good half hour talking about our trip, Louise's French Canadian heritage, the SSPX, and the contents of the sermon (the gist was: however
baffling the current crisis in the Church is, it was nothing
like the devastation the Apostles experienced after the Crucifixion). They even introduced us to the priest, a gentle young soul who promised to keep us in his prayers. Helpfully, bags of produce and bread were provided for parishioners to take home for free; we grabbed (along with divers holy cards) a baguette, which we devoured over the day. And so we left and took the highway to the northwest.
The drab multilane highway soon gave way to the country, and we found ourselves surrounded by boreal forest for the first time. The mountains roundabout were crisscrossed with ski trails, but more excitingly, many of the lakes below were still frozen! Full from the after Mass snacks, we didn't have to stop for a meal until Mont Laurier, the last sizable town before the first true stretch of wilderness. There we dined at an A&W (the only chain restaurant we settled for the whole time), and were pleased with the root beer. Whereas in Montreal everyone we ran into had some comprehension of English, rural Quebec is more francophone than western Massachusetts is anglophone, and no one there spoke a word of English! Bless them, for I support Quebec sovereignty, cultural and political, despite the usual Marxist connotations the movement has taken on since the Quiet Revolution, and would be devastated to see Quebeckers assimilated into Anglo-Canada, which I also cherish, and derive some ancestry from.
Minutes later we drove over a bridge spanning the Gatineau River as it runs through Grand-Remous. The river sports beautiful cascades, especially beautiful swelled with the progressing thaw. The spot, home to a Restaurant-aux-Cascades we would stop at on the way back, was one of my favorite on all the trip, and Louise snapped several wonderful pictures.
Here see the goodly expedition driver, Louise, still looking great in her Mass skirt.
I can hardly do justice to the place by mere expression. Had we more time I could have remained and contemplated for hours. These are two favorite shots of me; usually I have a very hard time finding really good photos of me.
Not long after that, one embarks on the long road to Val-d'Or, which is essentially the halfway point from Montreal to Radisson. As someone who had spent nearly his whole life in New England, and before left only to visit upstate New York, North Carolina, or Montreal, even with my informed expectations I got such a chill driving through the taiga in the afternoon and evening, and seeing nothing but icy lakes, frigid but uncovered rivers, camp sites, and hunting lodges for two hours! Well-maintained as the road was, and though by the time we reached Val-d'Or eight cars were tailing us, it was thrilling to know what real wilderness was. Oh, I raved about the dense lake country to Louise. If a vast lake like any of the ones we saw along that road had been in Massachusetts, it would have been enmeshed by resorts and multimillion dollar "summer cottages", but in such a place, it was left to the hunter and occasional tourist.
We entered Val-d'Or with the last dusk. As the name implies, the community, actually more populous than Northampton, was founded because of gold mining operations, and while other metals are more important to the economy today, mining brings in a great deal of money, as was evident from the variety of pricey-looking boutique shops. We went for pizza. The one pizza place then open, Pizza Show, offered mediocre but satisfactory cuisine, and no crowd. As we ordered, the cashier asked us where we anglophones had come from.
"Massachusetts? What are you doing in Val-d'Or?"
"We're on our way to Radisson and Chisasibi?"
"Why do you want to go there? There is nothing in Chisasibi."
"There's too much down where we're from. We are going there for nothing."
"Well, if it's nothing you want, you'll get it!"
As Louise interpreted the amusing exchange, which closely mirrored the attitudes we discovered in others we encountered in the area (Abitibi-Témiscamingue), despite the relative remoteness, the people there still had enough of a taste of civilization to envy, say, the partygoers of Rue Saint-Denis, rather like the residents of farming communities who spend their time in Northampton pitying themselves for not living where the action is. That night, we continued a little further (but not before stopping at the Kool Café for tea), and got a room in Rouyn-Noranda. This turned out to be an hour out of the way, but we got over it.
We spent the morning of April 28, Monday, walking around the Sovietistically industrial town, the "Copper Capital of Canada", waiting for the currency exchange at the bank to open, but enjoying the streets. Again, it was a moneyed place, complete with a sushi bar (despite the cosmopolitan establishments, though, the population was monolithically Quebecois. In fact, after Montreal, excluding the native Cree peoples, there was little to no "diversity"). The lake in the center of town remained frozen, and the shore was a pleasant place to stop a few minutes before moving on.
Correcting the wrong turn, we cut across to Amos, another population center in Abitibi and the seat of the diocese. While we only stopped once, for gas, we were really surprised by what we found as we drove by: there is farming that far north! In some cases the horses and cattle were already about and gorging themselves on hay. As we discovered at the gas station, they even brew beer there! However, as the more interested party was a teetotaler, Louise knew we couldn't bring any alcohol back to the US, we passed. But of all the places we visited, Amos was among the loveliest, and perhaps the one I can most easily imagine living in. There are even several roadside crucifixes, folkish expressions of the Catholic faith. Actually, we had encountered several the day before, too. However the province has been afflicted by secularism, the Faith remains ingrained and seemingly strong in the country areas.
After Amos, it was another long drive to the last community before the James Bay Road, Matagami. The weather was almost cloudless and bright, and would remain so for three days. Already, we noticed the very daylight was changing: the sun shone with a pure, white light, not yellow like further south, and was really beautiful. We traveled through less-than-virgin forest, but that was among the most interesting parts. The taiga was logged in sections every year, and new trees planted to replace those harvested. Quite a spectacle. These are some of the views.
Here I am next to this lone full-grown tree. It must have been a sapling spared when logging took place.
Despite the increasing latitude it was warm and pleasant by spring standards, and could have passed for the clearest, nicest of weather back home. The pine trees, often alongside the lines carrying power south from our eventual destination, grew on us very fast, and we really had a great drive.
Along the way into Matagami, we crossed into the municipality of Jamésie, which encompasses several communities, both Euro-Canadian and Cree. The total population is just over 32,000, or just a slightly more than Northampton (ca. 28,500), in a territory larger than Arizona! We ate at another cafe in Matagami, a really classy place, and had my favorite croissant of the journey (almond). We were again in territory where most spoke some English, and the staff wishes us a safe journey. Already, we were into the sort of country where, if you're going to live there, you really have to be into it, so people we met were almost as enthusiastic about the area as we were. My, and the best, most arduous leg was right before us!
Upon beginning the James Bay Road, there is even an obligatory stop to give the names of all pressing onward, should anyone go missing I suppose. Such was not our fate, but it could hardly have had a worse beginning. The road is 620 km long, and at km 30, we saw a sign on the opposite side of the road, and tried to pull over to get out and read it. However, beyond the pavement was simple gravel which, looking solid, readily gave way, and the rear end of the diminutive Saturn slid into the roadside embankment. Initial efforts to get-out-and-push failed utterly, and I fretted we'd be stuck until nightfall, and lose an entire day, though I didn't voice those fears just then. Thankfully, a kind fellow came along in about two minutes and aided in pushing, but still no use. Five minutes after, his friend happened to pass by, and came to help! Driving a big Ford truck (the sort of vehicle the road was meant for!), he was just what we needed. Lacking chains, for a while we couldn't think of what to use to tow the car, until Louise pulled out an $8 hauling strap -- advertised as good for only 50 pounds!! -- from Big Lots, purchased for the trip just in case (I'd have never thought of it; I'm sure glad I went with Louise!). While the friends were really skeptical, with me and the first fellow pushing, Louise flooring reverse, and the guy with the Ford towing, it did the trick! We were ecstatic, just SO happy the guys helped us out. When the guy with the Ford saw our plate, he asked,
"Massachusetts? Oh, man! What are you guys doing up here?!"
"We're tourists…" "I read about Radisson online, and we became really interested, and wanted to come here."
"Well, I won't make fun of you. I'm from Mississippi." I then realized he was speaking with a Southern accent. Imagine that, there!
"How did you end up in Radisson?"
"I met a girl online, and she happened to live up here. It was in December 2006 that I moved. When I left Mississippi it was 78, and when I got to Radisson it was -45."
As you can imagine we were more careful afterwards, but were still keen to stop when a vista presented itself. After about 100kms we got out and walked to the top of a low hill that had a nice view. There were snow shoe prints, but not having any ourselves we sunk into knee deep wet snow with every step, and it was very hard going. Already soaked to our socks by the time we reached the top, we had a jolly time playing around, and enjoyed a nice view.
As you can see from the foreground, the composition of the terrain was very ususual, and we believed it to be debris from mining or roadbuilding. Despite their young age, the hills were home to some nice plants. We thought this, just below the surface of a pool of water, especially nice.
Driving and shotgunning barefoot for a while, our next stop was the Rupert River. However, our best pictures from the Rupert River are from the return, as you will see below, so none here. While we had the heat on to dry off, it was remarkably warm out given how much snow remained on the ground. Louise even strutted around in her Cape Cod tanktop just to make a point.
The road winded on for hours more, all beautiful, but surely a trial on the driver. Louise is tough though, and we managed to avoid to many more stops before reaching the 3/5 of the way rest stop/restaurant/motel/supply station, Relais Routier 381. My, my, I RAVE about how good the fish & chips was! There was only one harried chef to take orders and makle everyone's food, but he did a marvelous job! The crisp, thin breading over the perfectly tender fish really made the dish a standout. I think if word of this place got out, they'd start to see cars drive the 381 kms up to the rest stop, dine, and then right back down again! Like most of Canada they stocked Crush cream soda; not bad, but on the way back I opted for a juice that seemed like the one distinctively Canadian product.
The pastel dusk was fading as we returned to the road. Even in the dark the well-kept road was very safe, and traffic was minimal, so we kept the brights lit most of the time. I was anxious to reach Radisson lest Louise get too tired, but we did stop once to get out some snacks -- and took a peak at the chandelier of stars above us. Being, even from Northampton and Florence, modern urban souls, how the stars burned into our eyes like needles of pure fire. Rather than look flat to the eye, they really did hang over one, an arced, glazen empyrean. Meteors were plainly visible, travelling from here to there like spiders spinning silvery webs. We were even able to see a satellite make its was by far above.
The hours went by fast. Right before the town, the power plant was illuminated stunningly after all the darkness. Some twenty minutes after midnight, we finally entered Radisson, and parked at the Hotel Carrefour La Grande. The only customers that night, we had to ask the bartender at the adjoining Bar Boreal to call and wake the manager. We settled in, and I managed a triumphant call home before bed.
The fourth day, April 29, may just have been the best. We didn't do any more driving, just explored beautiful Radisson after breakfast at Resto Chez Mika, connected to the Carrefour La Grande like the bar. Yes, we really made it! I hadn't noticed at the time, but looking at the pictures now, they never bothered taking down the Christmas/New Years lights!
Not far from the famous trilingual welcome sign is the novelty sign listing the humorously great distances to various cities. It was unshoveled, so we had to tramp over to get to it for the photo op.
[The view from our room.]
Before exploring Radisson any further, we located the Inuit/Cree handicrafts gift shop, which al my online reading assured me would be closed. Yet we walked in, and open it was. The kind, explanatory, and talkative proprietor explained that this was the first day the store opened this season, so we were truly in luck! Less so her: she was supposed to be on her beach vacation as we spoke, but had broken her hand three days before she was to depart. She tried to steer us toward the tamarack goose decoys, but they looked too fragile for my tastes. As is my wont, I zeroed in on what I wanted (a bison horn carved into an eagle, a leather Radisson bookmark/strap, and a few postcards with pretty views. But oh, Louise! Let's just say she went all out. Of what she got, my favorite was an doll with a rabbit fur coat for a friend who watched her four quail chicks while she was away.
[View from the balcony.]After shopping, we took a stroll down the side streets. On the above James Bay Road website, the creator Walter Muma memorably says "Radisson is a functional town, not a pretty one." Having gone there myself, I wholeheartedly disagree. True, the central complex for Hydro-Québec workers (and the location of the vaunted Auberge Radisson) is astoundingly drab and gray, but the residential homes are made of bright and colorful siding. The streets are clean, and the atmosphere cheerful and cosy. A snowmobile trail began right outside the Carrefour La Grande, and we walked that for some time before looping back into town. For lunch, we went to the grocery store, which had ample selection. The main course was a bunch of grapes (the least pricey of the fresh fruits, a rarity up there), along with crackers, trail mix, a single serving of champagne for Louise and tea for me! As the afternoon wore on, I became really restless, and returned to the trail; Louise snapped a shot of me just as I am about to disappear into the woods.
As it happened, I was out for hours. While one could traverse the snow without sinking in by staying to the beaten path, it was slow going. Atop one hill, I went off to the side to scale a bit of the Canadian shield jutting out of the height. it was really a lovely outcropping, and I remained there for some time to say a rosary in the midst of the true God's country. The white landscape took on a gold glint as the sun came lower. Once I got up, I walked on further, and was delighted to glimpse a very distant first view of the Stairway of the Giants, chiseled out of the hills beside the La Grande River. According to maps, I would eventually have reached the river by the trail, but night was to come soon, so I turned back. Warmed by all the walking, the nearness of spring really hit me as I glimpsed a few insects that had already come alive after the winter.
Meanwhile, Louise had gone for a stroll of her own in town, and took many nice pictures with her phone. Later, she worried I was lost, and tried to find me along the trail, but thankfully we were both back by dark.
Majestic even from the road, eh? We ate at a nice restaurant in town. We had some difficulty deciding what to get, but both ended up with soup of the day along with an entrée. In the process we got talking to the cashier, a kind and amiable fellow who'd moved to Radisson for the work opportunity. Expenses, he noted, are higher in Radisson, but so is the pay. As usual, I was quite the art critic, and had Louise take a picture of the art, a reproduction which beautifully represents the spearlike, vertical look of the firs that grow in that country.
That night, we hit the bar. Yes, our dear Pundit hit the Bar Boreal (wearing a Rabbit Rabbit t-shirt over his iconic button-down) where, he assures you, he clinked his soda to his friend's beer for a long-awaited toast: God save the Queen! Excluding the line of customers playing gaming machines in an adjacent room, and ignoring the American pop music playing, no one else was there, and it suited me well. I spent the while we were there doing my very favorite activity: lecturing on political philosophy as it applies to present problems. We had a very good time, staying late, but not too late to sleep adequately for an invigorating drive the coming day.
The next morning began with a familiar breakfast at Resto Chez Mika, where the food is delicious and, this time of year, the area charm is only enhanced by the attention provided as the only guests, save one or two tables of passing Crees. Louise and I really fell in love with the individual serving metal tea pots; while obviously not a local specialty, they were but another detail we wished we could wake up to every day of our lives.
Chisasibi is only 100 km (62 miles) from Radisson, so the drive was hardly formidable in itself. First, though, we decided to make our way to Longue Pointe, the furthest north one can drive on the coast in eastern North America
! Even before the turnoff to access Longue Pointe, we saw caribou bounding across the road! Apologies if the pictures are lackluster; they were before us and gone in seconds! After their crossing they congregated in a clearing across the road, with forty or fifty of them in total.
While it was said to be late in the season, hardly a mile went by where we didn't pass one or two carcasses by the road, waiting to be picked up in when the native hunting expedition ended.
Like native peoples generally, the Cree have adopted modern living in the last few generations. We were informed, however, that they have done much to assure that younger generations continue hunting, and that at this time of year pupils get a week off from school to engage in hunting as well as events encompassing the whole Cree nation.
As mentioned before, Louise ended up buying a traditional tamarack decoy at the gift shop. On the road to Chisasibi, we saw Cree hunters out with modern plastic decoys, and got to greet the fellows, who happily agreed to have their pictures taken. One of them remarked, "It's beautiful, eh?" -- the only time, being in French Canada, we heard anyone say the iconic "eh", but more importantly encapsulating the deep reverence for the beauty of the environs evident in the Crees and area Quebeckers alike.
We crossed a road over La Grande-1 generating station
. Very impressive. You'll also get an impression of what a beautiful day it was! It was briefly overcast later.
The memorial to those who built the grand facility.
The thirty miles to Longue Pointe were arduous and straining on Louise, though perhaps more so on the Saturn! The old tires were pretty thin, and even at about 20 mph I was surprised that not one tire burst either way (we had one equally old spare). The while huge, hardy trucks crusied past us at thrice our speed, leaving billowing columns of dust in their wake. Stress notwithstanding, we like seeing all the hunting outposts along the way, as well as glimpses of the La Grande and a few streams. On the way, we listened to a bilingual Cree-English radio station, the main topic being interviews in memory of a recently deceased elder Cree, one of those whose "bush" upbringing was evidently frowned on by Church authorities in earlier times. Very unfortunate.
I had only time for a cursory survey of expressions, but I can guarantee we turned more than one head when the 16-year-old Saturn finally rolled into Longue Pointe, which has its own garage, and from one point of which perhaps 20 native hunters were coming and going in snowmobiles. But ah! We made it to that ultimate vastness, the frozen Arctic Ocean! We sat down on some Canadian Shield rock (which you can see on the Wikipedia article here
) and had some crackers and bottled water.
It was a real ultima thule. Feast your eyes!
The chair? Yeah, I had the fancy to tote my dining room chair in the Saturn all the way to James Bay, so I could sit on the still frozen Arctic Ocean and take a picture, along with my tiny pennant to provide glory to my alma mater. This one is from the shore, but we actually ventured out way onto the ice (as far as I felt halfway safe, though I suppose there was little danger, as snowmobiles still inched along in the far distance) and snapped better pictures on her film camera. Maybe some time we can get those scanned and posted too! In any case I wanted to be able to remember the great journey every time I sat down for a meal. As usual, though, Louise was more photogenic, and looked stunning in the light that broke just as we hauled out the chair.
Returning to the main road was a bit easier, as a public vehicle had smoothed out the road in the meanime. When we arrived in Chisasibi, it was again cloudy. Hungry, we located the restaurant in the distinctive visitor's center, the white-blue building behind the giant tepee. The cuisine was very good, though it seemed little to none of the food was locally produced, which was a drag. The interior had its perks, though. Louise was fascinated with the meeting room in the tepee, which had this giant fireplace in the center. It must be a lively place to congregate in the frigid winters!
For me, the main attraction was the murals serving to decorate the place. They were really beautiful!
Afterward, we took a walk. This is the Catholic church of Chisasibi, a refreshing beauty in a town of largely functional architecture.
The rest of Chisasibi is not quite as nice as Radisson, and there was a good amount of graffiti; it was probably the least attractive time of the year, though. As a proud resident outside the village pizza place, who discussed the matter with us said, the recently-melted snow had revealed much trash deposited over the winter.
The dog at left is chewing on a caribou leg!
Just a few steps from the roads in town, a launch to the La Grande River. Oh, what a beauty! It must have been at least twice as vast as the Connecticut near where I live. It is the second largest river in Quebec after the St. Lawrence, but how many fewer are able to ever see it. Note the thickness of the just-shorn ice.
Unfortunately, we went on a drive looking for another view of the James Bay, named South Point, during the dusk, but I believe we missed the locale, only seeing other outlets on the river (though one of these was the ferry crossing that takes passengers to Fort George Island, the original location of Chisasibi, during the summer months).
We had a very early start the next day, because it was the hour to accomplish the other primary purpose of the journey: a tour of the Robert-Bourassa hydroelectric facility and seeing the spillway, or Staircase of the Giants. After we located the Hydro-Québec visitor's center in the center of Radisson, the bilingual tour guide, Eric Hamel (I know he's missing an accent somewhere) greeted us kindly. We really got to like him. The tour begins with an impressive array of displays on the history of the hydroelectric projects, as well as a video with data on Hydro-Québec's numerous facilities. Seen here is the stuffed centerpiece.
What happened afterward? Well, you will have to take our word, because cameras were not permitted within the facility. It was one of those secure areas where one huge door opened, we drove in, and the door closed before another opened, allowing us to drive into a tunnel carved from the rock. We came to a stop in an alcove, and beyond a vast metal wall lay the immense cavern where lay all the turbines. You may see a picture here. Unlike these fair-weather tours, though, we were the only tourists, and received attention divided only by two people we believed employees from other facilities (but who nonetheless gave off the air of spies!) It was unbelievable how close we were to the action; we actually got to go down on a steel walkway below the floor seen in the link, and walk into the chamber in between the turbine blades below and the rotors above, and could feel the warn wind the turbine made! Below, we got to put our hands on the chamber where the water from the La Grande River was rushing through as it powered the turbines, and could feel the coldness and condensation! It was really something else! It was also an interesting time to visit because they were in the process of changing a worn-out turbine, a year-long process. At one point of the tour, Hamel pointed out the control panel where Premier
René Lévesque (a man I generally loathe for his role in the Quiet Revolution) turned the key switching the facility on for the first time on October 27, 1979. For a bit of humor, when we asked about the concrete tower that may be seen in the middle of the chamber in the picture above, Hamel said it was their Romeo & Juliet balcony! It housed the elevator, which saw little use, and was mainly good only for attracting visits by the elevator repair man! We, however, were lucky enough to get to ride it down…
Following the journey into the earth, photo privileges were restored, and we headed to the spillway itself! Here's Eric Hamel.
And here he is with the spillway in the background.
Majesty. I procure great solace from thinking that, surely, centuries after New York, Los Angeles, and the other rotten metropolises are fallow fields that live on in ancient tales alone, the Staircase of the Giants, which definitely merits enumerations among the wonders of the world, will remain, its original purpose long forgotten as it towers over the natural wonders of the La Grande River area.
The river basin below the spillway and dam holding back the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir. Louise and I were impressed when Hamel told us that the original forests had been left largely untouched by the construction. Evidently he is well versed in explaining that aspect of the project; he told us that a year or so before we arrived he'd taken Governor Deval Patrick to discuss the environmental impact of the hydroelectric operations (if only I'd gotten to the guide first he could have passed on my stern message of disapproval!)
Ordinarily, posing with a Quebec Liberal Party politician like Robert Bourassa goes against my principles, but this time I was willing to make an exception.
Once we'd finished the photo op at the gazebo facing the staircase, we drove up a winding road that eventually took us to the bridge atop the spillway! In the midst of that span, we stopped the van and got out for some more pictures from that ultimate perspective, which I though still grander and more fatalistic for the enshrouding mists. The picture with Louise at the end is a favorite of the few I myself snapped.
We were quite hungry by the time the trip was over and we'd purchased an adequate cache of souvenirs, both at the Hydro-Québec gift shop and a brief return to the native crafts shop, where Louise again splurged (moccasins) and I embodied frugality (a large postcard with a print of "We're Winning, We're Winning"
, one of Dorothy Francis's romantic, Rockwellian depictions of traditional Cree life). We ate another hearty meal at the Resto Chez Mika, where I belted out more money than I ever hope to spend again on a bowl of alfredo pasta with shrimp, but we were deeply pleased by the fine food. Here is Our Pundit, clearly happy.
Louise really liked the murals in the alcove with the larger tables.
This photograph I insisted on. It is to Louise's eternal honor that she got us all the way there, and back, in that little Saturn.
We were so sad to leave "our home" in Radisson! Thankfully the taiga was as beautiful as ever on the way back, even in the increasing moisture. Typical scenery; I can fathom that this place is not for everyone.
Louise thought this tree was cute, so we could not resist posing. She looks so solemn, I so chipper.
We managed to keep moving at a fine pace, and stopped a while only once: the Rupert River crossing. I'd spotted a viewing platform some way into the woods, so we stopped and set out to reach it. However, the snow had not been shoveled, so that meant a grueling march of hundred of yards through wet, knee deep snow, but we persevered! This is a photo from the woods.
Beyond the pine green-painted observor's platform, we descended onto some rocks right next to the rapids which, I can tell you, were roaring quite deafeningly by the icy banks. Of all the places in the trip, this contends to be my favorite. While not a bona fide inukjuk, we were happy to see the stone pile marking others' visits there, though we were disappointed to see some satanic graffiti nearby. Even the most beautiful, pristine (save the Hydro-Québec damming upriver, of course) places are not immune from the traces of our sinfulness.
Of course, I had to be dramatic, so I crawled as close to the rapids as I could. Of course, I could have slipped, fallen in, and either perished or half froze to death before I reached a part of the bank I could grab a hold of, but oh, some things simply must be done. I recall now little Em'ly in David Copperfield when she started from my side, and ran along a jagged timber which protruded from the place we stood upon, and overhung the deep water at some height, without the least defence. (chapter 3)
No more pictures! Louise's phone ran out of memory! Thankfully, nothing of too great import was missed later.
That night the roads were treacherous as a thick fog descended, and we could hardly see the sides of the road. A few spots on the road were under inches of water, but diligent workers were already draining it. The next day I'll chiefly remember for the two fine restaurants we stopped at: Restaurant-aux-Cascades previously mentioned, and, back in Montreal, Napoli Pizzeria, both truly recommended to travelers and locals. We also saw a number of deer along the way, very nice since we were out of caribou country. But all too soon, we began seeing the advertisements and high rises of the big city, and as we departed the Quebec countryside, Louise said, "I think if I were alone I might cry a little now," and I was much in sympathy.
Returning to the beautiful New England springtime (though not before passing through customs, the bullying og which was epitomized by one officer's glee at the thought of humiliating rule-breakers. "You can bring as much money as you want as long as you declare it, but if you bring over $10,000 undeclared, oh, that's a different matter!" Having spent all but $3 of my trip money, his hopes were unfounded), how we missed northen Quebec. Even the North- in Northampton seemed like a cruel barb to us. Ah, but how good it was to be there. For all my life, I do not think I shall see so lovely a place, any region where I feel so much like God fated me to treasure it apart from all the rest of Creation. May the James Bay region be better known, and present a hearty, good challenge, to those who simply have to have one in their lives.