Visiting Île d’Orléans With a Dog – Quebec, Canada
On July 9th 2012 my paternal grandmother celebrated her 73rd birthday. To mark the occasion, we decided to go and visit her in Quebec City – a five hour drive from our home in Ottawa. It’s always a nice time and I do enjoy the family residence and all the attention I get from her while I am there! But I must confess, that although we saw glorious Old Quebec again, what I enjoyed the most on this trip was our outing to Les Chutes Jean-Larose and… Île d’Orléans.
I will not bore you with a history lesson, but I will mention the islands’ importance to Quebec, Canada, and the American Continent at large. Only 15 minutes from old Quebec City, over the massive Taschereau bridge, offering a stunning view of the St. Lawrence river, is the birthplace of the 300 founding families that came from Normandy, Perche and Poitou in France, over rough and dangerous seas, to settle in New France. These families have now dispersed to live in other parts of Canada and the US, but the island is described as the “microcosm” of traditional Quebec and as the birthplace of francophones in America. Île d’Orléans is the shining jewel in Quebec’s crown.
Note: The bridge to the island is on Highway #40, a little west of Montmorency Falls. See map below.
The Normandy ancestry is actually very obvious when you drive around the island. How so, I hear you ask? Well, the island offers a large variety of produce and was nicknamed the “Garden of Quebec” and boasts a large number of strawberry and raspberry fields (you can pick your own when is season) and much more, but the island is known mostly for its apple orchards and cider. Anyone who has knowledge of French foods knows that Normandy is famous for its apples and associated goods. The first settlers brought the seeds and cuttings with them and the old trees are descendants of the trees in France and are still producing amazing bounty even if they look haggard and bent out of shape by hundreds of years of rough winter winds.
Something else that was brought over is chocolate! Yes the island has a rather wonderful chocolate factory! The factory is not dog friendly (and since it is a poison to us canines maybe for once that is a good thing!) but you can purchase some items from the shop to bring home to share with friends and family.
To give you a feel for the Île d’Orléans I think it is best for me to share with you (in very abbreviated form) the 6 towns (and townships) that populate the island. Each with its own story and specialty.
- Sainte-Pétronille: A very popular resort in the middle of the 19th century. The Hurons (The Hurons [Wendats] had been the target of numerous attacks and massacres by the Iroquois [Mohawks] since 1648) found refuge with the Jesuits there in 165. The wealthy from Quebec City built many luxurious residences that can still be seen from the “Chemin Royal” a road you can follow all the way around the island. Our favorite style of home was the one made of old stones with bright red metal roofs. We did not stop here.
- Saint-Laurent: Called Saint-Paul until 1698, then changed to Saint-Laurent, this town has always been known for its maritime industry. You can still find the remains of shipyards and “chalouperies” where, until the middle of the 19th century, more than 400 rowboats, longboats and canoes were produced yearly. This is where today, you will find the islands’ little sailboat marina (since 1984). We stopped here; there is a wonderful walking tour that starts at the pier which is very dog friendly.
- Saint-Jean: The church of Saint-Jean dates back to 1732. The cemetery (small dog in arms friendly), has a unique view of the river with an illusion of infinity. This is likely brought on by the view of the sea rather than the St. Laurence River. The importance of sea trading, the presence of prosperous farmers (milking industry, cultivation of potatoes and strawberries) and the great number of vacationers had earned Saint-Jean the title of “Capital” of the Island until the construction of the bridge, in 1935.
- Saint-François: Saint-François distinguishes itself from the other towns on the island just by its massive scale; the large area it covers, from North to South, on the Eastern tip of the island. The population is made up mainly of farmers and is scattered all over the territory. These wide open spaces are ideal for the farming of leaks and potatoes. The view on Mont-Sainte-Anne and the Cap Tourmente is breathtaking. Here the river is 10 times wider than it is in front of Old Quebec City; it is also where the soft water meets and turns to salt water creating a unique eco-system.
- Sainte-Famille: The oldest city of the island with the greatest concentration of stone houses, going back mostly to the French regime period. The farming industry is most important in Sainte-Famille; with particular emphasis on the milking industry. In the fall, many orchards are open to visitors to pick their own apples.
- Saint-Pierre: The oldest country church in Quebec (circa 1720) is in Saint-Pierre and the town used to be a centre of traditional crafts: butter factory, forge, tin trade and cheese among others. The area also produces potatoes and strawberries. Its population never stopped growing, especially after the construction of the bridge in 1935. In the spring and in the fall, when the birds migrate on each side of the bridge, you will witness thousands of geese, ducks and other water birds feeding and resting in the salt marches before taking off and continuing their long journey.
We drove around the island and stopped from time to time to breathe the fresh air, take a few photographs, taste some strawberries or some local jam, and say hello to some cows or horses. Grandma had an unusual desire for hot dogs so we stopped at a little “bar à lait” (literal translation is “milk bar”) and ordered 4 hot dogs, fries and some coffee. Something the bipeds would never eat: processed food! *gasp* I must admit, I quite enjoyed the hot dogs even if I am not convinced they are made with real meat, and the name … concerns me.
We sat nestled between the road and the waterfront in the warm sun, with a cool breeze, watching the Saint-Laurence river flow by in all its immensity and after our tummies were full, in order to digest, we took a little walk on the dog friendly grey beach. Hopping back in the car we went and continued our journey of discovery around the island, looping back to the bridge.
In review: On a nice warm day – on the rare occasion the sun is shining in the region – a trip to Île d’Orléans is a gift for the senses. Whether to enjoy one of the many activities or to simply take a Sunday drive, you are sure to find magical places and moments to remember. Restaurants and their patios are not dog friendly, but there are enough “milk bars” and picnic areas for you to find a spot for you to sit down for a picnic with you canine companion.
Always ask, but on the whole most artists and crafts people seemed open to my presence. The only thing to remember is that, very typically of North American towns, everything is built along the main road with never a central square in sight. As such, everything is spaced out. Nothing is centralised and often sidewalks are not even a part of the town’s layout. A car is recommended, although we saw many hikers and cyclists.