The Fall Writing from the North Shore
Between two worlds: living on the border
The Lower North Shore, situated in the easternmost part of Quebec, is a beautiful, vast territory that encompasses fifteen communities, including two Innu villages. From summer to winter, there are many activities to do and sights to see (I love watching the icebergs and whales every summer). It has a rich history of over nine thousand years and, best of all, holds some of the most heart-warming and nicest people on earth. Affectionately referred to as “the Coast,” this region truly is a hidden gem.
Despite only having a combined population of approximately five thousand, each town has its own unique character with different accents, dialects, and traditions. There is a sense of unity throughout the 375 kilometre stretch of coastline. There are many elements to explore within each community, from the intriguing stories to the numerous local celebrations, tournaments, and events that happen regularly. I decided to touch upon one of the favourite aspects of my home: life on the border.
Now when I say border, you may picture a big line or wall splitting two different states with a strict control on what comes in and out. But the Quebec-Labrador border is nothing but a line on a map, a parking lot, and a big sign indicating the province you are entering. One thing I find very special is that villages near this border are close with one another, not only in distance but also in community relationships. We are like one big family. People on one side of the border rely on goods and services from the other side, and vice versa. Let’s look at myself for example. I live on the Labrador side in L’Anse-au-Clair. I go to school on the Quebec side in Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon. I work in the summer on the Labrador side. I play hockey on the Quebec side. I hang out with my friends on both sides of the border and I have family on both sides. In fact, on any given day of the week, I cross the border at least four times.
Sports are also an important aspect of life on the Coast with hockey, volleyball, and badminton tournaments held regularly. There can be a hockey tournament in Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon, where teams from all over the Lower North Shore and even the Labrador Straits will come to play. A month later, there might be another hockey tournament in neighbouring L’Anse-au-Loup, Labrador. Teams from the Lower North Shore will come to that tournament as well by snowmobile, boat, or plane. This is the perfect time to see friends from ‘up’ the Coast (communities to the west of the border), who are not accessible by road.
One thing that is oddly different about this corner of the world is the time zone change. I’ve had many tourists and other individuals ask me about the time here, as it can be quite confusing. On the Labrador side, residents go by Newfoundland Time. On the Quebec side, residents follow Blanc-Sablon time (time zone of the Lower North Shore). Pretty simple, right? That’s just the beginning. The “Coast” does not observe daylight saving, but Newfoundland does. So, in the winter and fall months, Newfoundland is ahead by thirty minutes, which is not too bad. But in the spring, the difference changes to one hour and thirty minutes. If you cross the border to drive from Blanc-Sablon to L’Anse-au-Clair (just minutes apart), you can time travel ahead thirty or ninety minutes, depending on the time of year. This is especially useful for New Year’s Eve. You could start in L’Anse-au-Clair and celebrate as the clock strikes midnight. Then you can drive up the road to Blanc-Sablon and celebrate the same festivities, thirty minutes later. This unique time zone difference allows you to then go “Back To The Future” in L’Anse-au-Clair to sleep. In the spring, the time difference is so big that I wake up at 8:15 in Labrador, take my shower, eat my breakfast, get ready, go on the bus and travel to school. By the time the first class starts, the clock still reads 8:15. It could be my superpowers that freeze time, or it could just be another aspect of our daily life on the Coast.
There are endless reasons to love this region, including its breathtaking scenery, the kindness of its people, and both its cultural and historical significance that date back nine millennia. For all of this and more, the Coast is a very important place for me. After university, I hope to build a life ‘back home,’ somewhere near the border, and share the love for this land with my future kids. I will forever be proud to say that I’m a Coaster.
The Patience of Lichen
I know not
what I’ve come here to find
I’ve never known how to stay in one place
the ground always gives way
the ends of the world
have become my escape
a patch of moss
a place to settle
amongst the voices
of the land
for my plexus
like them I wish I could
the winds speak
the clouds keep secrets
the tides play tricks
the nets bring food
but these always come undone
it takes the patience of lichen
to wait by the side of a road
that does not exist
children were born of the open sea
they emerge in emergency rooms
taking a boat
to be born
in the city of islands
or a new found land
home is where the heart is
This text is an original translation from the French in ‘La patience du lichen‘ by Noémie Pomerleau-Cloutier (La Peuplade, 2021). The collection won the 2022 Myriam Caron Prize, the 2021 Emerging Writers Prize from Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and was a finalist for the Grand Prix du livre de Montréal in 2021.
The Reunion At Salmon Bay
As the ferry departed from Havre-Saint-Pierre, passengers hurried to find a spot on the deck. Some stood at the rail, looking out to sea. Others sat on benches, chatting happily in English, French, or their Innu mother tongue. Gradually, as the ship plied its way eastward along the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, most drifted away into their cabins, the dining room, or the lounge.
I was content to remain sitting outside. I’d struck up a conversation with George Pell, an amiable man of thirty something accompanied by his two children. When I approached him, he was playing his mandolin, and I thought he might be a professional folk musician. He looked the part with his ginger hair and beard, tweed cap, and casual clothes. But I soon learned that he was an Anglican priest based in Saint Augustine—a community on the Lower North Shore with no road access.
Several months earlier, while doing research for a CBC TV program, I’d interviewed several Lower North Shore residents—”coasters,” they call themselves. I was so intrigued by their accounts of this remote region of Quebec that I’d applied for a Canada Council grant to produce a photo essay about the English-speaking fishing villages there. I wanted to see the area from the water, just as explorers like Jacques Cartier had seen it. So, I’d booked passage on the Fort Mingan, which stopped at communities as far east as Blanc-Sablon to unload freight, disembark travellers, and offer banking services to locals before returning to its home port of Rimouski.
I recently unearthed the journal I kept on that introductory visit to the Lower North Shore in August 1982. Because I was taking photos and recording interviews, I didn’t write detailed field notes. But I did jot down the names of people I met or wanted to meet, scraps of conversation I heard, activities I hoped to document.
George Pell recommended several contacts; when I arrived at my first port of call, Harrington Harbour, I knocked on the door of one of them—Curtis Patterson, the resident Anglican priest. He gave me a warm welcome and invited me to attend a wedding in the village that day, reassuring me that nobody would object to my presence. My photo of bridesmaids walking across an expanse of bare rocks in billowy dresses and high heels ultimately appeared on the cover of my book The Coast Way: A Portrait of the English on the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence.
On that initial trip, I travelled only as far as La Tabatière. In my final journal entry, I quoted hotelier Tom Robertson’s explanation of why he’d returned to his birthplace after more than seven years away. “I loves the coast,” he said. “I loves the life, the freedom.”
The following year, I began to explore the stretch of the Lower North Shore from Saint Augustine to Blanc-Sablon. By then, I’d been smitten by the wild beauty of the coast, the kindness of coasters, and the rhythm of the local way of life, which was dictated by nature rather than a time clock. In the ensuing three years, I made another six trips to the Lower North Shore to finish my work for The Coast Way.
My love affair with the region has been rekindled as I collaborate with the Whiteley Museum on a multimedia project about the history and culture of Saint Paul’s River and its surroundings.
I made my most recent trip to the coast in August 2023. Towards the end of my stay, I received an email message from an acquaintance in the Eastern Townships, where I live. She was organizing a storytelling event at a local church on the theme of gratitude. The stories had to be short—no longer than seven minutes or so. Would I participate? Yes!
When I returned home, I asked if I could present a film rather than stand up to tell a story—I’m not a performer. The organizer immediately agreed.
The Reunion at Salmon Bay is the most personal film I’ve ever made. It’s my way of expressing my appreciation to everyone, from George Pell on, who has assisted me during my ongoing voyage of discovery of the Lower North Shore.
We are here,
a hopeful people with a future unclear,
divided by lines we can not see,
held back by forces that can never agree.
A language forgotten, a people ignored,
our message in bottles thrown back to our shores.
move with the waves as new ones appear.
As time ticks by, we dance in the sand,
bask in the freedom of isolated land.
Human and nature living as one,
creating a lifestyle that can’t be outdone.
We will thrive,
take what we’re given, and do more than survive.
A youthful beauty in those aged wooden roads
holding us high as we face our unknowns.
Covering our shorelines, seashells and glass,
telling the story of a long written past.
For amidst the rocky surround, the challenge, the time,
we have been moved, polished and shined.
We will rise,
take one step back and return with the tide.
We know who we are, and we know what that’s worth:
the yellowed grass and the muddied earth.
A path well trekked, the memories made,
even the hazardous shoals beyond the waves,
shaping us like those shards on our shores.
A discarded beauty, we are seaglass;
and we will not be ignored.
North Shore Heritage Capsules: Insights and Reflections
“Worth a Thousand Words: A North Shore Inter-Generational Digital Storytelling Project” represents a living history and collection of stories of bygone years in the lives of seniors from Baie-Comeau, Port-Cartier, and Sept-Îles. Over the course of eighteen months, between the fall of 2021 and winter of 2023, interviews and research were conducted to bring memories, anecdotes, and insights into a storybook-type format. The goal was to create ten to twelve digital heritage capsules that contain stories, images, and recorded voices of topics that clearly helped to define the communities.
The North Shore Community Association (NSCA) applied for and received a grant through Heritage Canada to realize this project. I was hired as their researcher, scriptwriter, and project manager. And what a wonderful experience it turned out to be!
Each community identified a variety of subjects that the English-speaking seniors wanted to showcase. Baie-Comeau focused on the Baie Comeau Community Association (BCCA), an organization and building that provided a central spot for most of its socio-cultural and recreational activities from 1938 to 1968. Port-Cartier put a spotlight on Riverview School that was the central hub for its anglophone community. Sept-Îles put their railroad, built in the early 1950s, in the limelight. In addition, there were two heritage capsules that featured the regional aspects.
I gained a number of insights while working on this project.
With this type of storytelling, the sense of urgency can never be underestimated. The stories, the first-hand accounts disappear with the passing of our seniors. Time is of the essence as people’s memories fade, photographs are lost, and people die.
The dozens and dozens of pages of notes are just as valuable as the published heritage capsules. In one example, twenty-five pages of typewritten notes for the Port-Cartier capsules had to be condensed into four scripts. The editor had to further reduce them down to about seven hundred words. Do the words and memories of those left on the “cutting floor” go to waste? Not at all … in due course, they will be collated into a document that tells an even more complete story. Same goes for the photographs.
As a researcher and interviewer, it was critical that information be supported by a number of sources. Going through books, journals, and cross-referencing people’s anecdotes is important in order to ensure authenticity. There is a difference between nostalgia and memory. The history of anglophones on the North Shore is not well documented. So, it is important to verify and clarify information.
There are always stories that have rarely ever been heard. It is only by taking time to listen, to ask pointed questions, and by reading images supplied by people that they can be brought to light. This last point is crucial. One must carefully look at the background, the little things that one easily misses on a first glance, and who else is in the photograph. The images tell their own stories and they can also help in triggering memories and those important details that lead into incredible insights and discoveries. This happened when I was looking through the yearbooks of Riverview School and I recognized the eyes of one person and their hometown of Saint Paul’s River (Lower North Shore). I soon realized that I actually knew this person going back to the early 1990s. She was one of the 1971 graduates along with another person from her hometown. How does a person from the Lower North Shore end up in Port-Cartier rather than at the high school in Sept-Îles? Well, the stories of these two people soon came to light and were highlighted in the heritage capsules. They recount their first time experiencing indoor plumbing, restaurants, and electricity. But it was the sense of community that helped them over their four years of being billeted.
In Baie-Comeau, memories and nostalgia were intertwined as the seniors told of the socio-cultural and recreational activities at the BCCA. It was all about a community ensuring that boredom was not part of the landscape. It told of how the French and the English came together for numerous sporting activities, card parties, and dances. It tells of the first public bilingual library in Québec led by pioneer Alice Lane. It speaks to the pride and recognition of how individuals with a strong sense of community and purpose made Baie-Comeau a vibrant town and how one place became the heartbeat of an isolated North Shore town. And these are lasting legacies.
The photos and narration, the first-hand accounts, and living stories speak volumes of the respective communities and people’s passion for life, for community involvement and their ultimate gift, that of storytelling. The anglophone communities now have yet another venue for telling their unique histories and their memories of yesteryear. Take a look for yourselves. The heritage capsules are available online at: https://quebecnorthshore.org/heritage-capsules/
how does one find a way to come back so many times?
in a region
that is said to have no roads,
how does one find a way
to come back so many times?
maybe that person
creates paths aplenty,
lines in the moss,
boats on bodies of water,
trails of airplanes,
and a route blanche for harsh winters,
somewhere to lay down
the heart amongst
sea, rivers, ponds,
blackberries, Labrador tea,
on a land
where a cup of tea unveils stories,
and where being called my love is a shelter;
even if that place isn’t what you could call home.
but what is a home?
is it where you grew up?
is it where you fell in love?
is it where you wouldn’t mind dying?
is it the same time zone?
is it the same language?
is it the same culture?
or can it be
a space in you?
anywhere the breath
becomes a cabin on an island,
a whale greeting you
in the Strait of Belle Isle.
A Farewell from Font
[to be added]