I must give credit to the French Canadians for some of the most interesting and funky shops, galleries, cafes, microbreweries and other establishments which almost defy description. While this doesn’t surprise me that much in cosmopolitan centers like Montreal and Quebec, I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the little fishing village of L’Etang-du-Nord on the isolated, beautiful Magdalen Islands, an outpost of Quebec tucked in between Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. A five hour ferry ride from Souris, Prince Edward Island, the Magdalens are an accessible “exotic” paradise that appears on few anglophones’ radar…but should!
The first thing Carla and I noticed as we approached the town was several huge kites soaring high overhead courtesy of the Boutique De Cerf-Volants Au Gre Du Vent (if you have to ask directions just ask for the kite shop, but trust us, you won’t need help in finding it!) Nearby galleries include art crafted from sand including paintings and a gallery/teahouse called Le Flaneur, owned and operated by artist Pierrette Molaison. It is a bit of an understatement to say the establishment is unique.
Pierrette has painted and crafted life-like mannequins of local “characters” and luminaries of the islands and their personalities shine through her efforts. She also crafts whimsical mermaids, witches and other creatures which are dotted around the inside and outside of her establishment. Be sure to take her guided tour downstairs then retire to the cafe for great tea or coffee and a chance to indulge your sweet tooth (or dent-sucree as it’s known in Quebec) on mounds of homemade sweets.
Etang-du-Nord is an active fishing village with a large colourful fleet sheltered by unique cement breakwaters constructed of a futuristic ilk. Off in the distance looms the rusting hulk of a crushed freighter while in the foreground a statue of the Blessed Virgin sheds her grace over the fleet. A celebrated nearby statue is dedicated to the local fishermen pulling in their lines.
Just up the road picnickers with gourmet tastes can stock up on superb cheese, pates and other goodies at the Gourmande de Nature run by Johanne Vigneau.
Slightly further afield check out the microbrewery and pub A l’Abri de la Tempete. The kilt-wearing proprietor boasts an extremely varied offering of flavorful beer ranging from my favorite, La Belle Saison, a flowery and light offering. The more hardy may enjoy Le Corps Mort (meaning “the dead body” in French) which savors of smoking herring. The name comes not from the beer but from an offshore island that bears an uncanny resemblance to an old man laid out for burial. The brewery is perched on one of the Madgalen’s many gorgeous white, powder sand beaches so you can work off the ale with a little beach amble or dune climbing afterwards.
Whatever type of activity you enjoy the Magdalens are sure to have something to please your taste. Plan to spend a week if you really want to do them justice. Or do what many of the residents I spoke with have done…come for a short visit and simply not go home!
If you go …
Written by George Burden and Carla DiGiorgio
All photos by George Burden – All Rights Reserved