Iles de Madeleine, Quebec

Iles de Madeleine is one of the off-the-beaten-path destinations I will be lecturing about this summer on PEARL SEAS.  One of the many advantages of small-ship cruising is that you get to visit places the big mega ships just can’t go.  On a small ship we don’t have to worry about having more folks pour off the ship than live on the islands we visit. 

The Canadian Madeleine Islands are a small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence with a total land area of 79 sq miles or about 205 square kilometers.  Although closer to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, the islands are part of Quebec.  There are eight principal islands. Until the 20th century, the islands were completely isolated during the winter, but today they are accessible by ferry and scheduled air service to Labrador and Quebec. The primary islands are linked by Highway 199 with some very long bridges. About 12,000 people live on the islands.

For hundreds of years the Miꞌkmaq people came to the island as part of a subsistence migration to hunt walrus.  In 1534 Jacques Cartier visited the island. The archipelago was named in 1663 by François Doublet after his wife, Madeleine Fontaine. By 1765 the islands were inhabited by 22 French-speaking Acadians hunting walruses for a British trader.  A segment of the population are descendants of survivors of the more than 400 shipwrecks off the islands and some of the old houses were built from wood from the shipwrecks.  To improve ship safety, the government constructed lighthouses on the islands.

During the 19th and the early 20th century, the Atlantic walruses that once inhabited these islands were widely hunted and killed for their blubber, tusk ivory, and meat.  Annually thousands of these huge animals, some as large as 4500 pounds, would pull out on the beach only to be slaughtered in a giant blood bath, so the population of walruses dropped rapidly and eventually disappeared.

Although once covered with pine forests, today pretty much nothing grows on barren islands and the wind is constant.  If you planted shrubbery or trees around your house they would simply blow away.  A plus is that you don’t need clothes dryers.  You simply hang your clothes SECURELY outside and they are fresh and wind dried.  If you don’t hang them securely they simply disappear on the wind.

Fishing and lobstering are major industries, but the real industrial treasure rests in huge salt domes beneath the rugged red coastlines.  Far underneath are gigantic salt mines producing much of the road salt for Canada and the North Eastern US.

In their own way the Madeline Islands are beautiful, particularly the red cliffs along the sea.  It’s a nice place to visit but I sure wouldn’t want to live there.  But the reason you travel is to experience what it different.

There are some beautiful beaches on the islands, not tropical beaches, but beaches and lots and lots of sand.   What surprises many folks is that people from all over the world flock to these remote islands each August for the world’s largest international sandcastle competition.