A simpler place and time

Posted on September 2, 2007
Filed Under Commentary, Travel | Leave a Comment

magdelans-70824-31-havre-aubert.JPG  Shoreline at Villa La Maison D’ Le Pere  

magdelans-70824-31-moonrise.JPG  magdelans-70824-31-madelinot-reynard.JPG                                                                                                                                          From left: Havre Aubert; High Tide at villa; Moonrise at villa; Reynard de La Madeleines. To enlarge, click on pic and click again.    

          “He’s leaving
          on that midnight train to Georgia.
          Said he’s going back to find
          a simpler place and time.
          And when he takes that ride,
          guess who’s gonna be right by his side.
          I’ll be with him
          on that midnight train to Georgia.
          I’d rather live in his world,
          than live without him in mine.”

          Is there anyone likely to read this who doesn’t know the Gladys Knight and the Pips rock classic “Midnight Train to Georgia”? Is there anyone who doesn’t think it is one of the most poignant songs of the era?

          Many a woman has left a comfortable environment to be with the man she loves.  We can only imagine the shock WW II war brides must have felt coming to the wilds of rural Canada.

          At the same time, many of us have fond memories of some simpler place and time.

          There can be no midnight train to Quebec’s Magdelan Islands, but the islands certainly bring the song to mind.

          If you consider beaches wealth, and surely you do, the Magdelan Islands are the Microsoft of Canada. I can’t imagine anywhere in the industrial world having more beach per person than the Magdelans.

          It also looks a bit like Newfoundland where the idea of private property, surveys and deeds didn’t catch on in the outports. A person building a home picked out a likely place outside a neighbour’s immediate sphere of influence and built.

          Development in the Magdelans looks a bit like that. Houses appear, alone or in clusters, here and there in a somewhat random pattern. One gets the impression that view, convenience, proximity to family and various other personal preferences took precedence over the dictates of any planning commission or developer.

          It looks like coastal Maritimes 40 or 50 years ago in terms of space and speed.

          What it looks like and what it is are two very different things. In our cliff top villa overlooking the Gulf, we had satellite television and ultra modern appliances, including a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and fixtures for a bit less than we usually pay on PEI. We got a better price than listed, perhaps because of the end of the season.


          One could argue there are more truly excellent restaurants on the Magdelans than there are in all of New Brunswick.

          One rustic waterfront shack of a place, Bistro du Bout du Monde, in Havre Aubert served osso bucco with venison. From now on, we will consider osso bucco that isn’t venison, (or better yet moose!) a poor copy.

          http://www.bistroduboutdumonde.com/ — (nothing but a home page.)

          Domaine du Vieux Couvent, originally a school for nun student teachers, served the best seafood linguine we have ever had.


          At Chez Denis à François, Michelle had a cod fish stew that she claimed was the best cod dish she’d ever had. I started with a rich seal appetizer.


          Each of the upper scale restaurants we tried had wine lists running from $25 table wines to well beyond my palate and budget.

          Beware of the bakeries! The Madelon, in particular, is the Moriarity (Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy) to the Atkins low-carb and Dr. Gott no-sugar-no-flour ascetics of the world. It’s French. Like Forest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

          A fish market sells fresh cod burger patties seasoned with parsley and fine herbs. They are so light and delicious a restaurant could use them as the foundation for a lunch business. We fried or barbecued them and put them on toasted ciabatta bread with lettuce and tartar sauce or Dijon and mayonnaise, and a couple of dots of Tabasco

          The islands are a Mecca for devotees of wind sports.  Sailboards spraying rooster tails slice through the waves. Parasail boarders race across the waves and soar into the air doing figure eights and almost vertical loops before swooping back down to skim along the water again. Even Charlie Brown could fly an elaborate kite here.

          It seems almost every Quebec vehicle on the island carries at least one kayak or board. Cyclists camp in pup tents on the beaches. Tour buses and motor homes are present but not in overwhelming numbers. Accommodations range from basic to luxurious with not as many chalets as we would like to see offered. One gets the impression that summer residents equal short-term tourist visitors in number.

           One restauranteur told us the population declines from about 35,000 to about 8,500 in winter. Even many of the permanent residents go away for winter.

          “When it snows, it doesn’t come down, it comes sideways!” she said. We noticed snow fencing along all the sandbar connector roads between the islands.

          There are no theme parks with water slides. There is one 9-hole golf course.

          I almost expected to see Burma Shave signs along the quiet highways as you did in the US before turnpikes.

          The Magdelans are also known as the “Second Cemetery” of the Atlantic. The local museum sells a map with the names and dates of over 400 wrecks. Islands history, like Miramichi history is full of tales of heroism, seamanship, and disaster. The museum is also full of models of the types of vessels that fished the waters and supplied the islands over the centuries.

          It is a 95 kilometre, five-hour ferry ride from Souris in Eastern PEI to Cap Au Meules.  It is more than twice that far to the Gaspé. Can you believe that Mi’kmaq used to paddle there to hunt seal and walrus?

          Relics from their camps are on display in the museum though there is no evidence that they stayed year round. Efforts by Europeans to introduce deer to the islands failed. The climate is more moderate than on the mainland because of ocean currents. There is not, however, enough food and shelter to maintain a deer population. There is very little local agriculture. There is one farm market per year at garden harvest time.

          Oddly enough, the Acadian expulsion made the Magdelans a Francophone settlement. A Scot put Acadian refugees to work in his walrus business. By the end of the 1700’s, incidentally, American, English and French walrus hunters had killed the last of hundreds of thousands of walrus. The huge creatures were prized for their ivory tusks.

          When England controlled what is now Atlantic Canada, it attached them first to Newfoundland. Later, when it created the separate colonies of Canada, England put them into Lower Canada, Quebec.

          To get there, you take the ferry (five hours) from Souris, PEI.


          It’s about $253 each way for a car and four people. There is a senior discount from $43.25 to $35 for seniors.

           If you need a bit of a break in a simpler place and time, I highly recommend the beautiful and charming Magdelan Islands.    


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