Monday, August 8, 2011

The Maritime Museum at L'Islet-sur-mer

Distant thunderstorm over the St. Lawrence
A week ago, we were on the south shore of the St. Lawrence seaway where, hampered from returning to Ottawa by the likelihood of severe thunderstorms, we rented a car at Montmagny to drive along the Route des Navigateurs (Rte. 132) as far as L'Islet-sur-mer. Our purpose was two-fold. First we needed to find somewhere to spend the night, and second, we wanted to visit the Musée Maritime du Québec.

Chris going into the museum
The wonderful life story of Captain Joseph Elzéar Bernier, who had spent much of his life here, at L'Islet-sur-mer, was featured in a special exhibition at the museum. Born into the merchant navy in 1852, thrilled by his first sight of flying fish at the age of four, Bernier grew up to become a great and famous mariner, having been promoted to officer status (on his father's ship) at a very young age. By the time he was 17 he was already master of his own ship, the youngest captain in the British empire. He decided who should be his wife at a very young age as well (he and Rose, a local farmer's daughter, were 10 and 8 year olds when they met, and were married 8 years after that).

The ship that Bernier eventually acquired from Germany, originally named the Gauss, renamed L'Arctic, was his vessel of choice and he manned it with a crew of sailors who were nearly all from L'Islet-sur-mer themselves––what loyalty they must have felt for one another! His ambition was to reach the North Pole; though he never made it quite to the Pole, he was honoured for his accomplishments, having led 11 expeditions to the far north where the Inuit still remember and respect him. He died at the age of 82 at L'Islet, having made a journey to Rome the previous year, to visit the Pope.

More about Bernier and his Arctic expeditions here.

There were several other exhibitions at the museum, including one about Sea Monsters, and I toured the Chalouperie on the ground floor, learning some French and English vocabulary which I note here for future reference:

chaloupe = beach boat
On the deck of the Ernest Lapointe
chaloupe à rame = row(ing) boat
chaloupe à glace = ice boat (for the seal hunt)
voilier = sloop (although perhaps they meant skiff)
drosseuse = duck boat (used locally for hunting snow geese during the migration season)

Outside the museum our admission tickets allowed us to board the icebreaker Ernest Lapointe, a steam ship used by the Canadian Coast Guard between 1940 and 1978. We thoroughly enjoyed peering into the cabins etc and imagining life on this stylish vessel which sometimes used to accommodate VIP land-lubbers, as well as its regular crew. Had we wished, we could also have had a guided tour (in French) on board the HMCS Bras d'Or 400 hydrofoil that's kept high and dry in the museum park, but we'll leave that until another occasion. At one time this was the fastest unarmed warship in the world, but for political reasons she never came into service. The Canadian hydrofoil project was cancelled in the 1970s.

After enjoying this museum very much we meandered back towards Montmagny through the riverside villages and found Bed and Breakfast at a gîte on the Route du Souvenir in Cap St. Ignace, a place I thoroughly recommend for its cleanliness, for its attractiveness inside and out and for its value for money, not to mention the superb breakfast we were served next morning. It's called the Chocoporto, a restored farmhouse dating back to the 17th century. Incidentally the family to whom this old house had belonged were also called Bernier.

No comments:

Post a Comment