Toussaint Le Cartier

How to Go With a Flow that Begins as a Dribble

Sure there is a schedule, but prospective passengers are advised that the company cannot promise to stick to it. Not with the unknowns the ship must cope with. So this seven day journey out to the mouth of the St. Lawrence and back starts as a trip that may begin tonight, though the boat was supposed to depart last night, and may return in a week, or maybe more. Hmm. Such uncertainty.  Even the bus from Quebec City to Rimouski is delayed, by a mechanical problem. Before we leave the city the bus driver pulls over to explain that we must wait for a replacement bus, which takes about a half an hour. But the seats are comfortable, the bus uncrowded, and it isn't as if I am afraid I am going to miss the boat. Along the route we encounter another bus with a similar problem. The bus driver stops, apologizes, and we wait for the arrival of the travellers who were stranded on the side of the highway, for how long I am not sure.

This is not a third world country but Eastern Quebec in its late spring glory. Hedges of lilacs and a tall white flower shrub that looks like oleander, but could it be? This far north? Many round capped silos rising from dairy farms on rolling green terrain. Some stone houses but most more modern, though even a few of these retain the classic metal roof in the mansard style. Nouvelle France, the rural part. Stones like resting sheep on the tidal flats of the fleuve St. Laurent. On the side of the road, a rock formation so perfectly striated it resembles a cross section of ribbon fudge. Cow replicas announce dairies. Here the fields are narrow, the same shape as the seignuries first granted in the 1600's. These are not the well worked fields of France, with the typical cluster of houses that make up small villages where farm families reside. Communes. Villages with perhaps a single boulangerie, a pharmacie, boucherie, epicerie. Along the highway here, the bus stops to pick up or let passengers off at Petrocan stations or malls with their SAQ's - government liquor stores - their Provigo's, maybe a Target store.

At last,  Rimouski.  With time to spare I meander along the sea front two miles across from St. Barnaby Island. A hermit lived there. Ironically, Toussaint Le Cartier's name lives because he was a hermit.  Afraid he would perish on the voyage from France to the new world, 286 years ago if records don't lie, he promised God that if he survived he would live alone, off the fruits of his own labour, the first place he could land. That turned out to Saint-Barnabé. The poor fellow was an epileptic, according to reports from those who knew of him. The disease caused one of his eyes to bulge out, and for comfort, he had his dog lick it. Ah, stories: what makes them last? Why has the tale of Toussaint persisted?

The night is warm, the air sweet, the river slowly rising up the long sandy shore as I walk from the bus station to la marina in the late dusk light. A man pruning his lilacs smiles his assent when I ask if I can I take a blossom from his pile. It is almost dark when I reach the quai where the Bella Desgagnes has at last arrived. Soon this one-year old vessel will accept passengers and all the containers the gleaming white crane is in the process of hoisting onto the deck, and we will head downstream, with stops at Sept-Iles, Anticosti Island, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan, Kegaska, La Romaine, Harrington Harbor, St. Augustin, La Tabatière and, just at the border of Labrador, Blanc Sablon. We are not flowing yet, though we rock gently in our comfortable beds as the tide lifts us into the night.