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2015 RV Canada Road Trip – Quebec and the Chutes du Coulonge

Quebec - Friday, September 18th, 2015

2015 RV Canada Road Trip to Quebec – Chutes du Coulonge

For the past five years I have been going on an annual week long RV trip with my adult son, Dale and writing two articles about it for Canadian RVing magazine (formerly RV Gazette). In previous years we have tackled the Trans-Labrador Highway, Nova Scotia’s remote Eastern Shore and New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy coast. This year I suggested to my editor Marcia Anderson that we do something in Quebec. Her response was unexpected – “My readers don’t like to go to Quebec”. I asked her why and she replied that they worry about language difficulties and that they might not feel welcome. Having been to Quebec dozens of times I knew both these concerns were simply non-starters. The Quebecois are among the friendliest and most welcoming people in Canada. They have a joie de vivre and love of the outdoors that makes Quebec a perfect place to visit with an RV. The one legitimate beef is the failure to post traffic and other information in English as well as French. While this is not a big deal on the highway because of GPS, it is annoying to go into a museum or on a hike and be unable to understand the interpretive data. Surrounded by 350 million non-francophones Quebec should realize that it would help tourism enormously if signs were bilingual.

So my assignment this year is simple – design an itinerary that will challenge any notions that Quebecers are unfriendly or that the inability to speak French will hamper the enjoyment of visiting La Belle Province. Read the rest of this post to determine if I have succeeded or not.

The starting point for our journey is Montreal where I picked up Dale at the airport after a redeye flight from Calgary. We then picked up our 19 foot compact RV from the Cruise Canada location in Laval, which Tourism Quebec was kind enough to provide. It’s a little smaller than we usually get, but I’m sure it will be more than adequate.

Our 2015 RV
Our 2015 RV

Camp Leslie

The itinerary will focus on two areas of Quebec, the Outaouais and the Eastern Townships. Both are close to the Ontario border and easily accessible from major cities in that province. They are also areas where English is spoken or at least understood by almost everyone. Our first destination is Camp Leslie on Otter Lake in the Pontiac region of Outaouais. It takes three hours to get there via Highway 50 and then on to some lesser roads as we head west and then north. This is an area of Quebec that is quite unique in that most of the people are English speakers and the towns have names like Shawville, Campbell’s Bay and Litchfield. Canadian flags are prominent everywhere.

Camp Leslie is quite simply a wonderful place to bring an RV. We are assigned a site that is larger than you usually get and is set amidst tall pine trees on the shore of Otter Lake. The weather is absolutely perfect without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. The only sounds are the calling of loons and the chirping of many little songbirds in the underbrush as they prepare for the long migration south. The only other people around are a middle aged Quebecois couple next door.  While Dale struggles to chop kindling with a dull hatchet, Rene from the next campsite offers the use of his axe which does the trick and we soon have a roaring fire going. As the sun gets lower in the sky, the reflected shadows on the lake grow longer and if possible, it gets even quieter.

Sundown, Otter Lake, Quebec
Dusk, Otter Lake, Quebec

Lise, Rene’s partner from next door comes over and asks if we would like some sweet corn that she has on the boil. Since there seems to be about a dozen pieces in the pot we readily agree and although Rene protests that it is not as fresh as it could be, it sure tastes good to me. After the corn we have a great conversation with the two of them who are into cycling (Lise has cycled the Cabot Trail) and skiing. Rene pumps Dale for information on places like Revelstoke and Kicking Horse where he has skiied many times. As the loons call I learn that the French word for them is plongeon which seems more fitting for these regal birds than our word, but then again I’d rather have a loonie than a plongeonie.

We say goodnight to Rene and Lise and head back to the RV all the while staring at the mass of stars overhead. Camp Leslie is truly a dark sky location and if you like seeing the Milky Way and other astral phenomena, then this is one place to do it. Time for for a great night’s sleep – tomorrow I have a major expedition planned.

The morning dawns and there is a fine mist over Otter Lake that portends another beautiful day.

Morning, Otter Lake
Morning, Otter Lake

Fort Coulonge

The Chutes du Coulonge is a privately owned not-for-profit park not far from the town of Fort Coulonge which is the only significant francophone community in the Pontiac region. The park’s raison d’etre is the waterfall on the Coulonge River and the chasm that has been carved out below it. However, there is much more to do than just admire the falls and gorge and that is why Dale and I are headed here this morning. But first we need some breakfast and stop at The Junction in Campbell’s Bay where Dale has an enormous Hungryman special for the whopping price of $7.50. All in the total bill for both of us is $15.00. I hope they can stay in business because it’s finding little places like this that make traveling an adventure.

Hungry Man Breakfast, The Junction, Campbell's Bay
Hungry Man Breakfast, The Junction, Campbell’s Bay

Leaving Campbell’s Bay we take Rte. 148 west to Fort Coulonge and since we have time, decide to take a look around this small town which has some very nice brick buildings and this lovely church. It is St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and was built in the 1800’s by Scottish settlers who dominated the lumber business in this area at the time.

St. Andrews Fort Coulange
St. Andrews Fort Coulonge

Just west of Fort Coulonge we round a bend in the highway and see this. WOW!

Pont Marchand, Fort Coulonge
Pont Marchand, Fort Coulonge

I had no idea there was a covered bridge of this magnitude in Quebec. The covered bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick is the longest in the world at 1,282 feet, considerably longer than Pont Marchand as this bridge is called, but this is still one very impressive covered bridge. On closer inspection we find it is closed to any type of traffic, including pedestrian and apparently, while everyone agrees it needs to be restored, the funds have not been allocated. Tomorrow we will visit a community where the covered bridge has been restored and provides a great boon to local tourism. I can only hope that the Fort Coulonge bridge gets the same tlc from its community.

Pont Marchand 1898, Fort Coulonge
Pont Marchand 1898, Fort Coulonge

Not far past the covered bridge is the turnoff for the Chutes du Coulonge and we are soon ready for the major adventure of the day.

Chutes du Coulonge

Welcome to Chutes du Coulonge
Welcome to Chutes du Coulonge

The organization that runs Chutes du Coulonge decided some time ago that it needed more than just the falls and gorge to convince tourists to make the detour to this fairly remote area of Quebec. First they added a zipline and suspension bridge and then a via ferrata on which intrepid visitors could literally scale the canyon walls. Via ferrata, which literally means ‘iron road’ in Italian, were first used in the Dolomitic alps in the 19th century to link remote communities. Imagine an iron ladder going up the side of a cliff and you have the idea.

I’ve never been on a via ferrata, but in a few minutes that’s about to end. We sign up for the full meal deal which includes the zipline, the via ferrata and the aerial obstacle course which is a completely separate attraction. Our fee also allows us to simply go look at the falls if we want to.

The waiver we are made to sign is quite detailed and we have to print out a sentence that effectively means, “You guys are insane and if you get killed doing this it’s your own fault and not ours”. Fair enough, I know some friends who will think we are insane doing this. Here we are ready to go – the fact I’m writing this now is kind of a tipoff that things turned out OK.

Chutes du Coulonge
Ready to rock – climb that is

The zipline is first and it’s a good one as ziplines go – 800 feet over the raging waters some fifty feet below. Here comes Dale in for the landing.

Chutes du Coulonge
Dale on the first zipline

Then we cross a narrow suspension bridge to get to the via ferrata. That’s our guide, Corey in the background.

Chutes du Coulonge
Crossing the gorge to get to the via ferrata

It takes about an hour to climb back to where we began using a combination of small bridges, ledges and the iron railings and ladders that have been drilled into the cliff face. Here’s the view from one of the small bridges.

Chutes du Coulonge
Looking down

We are clipped into either hooks, rails or rungs at all times so there is no danger of actually falling into the gorge. This gives me a sense of safety that allays any fear of heights – maybe foolishly, but it does.

Chutes du Coulonge
What me worry?

Back at the zipline entrance the next step is to recross the river on a very precarious bridge. Here’s Dale and Corey on it.

Chutes du Coulonge
Dale and Corey on the 2nd bridge

And the view looking down from it.

Chutes du Coulonge
Bridge over troubled water

The next part is the hardest as it’s straight up the cliff. Here’s Dale and Corey looking like two flies on a wall.

Chutes du Coulonge
On the final cliff face

After that, it’s another zipline back over the gorge and viola, it’s done.

After the via ferrata we do the aerial obstacle course which would be worthy of a visit on its own. Oh and did I mention that they have a great waterfall here? Have a look.

Chutes du Coulonge
Chutes du Coulonge

The good news is, if you don’t have a death wish you can simply pay to walk the grounds and view the falls.

I am quite frankly amazed that I am not completely exhausted after these exertions, until we start walking back to the car and it feels like two fifty pound weights have been attached to my knees. I don’t know if it’s caused by tired muscles or a delayed terror reaction.

Back at Camp Leslie, Rene and Lise have moved on and we have the place to ourselves. Dale goes for a swim and I have a rest, well deserved or not.

Swimming in Otter Lake
Swimming in Otter Lake

That night the stars are even more magnificent than the night before and the quietude tranquilizing. If the essence of being Canadian is an appreciation and respect for the great woods and lakes that make up most of the country, then tonight, with a campfire burning and loons calling, we are Canadian and we are doing it in Quebec.

Bon nuit.


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