Why you must visit the Foresta Lumina in Coaticook Gorge


Foresta Lumina – A Must Visit Attraction in Coaticook Gorge

It’s time to move on again in our RV trip to Quebec. This morning we are leaving Yamaska National Park, where we have enjoyed two wonderful days, cycling the park, biking down Mount Bromont and visiting Granby Zoo.We are headed for the town of Compton, deep in the Eastern Townships and later the mysterious Foresta Lumina.  It should take us just over an hour, but I have a couple of stops planned on the way. The countryside is rolling hills and dairy farms interspersed with the lakes that have long made this area of Quebec a haven for tourists, francophones and anglophones alike. We pass by the small city of Magog at the head of huge Lake Memphremagog and the tourist town of Ayer’s Cliff on the shores of Lake Massawippi before passing through Hatley and reaching the outskirts of Compton.

Le Station Fromagerie

Our first stop is at Le Station Fromagerie where they have been making cheese for four generations from the raw milk produced by the farm’s organically raised Holstein cows. You don’t find those type of cheeses every day.

Le Station Fromagerie, Compton
Le Station Fromagerie, Compton

As with all Quebec fromageries, Le Station offers free samples of their products and after trying all six and considerable debate, we opt for the semisoft Comtomme and the much firmer Alfred, named after farm founder, Alfred Bolduc.

Le Station cheese offerings
Le Station cheese offerings

Louis St. Laurent National Historic Site

Our next stop is inside the village of Compton which despite its tiny size, is the hometown of one of Canada’s most beloved Prime Minister’s, Louis St. Laurent. The house where St. Laurent was raised and the general store his father ran are now part of Louis St. Laurent National Historic Site and Dale and I are going to drop in for a visit. He was the Prime-Minister when I was born (not that I remember it) and was responsible for some very important Canadian decisions like joining NATO, accepting Newfoundland as the tenth province and starting the equalization program that has benefited Quebec and the Atlantic provinces immensely.

Outside the St. Laurent N.H.S.
Outside the St. Laurent N.H.S.

Here is the exterior of the store.

St. Laurent General Store, Compton
St. Laurent General Store, Compton

And the interior, where it appears to have been a true general store selling everything from soup to nuts and lots more. Aside from food items there is clothing, hardware and lots of candy.

Food for Sale
Food for Sale

Inside the home there is this poster which explains why the Eastern Townships started out as overwhelmingly English and is now overwhelmingly French.

Demographic Transformation
Demographic Transformation

Here is the living room and notice the book on the settee. It’s Gone with the Wind in English, reflecting the fact that St. Laurent’s mother was of Irish descent and that both official languages were spoken in the home. Thus Louis grew up as a truly bilingual Canadian, unlike some other Prime Ministers I can think of; including a recent one who was said be fluent in neither French nor English.

Look what they are reading
Look what the St. Laurent’s were reading

I have to disagree with the Canadian Encyclopedia entry that describes the St. Laurent family as poor. The home looks more than comfortable including this very cozy kitchen.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen

And how many poor homes have a children’s play kitchen like this one, where everything is about one third regular size.

Children's Kitchen
Children’s Kitchen

After our visit to the St. Laurent home we make the short trip to Camping de Compton where we are scheduled to stay for the last two nights of the trip. Even though the place appears to be jam packed with regular campers here to enjoy what might be the last great weekend of the summer, we are given a very nice spot that overlooks the Coaticook River valley.

In preparing for this trip I was advised by Quebec tourism officials that I shouldn’t miss the Foresta Lumina in Coaticook which takes place only after dark. We have tickets booked for tonight, but first we are going to check out what I am told is a very nice restaurant right next to the entrance of Foresta Lumina.

Coffret de l’Imagination – Foresta Lumina

It’s a short drive to Coaticook (pronounced Co-at-i-cook and not Coat-i-cook) where there seems to be one hell of a lot of cars looking for places to park. Fortunately we find the restaurant’s parking lot and get a good space close to both the restaurant and Foresta Lumina. The restaurant is Coffret de l’Imagination which is located in an old industrial brick building in the Coaticook Gorge. Thank goodness we have a reservation because it is packed to the gunnels with a lineup outside. Dale and I are given a table for two in a room dominated by brick and word and decorated with what I can best describe as imaginative artwork.

We both decide to have the four course table d’hote du terrior which features local products and is very reasonably priced. It starts with a shot of cassis from Domaine Ives Hill in Compton. Cassis is a traditionally French liqueur made from black currants and I had no idea they made it in Quebec, or anywhere in Canada, for that matter. Obviously someone at Domaine Ives Hill learned the secret because this stuff is delicious.

Next up for me is a raclette, which is is a melted cheese dish made from raclette cheese made at Le Station Fromagerie  which we visited this morning. Dale has escargots and mushrooms which are swimming in butter made from fermented garlic flowers grown at Le Petit Mas. Here’s what delicious appetizers look like.

Foresta Lumina Raclette
Foresta Lumina Escargot and Mushrooms
Escargot and Mushrooms

For the main course I have a chicken crepe with asparagus and Dale has a combo of locally grown trout and smoked salmon. Here’s what delicious main courses look like. Those veggies on both plates taste fresh, fresh, fresh.

Foresta Lumina Chicken Crepe
Chicken Crepe with Asparagus
Foresta Lumina Trour & Smoked Salmon
Trout with Smoked Salmon

For dessert it’s a great Quebec tradition, a maple syrup tart with ice cream from Coaticook cremerie.

Foresta Lumina Dessert
Sugar tart and Coaticook ice cream

Total price for this feast for two with a glass of wine each, plus coffee – $88 bucks! That certainly puts us in a good mood heading to the Foresta Lumina.

Foresta Lumina

There is a huge lineup waiting to get into the Foresta Lumina, a combination of families with very young kids, giddy teenagers and quite a few older couples. I still have no clue what Foresta Lumina is all about and can’t gather much from the surrounding conversations, mostly in French. It appears that they let in groups of about 25 at a time with a five minute interval in between and for whatever reason, it looks like everyone from the Eastern Townships is here in Coaticook tonight. This is the only picture I took that turned out and it is only of the entrance. For some reason it reminds me a bit of the opening words of Dante’s Inferno, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

Foresta Lumina Entrance
Entrance to Foresta Lumina

After waiting about fifteen minutes we join a group that is let in through a narrow opening and we begin the journey through Foresta Lumina. It’s very difficult to describe the experience in words other than to say that if you take a large slice of Lord of the Rings, especially the elfin Rivendell, add a touch of Stephen King, a dollop of The Walking Dead and the final scene of Close Encounters of the Third Kind you might get an idea of why thousands of people are drawn here tonight.

For your viewing pleasure, as Rod Serling would say, I attach this video from theMoment Factory which gives a much better idea of what Foresta Lumina is all about.

There are a number of highlights I should mention including the entryway which did remind me of Rivendell, the dozens of people crossing the suspension bridge in the dark (that’s where The Walking Dead reference rings true) and my favourite, the thousands of points of light on the walls of the gorge. I wonder if George H.W.Bush ever came here to actually see a thousand points of light.

Is it scary? Sort of – certainly would be for kids. Is it interesting? Definitely – I can’t think of anything similar in a natural setting. Is it worth the $16.00 entry fee? For sure.

When we emerge from the gorge an hour or so later there are still throngs of people waiting to get in as if drawn by some invisible power they cannot resist. Driving back to Compton I decide we must return to see Coaticook gorge in daylight. Bon soir et des rêves agréables.