Imagine a getaway so close to Quebec City that you can escape to for the day and be back home by dinner.
Escape to a not-so far-away place just outside Quebec City
The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Jean-Paul-Riopelle Nature Reserve is on the small island of Île-Aux-Grues. The island stretches just seven kilometres from its most northern tip, south to the nature reserve.
Gabrielle Cauchon-Déry, project coordinator in NCC’s Quebec Region, calls this area her special getaway spot, and makes a point to invite visitors here to take in the serenity of the island.
“There’s a special feeling that comes over you when you visit this place,” she says. “There’s something extraordinary about this remote island that’s filled with an abundance of plants and birds. You feel like you’re on a getaway – even though you’re just a 20-minute ferry ride away from the city. As soon as you get there, the atmosphere changes. It’s so calm and quiet.”
Escaping to a destination doesn’t always require a plane ride, unless you’re planning to visit the island in the winter. Visitors can access the area, which is open year round, by ferry in the summer.
“Once you step off the ferry and cross the island to the reserve, you’re immersed in nature,” says Gabrielle. “There’s a large, 300-year-old forest here that embraces you when you arrive.”
Explore a remote island
Despite the forest’s location on a part of the island called Pointe aux Pins, which in English means Pine Point, Gabrielle says it is mostly comprised of sugar maple trees with a few pine and butternuts scattered throughout. The old forest also boasts a unique collection of plants. On the island’s shore, you may come across Victorin’s water-hemlock, a species at risk in Canada.
“I always enjoy seeing Victorin’s water-hemlock around the property. This plant is special because it only occurs in a particular area. And to see it bloom, you need to be in the right place, at the right time,” says Gabrielle.
“The purple, bell-like flower will only open on very sunny days. You’re very lucky when you’re able to see them open!”
Formerly the site of a maple sugar refinery, this 48.6-hectare (120-acre) property is located where, other than a cheese factory and farms with cows used to make the cheese, nature dominates the isle.
“I recommend taking your bike here to get to the property to and explore the island,” suggests Gabrielle. “It’s wonderful to take in the fresh air as you ride along the coast.”
A migratory bird oasis
The Jean-Paul-Riopelle Nature Reserve is also a haven for migratory birds. The property is located on the Eastern Flyway, one of four North American flyways used by migrating birds, and the skies are alive with birds in the spring and fall.
“I came here on a birding trip organized by local community members in May 2016. It was very interesting to go into the forest with an experienced guide who was very passionate about the birds,” recalls Gabrielle. “It was a special moment to see all the migrating birds flying above us as we walked along the trail.”
The point’s extensive sandbars, designated as a Waterfowl Gathering Area by the Government of Quebec, are a great place to spot migratory bird species, such as northern shoveler.
A great view
If birds aren’t your thing, take in the view of the St. Lawrence River as you look across it from one of NCC’s designated lookout points along one of five hiking trails.
“The views of the St. Lawrence seen from the various viewpoints are incredible,” says Gabrielle. “You make your way through the magnificent maple forest and then, through the treeline on the shore, you can see a panoramic view of the river. One day, in winter, I saw bright blue water peeking out through the snow and trees. It was incredible to see it moving below.”
Nature as work and play
In her role as a project coordinator for NCC’s Quebec Region, Gabrielle works to ensure that this landscape can be enjoyed now and by future generations of Canadians.
“We are a part of nature,” she says. “In our everyday life, it’s easy to forget this. When you explore nature, you remember this. It helps put it into perspective. I think it helps people to understand that we need to take care of nature.”
Landscapes like Jean-Paul-Riopelle in Quebec have become a part of Gabrielle, and she hopes to share it with visitors to the area and her future children.
“Nature is a part of my life, in every aspect. I work here and spend most of my free time here. It’s a part of who I am and it’s a part of what I am.
“I can’t remember my life without nature. When I have kids, I want to be able to share this place with them.”
Photo Credits (Top to bottom): NCC; NCC; Frederic Coursol; Allison Haskell; Lorne.