We arrived to the solitude of Pointe-des-Monts, in the moonlight, along a narrow, lonely road cut through the dense forest. Its lighthouse, silhouetted against the sky, was dark and mysterious. The reception we received at the nearby Gite de la Chapelle, was warm and friendly. Sited up the shore from the towering lighthouse, it is a collection of log cabins, with an exceptional dining room. And – after a three-hour drive from Tadoussac on Highway 138, along Quebec's stunning, north shore coastline – we were ready for what the Gite had to offer.
The small dining room has the Quebecois country look, with simple furnishings and a spectacular view of the sea. For our candlelit dinner – smoked salmon from the Gaspe, a delicate shrimp bisque, ocean-fresh pan-fried sea trout, locally grown carrots, and a delicate chocolate mousse cake for dessert were on the menu, accompanied by a full-bodied, white wine from the extensive cellar of our genial host, Jean Louis Frenette.
When discussing the daily special, Frenette explained, “Our European customers like ragout of seal meat, prepared in the traditional way of the local villagers. They enjoy its rich dark flavour. And no, it does not have a fishy taste. But it's not on the menu today.”
Lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves splashing on the shore, and caressed by a gentle breeze through the open window, sleep for me was soundless. But for my sister and favourite traveling companion, her night was interrupted. At breakfast the next morning she explained, “I heard voices in my room, and my watch stopped for half an hour.”
“Are there ghosts around?” I asked our waitress.
“Phantoms, yes. There have been many shipwrecks off the point. Lots of people have drowned or starved to death before the lighthouse was built.”
“Do some still haunt the shore?”
“In the lighthouse, maybe even around here, there are plenty of mysteries. We have heard of sea monsters, ghostly sailing ships and strange firelights.”
The tall, white lighthouse with the distinctive red stripes, told the story. Now a museum, it has a colourful history. Built in 1829, at the most treacherous part of the St. Lawrence River, it stands on a small island at the tip of a long point that juts into the sea. The light from its lamp, fueled by seal oil, and the booming of its two canons warned passing ships of the dangers ahead. Despite the warnings, there were plenty of catastrophes in the wild autumn storms. Ships foundered on its reefs. Sailors either drowned, or if lucky, were rescued. Crowded into the lighthouse, they lived with the light keeper and his family for the winter. With no road access, the light keeper, his family, a small band of Montagnais, a few hunters and sealers and the marooned sailors led a lonely and isolated life until a supply boat came in the spring.
Climbing the worn stone steps inside the lighthouse tower to examine the artifacts on each of its seven floors, we found it hard to imagine how so many people existed inside these damp stonewalls. With its ghostly atmosphere it felt more like a medieval prison than a home. But the kitchen, bedrooms, and pictures on display, indicate that people occupied all seven floors.
As immigration to the new world increased, more and more ships carrying their human cargo, foundered on the treacherous shoals off Pointe-des-Monts. To house these survivors of the storms that now included women and children, a two-storey light keeper's house was built right beside the tower. The light keepers kept on living there until the 1960's, when the lighthouse was decommissioned, and replaced by a satellite navigational system. Slated for demolition, Jacques and Marie-Berthe Landry, the last light keepers, persuaded officials of Transport Canada to spare their tower and have it declared a historic site.
“Starting my guest accommodation near the lighthouse,” Frenette told us, “happened almost by accident. I had a summer place here and I made a sudden decision to be an innkeeper and a restaurant owner.” His 19 cabins all with ocean views are strung along the shore on the edge of the untamed wilderness. Furnishings are cozy, simple and comfortable. The larger ones with their own kitchenettes are popular with guests who stay for a couple of weeks.
From the wide verandah of our cabin overlooking the sea, we watched shore birds swoop, the kitty hawk plunge and the whales spout, leap, dive and surface again. So out came our cameras to photograph the marine life of dolphins, porpoises and whales as well as the incomparable scenery of a shoreline, that hasn't changed since the early explorer Jacques Cartier first passed by in 1534.
With the waves rolling in and the sun overhead, we found plenty to see and do around the lighthouse. Close to the dining room, there's a little, closed up chapel, built by Catholic missionaries, who arrived at the end of the 19th century to convert the small band of Montagnais who lived by seal hunting in the winter and fishing in the summer. The chapel is a ghostly reminder of these seafaring people, now gone, and whose last chief, Gabriel Ashinini is reputed to haunt the shore looking for his lost sons who mysteriously drowned on a calm and windless day.
When exploring the grounds, picking the wild blueberries or just gazing at the sea loses its enchantment, a walk along the shale beach gathering up bits of driftwood from a long ago shipwreck sets the imagination on fire. What happened to the sailors, marooned on the shores, to the light keepers and their families, the missionaries, the Montagnais? Do their ghosts still haunt the shore on a dark and stormy night? Maybe they do.
With gourmet meals, a comfortable cabin and incomparable scenery our stay at Gite de la Chapelle had proved once again that the most inaccessible places are the best ones to visit.
How to Get There
By car: Gite de la Chapelle is three hours east from Tadoussac along Hwy 138, approximately
25 km east of Godbout; turn right to Phare-du-Monts.
By Ferry: From Matane on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River to Godbout on the north shore then east 25km right turn to Phare-du-Monts.
Lodging Prices at Le Gite
de la Chapelle
Chalets over looking the sea, about 1 km from the lighthouse, with private bath: $59-$69 per night for 2 persons.
Chalets completely equipped with kitchenette, dishes, etc. overlooking the sea: $68-$105 for four persons. Extra charge for additional persons.
Breakfast included, lunch and dinner extra.
Excursions: Salmon fishing in the Baie Trinite River, angle for sea trout from the wharf at Baie Trinite, fish for lake trout in an inland lake.
Scuba dive to explore the ship of Admiral Phipps, which sunk near Baie Trinite in 1690.
Kayaks can be rented.
Mountain bikes are available to explore the back roads.
Jean Louis Frenchette
Address: 1684 Boul Joliet, Baie Comeau,
Reservations in season: (418) 929-2332
Winter: (418) 689-8408
This story appeared in the
October 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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