Editor’s note: Around this time last year, Calgary photographer Lori Andrews travelled to Quebec to experience the Traversée de la Gaspésie. Typically, the annual celebration — attended on average by more than 200 dedicated winter sports enthusiasts — is pinned on the crossing of the province’s Gaspé Peninsula. (We covered the event a few years back.) But given that Montreal was celebrating its 375th birthday, event organizers opted to commission a ship to carry athletes from Quebec’s Atlantic coast down the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal, with cross country ski and snowshoe adventure-inspired stops along the way. Here, in artful photos and text, and on the eve of this year’s Feb 17-24 event, Andrews shares highlights of a remarkable journey dubbed the “Grande traversée du Saint-Laurent.”
T&C: Tell us about this story’s lead photo, shown above. Looks cold!
Lori Andrews: Here we are in Parc national des Grands-Jardins where we reached the summit of Mont du Lac des Cygnes. The climb was steep and through the trees, but the last few hundred metres were completely exposed. Everyone had to put on their warm gear fast! Once up at the top, there was a spontaneous chorus of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” as one of the participants had carried up a ghetto blaster. Many hugs and tears were shed. The light was incredible and the view was enhanced by a fog that alternately appeared, dissipated and then re-appeared. The experience was at first singular but then it became a group moment, which I have not forgotten to this day. I loved it.
T&C: Your itinerary was ambitious — with stops along the way that included visits to Parc national Forillon, Reserve faunique de Matane, La Malbaie (Parc national des Grands-Jardins), Vieux-Quebec and Montreal. Can you tell us a bit about how you began each day?
Lori Andrews: The day’s plans were announced in the lounge in the mornings and everyone would go outside at the required time and load onto buses for either skiing or snowshoeing. It was a sea of adventurers — in this case about 400 people! Everyone was always so excited before the big day ahead. The organization of the crowds was seamless and pleasant.
T&C: The TDLG, from what we gather, is as much about francophone culture as it is a celebration of winter. How did that go for you, as an anglophone from Alberta?
Lori Andrews: This was my first real immersion in Quebecois culture. What I learned quickly is that fitness is a way of life in Quebec, and that these people are very generous with their time, ideas, conversation and smiles. It’s a very happy place to be. I’d recommend this experience to anyone who is curious about the province. Music was everywhere on this trip. I had to try and capture that. In the above photo, we had stopped for lunch and warm drinks in a fabulous hut where the band played the entire time. All this, in the middle of a totally fun snowshoe adventure!
T&C: You returned especially impressed by the ship, the CTMA Vacanciers, that escorted your group to Montreal. Tell us about it.
Lori Andrews: This lounge was my first impression of our ship and I was instantly smitten. I really liked the original details and the retro vibe and the deep red of the chairs. It was the most charming room I could have hoped for and perfectly summed up the entire vibe of the trip. I think I spent more than half my ship time on this seven-day adventure sitting right in this room. It’s my favourite visual memory — this lounge, the people I met sitting in these chairs and the stories I heard. It’s worth mentioning here that Quebecois celebrities are often invited on the TDLG. When I was there, I got to meet former astronaut (and current Governor General of Canada) Julie Payette, comedian Emmanuel Bilodeau and actor Sophie Faucher.
T&C: You mentioned in earlier conversations that the TDLG experience was full of surprises. Can you tell us more?
Lori Andrews: At one point, we were snowshoeing along the coastline and as I came around the bend I could hear classical music coming from the water. I had to rub my eyes at this sight! The organizers had planned a little dancing nun performance art as a surprise for the participants. The dancers moved slowly and it was really mesmerizing. This moment was a highlight, really, as it was so unexpected and felt like a mirage. But the whole trip was like this. I never knew what was around the corner.
T&C: You also got to go on a dog sledding adventure. Tell us about it.
Lori Andrews: It was suggested that I should spend one day dog sledding. I went with preconceived notions of what that would entail. In Alberta, a guide runs the dogs while you sit comfortably, wrapped in a warm blanket and enjoying the view. Not here. I was informed that we the participants would be running the dogs and the sleds. Crazy rickety wooden sleds with giant anchors to throw out of the passenger seats to slow down if needed. It was terrifying and fun. I partnered with a new friend who spoke about 20 words of English to match my 20 words of French. We had a great time! The dogs were beautiful. I love how this image makes it look as though we were in control of the sled. Not the case at all.
T&C: What was it like travelling on the St. Lawrence Seaway in January?
Lori Andrews: Icebergs! Large waves! At one point, we were stuck on the boat for an entire day because the weather conditions had made it too dangerous to dock. That was pretty fun, with dozens of instant activities introduced — like yoga, capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art), music and movies. Everyone who had a skill, talent or story shared them with the boat that day. I’ll never forget arriving off the shore of Quebec City to this ethereal view. Pretty cool from a boat. There was a captain switch near here. Right in the water! A small tug pulled up beside us and the new captain walked a gangplank onto the boat. When we could eventually get to shore, I visited old Quebec City with a new friend for the day.
T&C: Final reflections on this unique adventure now that you’re back in Alberta?
Lori Andrews: Well, if you spend any amount of time in Quebec during winter, you quickly realize why fur is everywhere. The cold bites through everything! The language barrier doesn’t concern me anymore — especially after having learned this in a Montreal café. And speaking of cafés, I miss the coffee. I can’t really explain it but everywhere I went in Quebec — whether it was on the boat or in a restaurant — the coffee was exceptional, better than any coffee I’d ever had until that very moment. Go figure.
***Many thanks to Quebec Original and all our partners in tourism — who did not review or edit this story before publication — for supporting our writer. For other Toque & Canoe stories featuring Lori Andrews photography, check out Build a Fire, Stay a While, Chasing the Light in Calgary, Alberta, Exploring Light’s Birthplace, and Hotel Arts: The smart hipster’s sexy new hang-out.
Founded by two Canucks on the loose in a big country, Toque & Canoe is a blog about Canadian travel culture.