Road Trip Across the Townships: Travelling Back through Time, an 825-metre Ascent, and a Coeur Villageois

Published on Jun 10, 2021

I recently headed out on the road to the Mégantic region, and came back flabbergasted with my stay inside this very unique cosmos, this Eastern Township kingdom bordering on the state of Maine. What a thrill I felt as I reconnected with these grandiose landscapes, as much an invitation to outdoor recreation as to contemplate the remarkable scenery. Of course, there’s the International Dark Sky Reserve and the territory constituting Mount Mégantic, but there’s also so much more.

By Yvan Martineau

The enchantment begins well before we arrive, as we travel up and down on these regional roads—with so many points of view—through the highest mountains of Southern Québec.

Courcelles

First, my wife and I stop in Courcelles. This village of 800 citizens can be found right in the centre of the triangle made up of Thetford Mines to the north, Saint-Georges de Beauce to the east and Lac-Mégantic to the south. It would have been easy to drive right through and completely miss Espace aux rives du temps, with its four attractions on one site, which brought out repeated exclamations from our part. In the Maison-Atelier Tardif, parents and children lived on the first floor while the basement housed (for half a century!) the family’s woodworking business. Oh my God! Our old kitchen! Oh my God! My mother used this! Oh my God! My father owned this tool! And the crucifixes in every room…

In the building next door, the Bernier Mill, both a sawmill and a flour mill, hosts three permanent exhibitions; Women’s Daily Work, Give Us Our Daily Bread and Chemises Perfection intertwine modern life and history.

“Visitors can rent tablets or use their smartphones to scan the barcode; They can then access the video detailing the history of the different rooms or items being exhibited,” explains Karen Lessard, responsible for recreation, culture and communications in Courcelles.

In the stone cellar, a group of artists exhibit their creations. On the grounds, the 1895 railroad bridge is now covered with shrubs. Next door, from the mill’s lookout we can observe the waterfall, the log dam and the small canyon of the Bluets River (Bluets, not Bleuets). The Lambton-Station’s 1895 train car recalls the essential role played by the railways in establishing the municipality. We enjoyed our picnic in the park as we reminisced about the different emotions we felt during our very pleasant tour of Espace Aux Rives du temps site.

Lac-Mégantic

I hadn’t returned to Lac-Mégantic since the 2013 tragedy. Our modern hotel, Le Microtel, is built on the site of the fire and where the town’s Main Street used to be, as are all the new buildings in the area. The reconstruction of the city centre is carried out with an obvious concern for establishing a green city recognition.

The Espace Mémoire, resulting from the creative process of a citizen’s committee, troubles me somewhat. We discover here a sober yet vibrant place of emotion and reflection. But also here, we’re captivated by the Marcheur d’étoiles historical and cultural walking tour, which includes 15 points of interest. Its outdoor photo exhibit and 48 monumental sculptures are well worth the visit.

Some of them are in the postcard setting of Veterans Park. Towards the end of the day, as the sky begins to redden, I wander about the town. I’m amazed by how the park, the colossal trees, the shores of the lake, the mountains on the horizon blend in with the artwork of the Marcheur d’étoiles… I’m truly awestruck with admiration. As I do each time I come here, I repeat to myself that Lac-Mégantic is nestled in the heart of one of the most breathtaking panoramas of Québec.

The Ascension of Mount Gosford

The Tout-de-Joie route right away evokes what this mountain will offer us. A lot of joy, yes, but also a good challenge. Gosford constitutes the highest summit in the southern part of Québec. Its summit culminates at an altitude higher than those of Mount Albert and Mount Logan in the Chic-Choc mountains of Gaspésie. To complete the 17 km summit loop and its 825 metres elevation gain, you’ll need about six hours.

The view that Gosford offers when we reach the top enthralls us. From this 360-degree perspective, we contemplate the landscape. Here, the magnitude is beyond what we could have imagined. No cities in sight! Only the forest and the vast natural spaces. On one side, we can view the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, and even Mount Washington far off on the horizon. On the other side lies the natural region and the border mountains of the Lac-Mégantic area. If you’re looking for still more of an adventure, you can reserve a rustic camp, a lean-to or a camping platform to extend the fun.

As we head back down, a brook meanders along the trail enhancing the hike and offering great photo opportunities. By the way, we should mention Mount Gosford’s Forêt habitée. The “Forêt habitée” approach is a social movement of occupation and use of the public forest territory in order to ensure its sustainability as an ecosystem and its viability as a human environment. Several other trails, covering a total of 40 km, allow ramblers of all calibres to enjoy the area and the impeccable trail directions. And dogs on a leash are allowed everywhere here.

Piopolis and Scotch Cap

The charming town of Piopolis is nestled inside a bay of Lake Megantic. Here your surroundings offer a true invitation for some daydreaming as you enjoy your lunch or stroll along the municipal wharf, watching the sailboats and pontoons come and go, while taking in the fresh air. But a hyperactive person never stays in contemplation mode for very long.

Piopolis offers us a lovely surprise with this nice hike leading up to the top of Scotch Cap Mountain. Legend has it that Scotch Cap keeps a watch over the wetlands at the head of the lake, as well as Mount Megantic and Mount Gosford. We only climb 553 metres and yet, here again, Mother Nature—and the three lookouts—offer us dazzling views of the Lac des Joncs, Lac des Araignées, Lac Mégantic, the marshlands and the Appalachian Mountains. The trail winds its way pleasantly through a magnificent mixed forest where the play of light and shade is a true delight. The ground is more soil than rock which makes it possible to simply wear running shoes. I therefore designate Scotch Cap as a family destination.

Back home, all these names continue to dance in my head. I think of the geographer who, in 1898, stated: “Preserve the sites where dreams can materialize.” The Mégantic region has fortunately been able to do just this!

The Next Time I Find Myself in the Granite Region…

I’ve told you a little about all the spectacular routes that take us across the region. There’s more: a true treasure, the recently paved Route des Sommets, was designed as a tourist attraction and covers almost 200 km. It takes you through 18 towns centres, links 15 summits, the Frontenac and Mont-Mégantic National Parks, several lakes, and many panoramic halts. The route’s website suggests different itineraries, lists all the summits, halts and attractions you’ll find here, as well as all the places where you can go hiking. I’d be curious to know the total elevation gain of these 193 km. I’m thinking it must be an … astronomic number. The Route des Sommets completes the Eastern Townships network or tourist routes along with the Townships Trail and the Route des vins. To be taken by car, motorcycle, or recreational vehicle. Or… On a bicycle! My mouth is watering just by thinking of offering myself this outing.

Yvan Martineau

Yvan Martineau is a “tourism and outdoors” commentator for Cogeco 98.5 fm. He’s also a reporter for the Grands prix cyclistes at TVA Sports and spokesperson for the Salon du vélo de Montréal. He hosted the television series La France à vélo, L'Amérique à vélo (Canal Évasion) and Culture Vélo (TVA).
Yvan's website

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