Golden beaches, emerald hills and houses painted in a rainbow of hues make Quebec's Magdalen Islands a visual feast.
Photos and story by John Sylvester
Quebec’s Magdalen Islands are a windswept archipelago moored in the middle of Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. On a map they resemble a creation of the abstract painter Jackson Pollock: a series of green daubs strung together by golden strands on a blue background.
The analogy is fitting, for Quebec’s islands are awash in color, from the golden beaches and red cliffs to the emerald hills punctuated with houses in vivid shades of blue, pink, orange, purple and yellow, all surrounded by the blue of ocean and sky. They’re a visual feast.
The “Maggies,” as they’re known locally, may be reached by air from Montreal, but I prefer the five-hour journey by ferry from my home on Prince Edward Island. At the ferry terminal you immediately sense you are going somewhere unique. The French language surrounds you; most of the cars in the ferry line bear Quebec license plates. The Maggies are a favorite summer holiday destination for Quebecois.
From the boat deck your first sight of the Magdalens is of the rolling hills and soaring cliffs of Entry Island. Big Hill, the highest point in the islands, offers a spectacular view. A hike to the top makes Entry Island worth the visit.
You can explore the Maggies by car along the main road, which links the islands from one end to the other. But my wife, Dianne, and I bring bicycles and kayaks for more leisurely exploration.
The wind can be a challenge for cyclists, so you must pick your days for pedaling, but kayakers can usually find a protected shore from which to launch their craft. My favorite place to kayak is the sheltered east coast of Île du Cap aux Meules, where you can paddle into sea caves and around sculpted sandstone sea stacks.
Those stiff breezes are a big draw for wind sport enthusiasts, who flock to Quebec’s islands from across North America during the reliably windy months of August and September. The bright sails of windsurfers and kiteboarders dot the coastline, and the island’s cafes and restaurants buzz with excitement. The annual kite flying festival is another popular event.
Most of the islands’ 13,000 or so inhabitants, called Madelinot, are Acadian, descendants of French settlers deported from the English colonies in 1755. Some escaped to these remote islands, while others made their way to Louisiana, where the Acadians became known as Cajuns. While French is the dominant language of the Madelinot, English is also spoken.
Not surprisingly, most Madelinot earn their living from the sea. Fishing boats crowd the harbors, ready to set out for lobster, crab, scallops, halibut and flounder.
For me, the journey home is always bittersweet. I stand on deck and with a sense of longing watch Quebec’s Entry Island’s hills slowly disappear over the horizon. And I dream of returning soon to the Maggies.
*For more of John’s photography and other travel adventures, be sure to visit johnsylvester.com.