Quebec City calls visitors to its storied streets with a European vibe, while the northern village of Tadoussac lures with a cherished splash. Tadoussac whale watching is legendary worldwide and the tidy town sits at the tip of a peninsula about three hours north of the big city. The village is considered one of Canada’s most beautiful and I can’t argue. Beluga whales surface here year-round – Mid- May to October is best – along with Minke, Blue, Humpback and Right whales. Porpoises and hardy Harbor Seals swim near too, but the town itself is a wonder. There are trim, embellished Victorian homes and shops, a wide boardwalk with an inviting beach, historic hotels, and inns – plus lots of outdoor adventures. The population jumps in summer with vacationers who enjoy the bay’s beaches, water sports, and natural beauty. I was there as a guest of Quebec Maritime for a few calm spring days and felt like I had the town to myself.
If you’re plagued with seasickness or want a preview of the region you’ll visit by boat, try Tadoussac Quebec whale watching from the shore. Stroll onto a rambling Parc Saguenay trail from the road above the harbor. The raised wooden walkway leads to wide views of the River inlet with benches to enjoy them from. It’s an easy to moderate hike when the weather’s kind, but bundle up when the wind is chilly. First Nation people pitched tents along the point in the summer. I imagine them spearfishing from the immense boulders along the shore and studying the huge mammals spouting in the river headwaters. Tadoussac whale watching has been enjoyed since prehistoric times.
My Tadoussac Quebec whale watching adventure began with a hike along the trail to Point d’Islet. Drifts of snow, darkened with forest dust, blanketed a few spots between boulders but the temperature was mild. Winters and the maritime history were not as kind. Tadoussac was long a First Nation trading center. By the 1700’s the French were welcome allies with the Algonquin but the waters where the Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence meet had treacherous lessons for European schooners. In 1828 Jos Bouchette, with a crew of explorers, wrote about the nearby Anse-de-Roche harbor: “at low tide…we can see dangerous rock formations but…at high tide, the bay becomes a safe haven for small boats.” After centuries of water trade, the Park Marin du Saguenay – Saint Laurent began conserving the maritime stretch for sailing and recreational boating. Today kayakers enjoy the waters in the warmer months too.
Any Tadoussac Quebec whale watching adventure must include a visit to the Marine Mammal Interpretation Center. I met naturalist, Melanie Bourgue who explained how the center works. Upstairs a research team is part of a thirty-year study of Beluga Whales and other local sea life. There are many questions about fluctuations in the population of Belugas. 2016 was a dark year for the large, white mammals and the species was added to endangered lists. The search for explanations began. Earlier Beluga’s were thought to be decimating cod and salmon populations and the government allowed hunting. Later, this was overturned with the discovery that they don’t eat these fish. They’re still struggling to recover. Toxic cyclical Red Tides, PCB contaminants and Climate Change are now suspects in reducing the small fish populations that the whales depend on. The exciting research continues as scientific groups are sharing studies from both sides of Canada, a new website is being constructed and educational programs are flourishing.
Downstairs at the center, visitors are invited into a state of the art presentation room and immense exhibit hall. Domineering the tall, vaulted ceiling space was a forty foot long Sperm Whale skeleton. Other specimens hung from the ceiling as well. Our guide even showed us how to recreate whale song with a special tube they’ve devised.
Tadoussac Quebec whale watching encounters
Not far from the Center we suited up in yellow long-johns and slickers at Croisieres AML Cruises. I met my fashion match and ended up looking like a Quebec Maritime fisherman’s assistant, don’t you think?!
We hiked down to the waterfront where two large zodiacs with open benches waited at the pier. The ships sat about sixty people each and were open to the elements. As we settled in the bay was calm and no one anticipated how chilly our excursion would be. On the dock, Naturalist Agathe Poitras gave us a review of what we might see and then we were off. The captain skillfully sped out to sea leading us to our first Beluga sighting. It was thrilling to spy the white rounds in the dark water but they came and went very quickly. The white mammals surface just enough to gain a breath and scoop down again into the depths swiftly. We pulled up close to an abandoned lighthouse in the bay and before heading upriver to stare back at Harbor Seals lounging big-eyed on the shore boulders. A long waterfall misted my camera lens as the captain nosed the zodiac in close. Once back on land, we warmed up with chicken broth after wriggling out of our wet weather gear.
Quebec Maritime Cuisine and hospitality
There are many cafes and restaurants along the village main street but I recommend La Galouine Auberge and Restaurant. The inn has very comfortable updated rooms in two locations within a block of each other. The centerpiece is the restaurant and culinary art of indigenous chef, Martin Brisson. His passion for fine cuisine inspires every dish. Continuing a family hospitality tradition, Brisson an Ambassador for Tous Ruraux (whose members work to reaffirm the importance of strong rural roots for all Quebecers.) Our meals were fantastique! and it was wonderful to find his prowess with forest foraging traditions goes into his dishes. My taste buds rejoiced at his maple-smoked salmon and marinated/smoked duck – both created in-house. Dessert was sublime as well. Before leaving town I gathered some of his teas and seasonings, a bottle of berry confit and at the liquor store nearby, a slim bottle of maple whiskey for my foodie friends back home.
Wine tasting at the shore
Before returning to the big city from our the Tadoussac whale watching expedition we took advantage of the sunshine to sip wine and admire the views on the historically strategic Anse-de-Roche harbor. A flat of ice bobbed offshore close to a gazebo where a pair of seasoned locals discussed life. Near the ramp for boaters and kayaks, a couple on ATV’s ran down the hill from town to tackle a huge snowdrift. There’s so much life here! The Quebec wine matched our mood – deep and ruby red like our hearts so full of gratitude for the beauty of the Maritime region.
Where to eat, stay and explore:
- Zodiac excursion and other ships whale watching in the Saguenay – Saint-Laurent Marine Park
- Marine Mammal Interpretation Center – Excellent presentations and interactive displays for kids of all ages.
- La Galouine Auberge and Restaurant – Dip into fine dining highlighted with regional herbs and fruit.
- Chef Brisson’s Terroir Boreal Saveur Natives spices, teas, and sauces traditionally harvested in the Tadoussac region
- Microbrasserie de Tadoussac – Wine shop, artisanal brews, and local hangout
- Cafe Bar Le Gibard – Inexpensive panini and drinks with patio views of the harbor.
- Hotel Tadoussac – Enjoy the old world ambiance of this 150-year-old establishment.
- If you have more than a few days I recommend a farm stay in Sacre Coeur and exploring the lighthouse trail.
Many thanks to WITS and the Quebec Maritime Region for hosting the adventure.