Highway 138 used to end at Havre-Saint-Pierre, leaving the dozen or so villages along the rugged Basse Côte-Nord (Lower North Shore) cut off from the rest of Québec, as they had been for centuries – so much so that many inhabitants only speak English (most were and are descendants of fishermen from the Channel Islands and Newfoundland). Now Hwy-138 links Havre-Saint-Pierre with Natashquan and three other villages on the 160km stretch. If you make the lonely journey by car – as yet there is no bus – you will receive a welcome unique to a people not long connected by road to the rest of Canada.
Some 69km east of Havre-Saint-Pierre, is the village of BAIE-JOHAN-BEETZ, named after the painter and sculptor whose extraordinary and enormous house (late June to Sept daily 10am–noon & 1.30–4pm; guided tour every 30min; $5; t 418 648 0557, t 1 888 393 0557, w baiejohanbeetz.com) is open to the public.
At the end of the 780km road from Tadoussac, a small church, wooden houses and the old weather-worn huts of cod fishermen are about all there is to see in NATASHQUAN, one-time home of revered Québécois poet Gilles Vigneault. La Vielle École (24 chemin d’en Haut; mid-June to Sept daily 10am–5pm & Oct by appointment; $5; t 418 726 3060), a schoolhouse built in the early twentieth century, proudly displays memorabilia from his life’s works. The century-old general store has been reborn as an interpretation centre (32 chemin d’en Haut; opening details same as Vielle École) focusing on local history; it’s less impressive than the town’s long sandy beach.