The Ultimate Eastern Canada Adventure

By Jennifer Patterson

Imagine yourself exploring the marvels of rugged wilderness nestled amongst exciting new places that feel exotic yet just like home. Welcome to Eastern Canada.  

  While I had already been many times before, this time, I opted for an expedition cruise with Adventure Canada: Mighty Saint Lawrence on the Ocean Endeavour. In this unique 10-day journey, travellers are introduced to geological wonders, the culture of French Canada, beautiful biological diversity, and so much more. And if you still need another reason to add this one-of-a-kind itinerary to your bucket list, it just so happens to be one of National Geographic Traveller's 50 Tours of a Lifetime.  

 This small ship journey starts in historic Québec City, cruises along the St. Lawrence River while also going right into its Gulf, before stopping in Saguenay Fjord, Gaspé Bay, P.E.I., Cape Breton, the Magdalen Islands, and finishing off in Saint-Pierre.  

An Original French-Canadian Experience 

 In the charming city of Québec, there is so much to see and do. I highly recommend arriving a few days early, so you have plenty of time to explore this fortified city's historical cobblestone roads. There have been many restorations to the original stone buildings, which boast incredible craftsmanship and leave you in awe of their beauty.  

 Walking the quaint windy streets while quickly discovering folk art, antique shops, museums, and even Québec's iconic fashion department store, Simons (like the Hudson's Bay but even more boujee). Of course, there is also a wide variety of restaurants featuring Québec's more traditional (and delicious) cuisine, such as tourtière, pea soup, and fèves au lard, to name a few.  

 With a happy belly, our next stop was at the prestigious Château Frontenac, where we introduced our palette to Ungava gin and tonic. This local gin is made using six rare botanicals from the Canadian Arctic tundra, making it a wildly distinctive drinking experience.  

 On our way to the Plains of Abraham, we visited the Forts-et-Chateaux-Saint-Louis, Parks Canada's newest park, located under the Terrasse Dufferin, the walkway in front of the Frontenac hotel - it is the original wall city!  

All Aboard the Ocean Endeavour  

 We boarded the Ocean Endeavour from the new ship terminal in the lower part of Old Québec. It was a gorgeous evening, and the views of Québec City were spectacular, giving way to some fantastic photo ops. We cruised further down the St. Lawrence, passing by the many farms which have granted the area an esteemed reputation for its food. From there, we sailed by Grosse Île, once the main immigration gateway to Canada and quarantine station for the port of Québec.  

 Fun Fact: My great, great, great, great grandfather was the medical superintendent of the Grosse-Île Quarantine Station in 1869, a post he held for thirty years! He was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame for his work there

 Up the Saguenay River, we went to the Parc du Saguenay, and as we sailed back down, we spotted the famous white belugas! We disembarked at the town of Tadoussac, located on the corner of the two rivers. Here we were greeted by the locals with wonderful traditional music and met with the inviting flavours of the Charlevoix region. During our free time, we enjoyed the views from the different lookouts, hit up the local museums, and treated ourselves to a beer at the stunning Hotel Tadoussac, abundant in magical sights of the bay, rivers, and La Petite Chapelle.  

 La ‘Joie De Vivre’ continues 

Our next stop was high on my list of places to visit: Les Jardins de Métis - Reford Gardens. Elsie Reford, between 1926 and 1958, developed the gardens. Originally a family fishing lodge, Elsie transformed the land into traditional gardens now recognized as one of Canada's national sites. These are the northernmost gardens in Eastern North America, complemented by an international festival of contemporary gardens, the family home with exhibits, a dining room that showcases food from the gardens, and a great garden & gift shop. I admit I did drop some money at the shop! The gardens are a lovely place to wander through - a true photographer's delight and a gardener's heaven.  

 La joie de vivre represents a vitality and enjoyment of life, and in our last few days in Québec, the joy we felt was electric. Our final moments had us in Gaspé Bay and Percé Rock.  

Despite the rain and fog, we had a great hike in parc national Forillon. And as often happens in travels, the clouds cleared, and Mother Nature gifted us with perfect weather for our zodiac cruising along Parc National de L'Île – Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé! Lucky for us, thanks to our choice of transportation (the zodiac), we were able to get close enough for some stellar shots. Having the ship and fishing boats in the background made it even better! Then the zodiac took us to Bonaventure Island to view the hundreds of thousands of gannets and murres that nest on the rocks as we said our thank yous and goodbyes to extraordinary Québec.  

Unearthing Canada's little slice of island paradise  

 With open hearts, we sailed to Summerside, Prince Edward Island, where the local bagpipers greeted us. I had been to P.E.I. before and visited Cavendish Beach & Anne of Green Gables, so on this trip, I opted to go to the Lennox Island First Nation - L'nui Mnikuk where the beat of the drums moved me as I learned more about the community and their history. The people were kind, welcoming, and very proud, as they should be! 

 Choosing who you travel with is an important decision, and this point in the itinerary revealed the soul behind a company like Adventure Canada. As part of their trips, a discovery fee is collected and used toward the communities that are visited. It was pretty special to see this in action with Cedar Swan, CEO of Adventure Canada, presenting the community leaders with a USD 1500 donation for their community centre upgrades.  

 From there, we could explore the town in the afternoon or tour the Confederation Bridge. I decided to check out the local craft market and try the local restaurants (I highly recommend Open Bar). 

 A perfect day in quintessential Nova Scotia  

 The voyage continued, taking us to Chéticamp in Cape Breton next. For this landing, we had many options: walking the Skyline Trail or the Acadian Trail, cycling, golfing, or simply exploring the town. We chose to go for an easy hike through the Acadian Trail. Our Parks Canada guide took us through the tranquil woods, with clear, cold running streams, up the mountain to the boreal forest, where we had lunch paired with a stellar vista of the town and sea. The others who did the Skyline Trail had equally memorable views - and they planted about 50 trees in a reforestation area! 

 Back in town, we headed to one of the cafés and even though we had already had lunch, we just had to have the catch of the day: lobster! And what a huge serving it was! The best part? It tasted unbelievably fresh and was super cheap. With extra full (and happy) bellies, we headed to the local pub to listen to the musicians featuring fiddling. Andre, one of the crew members from the ship and an accordion musician from Québec, joined in. It made for some terrific music! Adventure Canada always features local musicians, which makes sense, as music is very big in Eastern Canada, especially the Maritimes. 

 A whole new world… 

 We left that evening, heading to the Magdalen Islands, but due to strong winds, our expedition leader decided to go straight to Saint-Pierre, France. Mother Nature plays a significant role in expedition cruising, she gives and takes, and as travellers - we embrace where the journey leads us. In this case, it took us to France, so how could we complain?  

 It seems strange that these islands are part of France when they are so close to Newfoundland - under 30 km away! While closely intertwined, the island feels precisely like France, something I attribute to the distinct accents, shops, cars, and houses. There are some excellent stories to be heard about smuggling escapades that happened between the two countries.  

 We did another walk in the fog, giving our photos a flawless, all-natural no-filter-needed finish. 

Since we were in France, we decided to head to town for a magnifique French dinner - with French wine, of course.  

 Pull out the passports, we're going back to Canada! 

 The next day we took the zodiac over to Sailor's Island. I loved this place a lot. Our local guide was brilliant and used the art of storytelling to immerse us in the island's history in a way that we felt transported back in time. Back in the day, the island had 800 people, a hotel, a church, a school, a pub, and a sizable cod-drying business.  Now no one lives on the island, and with the graveyard and shipwreck, you would think it feels depressing - but it doesn't. They have since renovated the church, the school, and many of the homes - which are now gaining popularity as summer homes. The colours of the houses are vibrant, fun, and a photographer's heaven with their bright yellows, grassy green, and glowing reds! 

Why do all good things come to an end? 

 Most travellers ended their adventure here, opting to fly from St. Pierre to St. John's. We, however, stayed aboard the ship to sail to St. John's, where we arrived early in the morning. Sailing into the harbour, we did pass an iceberg, making the extra leg of the trip well worth it. Some lucky passengers were staying on the ship for the next expedition going to Sable Island, one of Canada's furthest offshore islands with strict guidelines (it only opened to the public in 2013, and you must be on a trip to visit the island). Known for its wild horses, birds, and lighthouses - that's one more place I’ll be adding to my bucket list.  

 To me, an expedition cruise is the best way to experience eastern Canada. The trip's highlights were Reford Garden, Sailor Island in St. Pierre, visiting the Mikquag community, hiking the Cabot trail, and eating lobster! There are plenty of other ways to go from city to city, but nothing beats a cruise for relaxing and seeing the most beautiful places you might otherwise not get to pass by. Bon voyage!  

About the ship (Ocean Endeavour) 

 Some may think that the Ocean Endeavor is a bigger ship since it carries up to 198 passengers, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was still true to the small ship experience. There is tons of space inside and outside for viewing, ample space for lectures, a room for yoga, a hot tub, a small swimming pool, and two saunas! The dining room is large enough to seat everyone, but the way it's done makes it feel cosy and intimate. There is even a separate space for music and entertainment. The cabins are a good size, all with their own bathroom, which is key. There is a huge drying room where guests have their own cupboard to store their outdoor gear (another helpful feature). Lastly, there are two disembarkment stations so getting off the ship is a smooth and seamless process. Adventure Canada has a high guest-to-crew ratio, so this helped with landings making them smooth and easy. Most times, we broke up into smaller groups, and by the end of the trip, I am pretty sure I had met everyone! On top of the excellent amenities, the ship's crew provided outstanding service that gave the whole experience a family feel. 

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