Considered the birthplace of Canada, Gaspé is where, in the summer of 1534, explorer Jacques Cartier erected a cross in the name of King Francois I of France, and just like that, claimed the land for France even though the Mi’kmaq had been occupying the area for decades. Experts at adapting to seasonal changes, the Mi’kmaq were skilled hunter-gatherers noted for their fishing abilities and the birch bark canoes that were capable of crossing open water.
Gaspé endured the usual back and forth of occupation as the French and English battled over the area. While they were doing that, fishermen from Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland and neighboring America crept in and set up shop. The area stabilized enough that Gaspé became a “Province of Quebec.” The town, as it progressed and the railway reached it in 1911, had hoped to become an international shipping and transportation hub. However, Montreal and Halifax harbors overshadowed Gaspé and their ambition was not realized.
The Cross of Gaspé is a monolithic cross made of granite and located near the Bay of Gaspé. Commissioned by the Government of Canada, the cross was installed in 1934 and commemorates the 400th anniversary of the arrival of French explorers in Canada. Carved from a single block of granite, the cross weighs more than 42 tons.
Today, Gaspé is located at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in the Gaspésie-IIes-de-la-Madeleine region of eastern Quebec in Canada and juts out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The name means “lands end.” It is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas of the country. The draw at this port of call is nature. While the town and the people of Gaspé are as welcoming as only Canadians can be, this port is not “touristy.” The town has a population of approximately 15, 000 while with entire Peninsula has 140,000.
Even though this area is not your typical tourist port of call, the stunning coastal scenery, whales that favor the bay during summer, the 120,000 nesting gannets, the rock formations and wooded trails are a stunning celebration of nature well worth seeing.
Fun to Know
Every year about 110,000 northern gannets visit Bonaventure Island off the tip of the Gaspésie Peninsula. In 1971, the Canadian government prohibited people from residing on the island, so the birds have it all to themselves.
Where You Dock in Gaspe – Quebec
The port has one two-sided wharf, and because of the small size, most ships will anchor in the waters surrounding the wharf. Passengers are then tendered to the dock at the marina. The terminal is across the bridge from Gaspe’s downtown, about an 8 minute walk.
The terminal is staffed by the local chamber of commerce who will be happy to provide you with maps of the area and give you ideas of what to visit, and the tourism bureau is next door to the pier parking lot. There is also a restaurant – Sarcelle – next to the dock, which is typically used by those to use the marina.
This is the view of the tender dock from the bridge to downtown. If you move the map you can see a whitish building to the right of the sailboats, which is the tourism bureau.
Getting Around Gaspe – Quebec
It is a short walk – less than 10 minutes – into town from the cruise ship pier, once you have been tendered from the ship.
If you are wanting to take a hike, just outside of the marina where you have been tendered, is a 21-kilometer paved hiking and biking trail. The trail goes to a beach at Haldimand, southeast of Gaspé. The closest place to rent a bike is at Nolin Velo, about a 5 minute drive the tender port.
The public transportation system for the region is Regim. They have regular routes around Gaspe, with the main hub being the Place Jacque Cartier shopping center, which is located across the bridge from the marina. They will take you to Haldimand Beach, among other towns. Also during the summer tourist season, the bus will leave from the shopping center twice daily to take visitors on a 40-minute drive to Forillon National Park.
Taxis will be located in front of the Welcome Pavilion at the dock in Gaspé. If you prefer to call ahead, here are a few services:
Taxi Dery Enr +1 418-269-3348
Air Taxi Brossard +1 450-232-2460
You can get a rental car in Gaspé, but most of those services are located at the airport. If you book a car in advance, they will deliver it to you at the cruise port. You need to know that vehicles are in limited supply and they tend to be more expensive to rent than in other ports of call. You should book a car at least two weeks in advance. Most cruise passengers take a shore excursion to the place they want to see rather than renting a car.
If you choose to rent a car, you will need a valid photo driver’s license, with at least one year of driving experience with no major endorsements on your license. If you are under 25, you will have a “young drivers” fee added to the rate. You will need a major credit card in your name and an additional document that confirms your identity.
The roads in the Gaspé area are in good shape, but traffic signs are in French and the miles per hour are listed in Kilometers. Driving is on the right side of the road.
Here are a couple of services in the area:
Shopping In Gaspe – Quebec
The Gaspe area is home to artists and craftsman so unique souvenirs can be easy to find. Proximity to the ocean makes for nautical-related art pieces and jewelry. Clothing boutiques, ceramics studios and art galleries are located in many of the towns in the vicinity, as well as microbreweries, farmers selling and sampling their wares, fish smokehouses, chocolatiers and more.
There is a shopping “mall” not far from the bridge which spans the river separating the town from the tender dock. While this is not a “big city” mall, there is a little bit of everything. They have clothing and many of the standard items you would find in a mall including a pharmacy, dollar store, liquor store, grocery, and more. It’s also across from the monument to “The Birthplace of Canada.”
This small shopping center is located on the tender-dock side of the river, about a 10 minute walk up a gradual hill. There is a department store, grocery store, a Canadian Tire (it’s not just tires), jewelry store, electronics store, pharmacy, liquor store and a few clothing stores including Claire France and Pentagone.
Rue de la Reine
This street in Gaspe is a quaint stretch with different shops and restaurants, perfect for a short stroll. It’s one block from the bridge, turning left at the Tim Horton’s (stereotypically Canadian, I know). Here are some shops you’ll find along Rue de la Reine, along with an alternate entrance to Place Jacques-Cartier:
This is a good spot to pick up a souvenir. All of the items are from renowned Quebec artisans. There are mittens, hats and handbags made of sealskin. Soap and wool socks and ceramics and glassware, jewelry and more.
This specialty grocery store housed in a cute blue and yellow house carries locally made items including cheese, beer and cider, in-season produce, chocolates, and more. Plus they have a small café, serving up delicious daily specials.
This cute book store is also chuck full of games, puzzles and toys. See books by your favorite authors “en francais.”
Dining In Gaspe – Quebec
Poutine is a signature Quebec dish. It consists of cheese curds and fries that are smothered in gravy. Most of the roadside food stalls and nearly all of the sit-down restaurants have their own version of poutine. Many restaurants also use as many local items for dishes as possible.
Sarcelle is located in the same parking lot as the tender dock and is known for its creative local-ingredient dishes.
This upbeat lounge offers comfort food and craft beer. They serve lobster club with shrimp poutine fries, along with seafood risotto and scallops. They also have a stage area for independent musicians. It is located on the Rue de la Reine, about a 3 minute walk after you cross the bridge from the tender dock.
Also located on Rue de la Reine, Cafe des Artistes is perfect for lunch or dinner. This cafe has a good selection of soup, sandwiches and salads. Run by artists, for the support of artists, the fruit cake, parfait and bagels compliment the cappuccino, smoothies and hot chocolate. They also roast their own coffee onsite.
Also located along the Rue de la Reine, Tetu offers Quebecoise cuisine made with Gaspesie ingredients. Open for lunch and dinner, the ambiance is warm and unpretentious with water views. The food is fresh and tasty and the menu offers unique and comfort items alike – from beef tartare to pizza and fish and chips.
If you plan on renting a car and exploring on your own, here are a few other restaurants a little distance from Gaspe:
Open every day in the tourist season from noon to 9pm, this microbrewery produces craft beer from the Gaspésie region. Pair your craft beer with smoked fish, cod, mackerel or pickled herring. It’s located about a 25 minute drive in the fishing village of Riviere-aux-Renard.
Cafe de l’Anse is located a 35 minute drive from Gaspe in the town of L’Anse-au-Griffon in their historical cultural center. Choose the patio for a view of the ocean and enjoy regional specialties. The menu offers codfish brandade, codfish balls, smoked fish or sausage and seafood gratin to name a few. Flank steak and rabbit tartare are also on the menu. After your lunch you can tour the exhibits of local artists housed in the cultural center.
Things To Do in Gaspe – Quebec
Gaspe isn’t a typical tourist area with flashy attractions, but is instead a glimpse into the life of people who live on the Gaspe Peninsula and the beauty of the area. Most of the cruise visitors book shore excursions through their ship, but here are some ideas if you choose to venture off on your own. Most of these require a car since the area is quite large.
Considered the “Crown Jewel” of the peninsula, the Forillon National Park has an amazing array of flora, fauna, wildlife and scenic cliffs. There are beaches and trails where you can go hiking. You can schedule kayaking and whale watching via your cruise ship’s excursions. If hiking isn’t your thing, visit the historic Dolbel-Roberts House or Hyman & Son’s General Store, and step back into life in the mid-1800’s.
The entrance fees are reasonable at $8.50 per adult during the peak season of June 25th to September 4th and kids are free. The park also has accessible areas and activities. Click here for dates and hours of operation.
Haldimand has a beautiful beach that gets pretty busy in warm weather. Picturesque cliffs along this area, too. Water is fairly shallow and there are outdoor shower heads, restrooms, a beach-type food restaurant and a small playground for the kiddos. The beach is located about 5 miles from Gaspé. You can also rent a bike at Nolin Velo and take the paved biking and hiking path from the pier to the the beach.
Though this museum is small, it is loaded with interesting exhibits and interactive media which highlights and preserves the history and culture of the Gaspesie region. There’s even a virtual reality mini documentary on the early lives of settlers to the area. It is open daily, though the hours vary based on the season, current costs are $20 per adult with discounts for seniors and children. There is a boutique that sells only local items – a great spot to pick up a souvenir, outdoor art installations and lively presentations.
Located just on the other side of the bridge from the tender dock, at O’Hara Point, is the historic site known as the “birthplace of Canada.” In 1534, Jacques Cartier landed here, erected a cross and claimed the land for France. The site is made up of varying buildings, representing life in early Canada, with some used as interpretation centers, a small cafe, and store selling local goods. Plaques are located around the site for a self-guided tour, but their website also has information, both written and audio, on each significant area. It is open daily, except for Sundays and there is no entrance fee, but donations are readily accepted.
Walking and Audio Tours of Gaspe
The Birthplace of Canada website also offers a walking and audio tours of the town of Gaspe, showing and explaining various historically significant areas. You can use the website for this information, or head to the store at the O’Hara Point where you can purchase a guide book.
Discover the past and present, history and culture of the Mi’gmac (Micmac) Nation, and how their lives are intimately connected to the sea. Located less than a 10 minute drive from the tender pier, you’ll find an interpretation center, reconstruction of a traditional village and summer camp as found in the 17th century. Guided tours will demonstrate the life and activities of their ancestors before and when European colonization began, as well as the influence and contributions of the Nation historically, and contemporarily. Open daily during the summer tourist season, with an hour closure over the lunch hour, tours last up to 2 hours in length and cost $11.25 per adult, with discounts for seniors and children. Reservations were required for the 2022 season.
Located off the coast of the town of Perce, about a 50 minute drive from Gaspe, the northernmost tip of the Appalachian Mountains come to an end at Perce Rock. Listed as a UNESCO Global Geopark, this rock is of international geological significance. As such, it is managed according to a global concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Besides that, the rock is just plain awesome!
In the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, from a distance, the rock can appear to be a ship under sail. It has one of the world’s largest natural arches located mostly in the water. The rock is a siliceous limestone stack with steep rock faces on all sides. It is 1,421 feet long and 300 feet wide with its highest point being 289 feet. For four hours during low tide, you are able to get close to the rock, however it is not advised to walk close as rocks are always falling from its edges.
At the Geopark, there is a suspended glass lookout platform that allows you a great view of both the rock and the island. Part of the platform is not for the faint of heart, as it is transparent and allows you to see the tree tops below. There is also hiking, ziplining, multimedia and scientific presentations, and much more.