On the Road to Métis I: Lévis to Kamouraska
22 August 2011
I first heard of the Reford Gardens a decade ago, when director Alexander Reford – who is the author of several books, some of them on the gardens – was in Montreal for the Salon du livre de Montréal. The story he had to tell intrigued me, as did the remoteness of the property at the gateway to the Gaspé, but the journey was long, and I had a festival of my own to run, so it is only now that I have made it out to Grand-Métis to see for myself.
It does not have to take days of travelling. The Gardens are 580 kilometers from Montreal, and some people make the journey by car in six hours, which means staying on Highway 20 for as long as that lasts. I recommend a slower pace, on and off Route 132, and in this and the next two posts I will tell you about a few spots, on that road, where you can find not only good coffee but some of the best meals in Quebec. 
From summers spent at Murray Bay as a student, I know the north shore of the St. Lawrence as far east as Tadoussac, but I had never explored the south shore east of Quebec City. I suggest leaving Route 20 for Route 132 after you’ve passed the junction with Route 73 at the Pierre-Laporte Bridge.
You might be interested in a good coffee after three hours on the highway, and you might know from experience that good coffee is not always easy to find. If so, you will be keeping your eyes peeled for the kind of establishment that might have an espresso machine and someone who knows how to use it. If you head north, towards the river, you’ll come across the inviting Café la mosaïque (132, rue St-Louis, Lévis). From there, you should move further downhill, closer to the water, and turn right onto rue Saint-Joseph, one of the finest streets of old Quebec homes still in existence. There’s a magnificent view of Quebec City across the river.
You can easily make it to Montmagny for the night. The Manoir des Érables (220, boul. Taché Est Montmagny) serves a good dinner and an excellent breakfast. You will pass through wood-sculpture capital Saint-Jean-Port-Joli and wend your way north-east along the Route des Navigateurs that stretches 190 km from La Pocatière through the Bas Saint-Laurent.
The road leaves the river at this point and heads inland across a remarkable flat landscape with silos clustered around the pimple-shaped hills. The light is beautiful, the landscape breathtaking as you curve around to Kamouraska, and the air salty when you step out of the car.
Kamouraska convent, about 1909, now the Musée régional de Kamouraska
(Musée régional de Kamouraska)

Drawn to Kamouraska by the stormy, wonderful novel of that name by Anne Hébert, I imagined that the little Musée régional de Kamouraska (entrance $7) housed in the old convent school – and quiet even on an August day when the village is full of tourists – might have some information on that subject.
And it does. There’s a photograph of a young and luminous Anne Hébert upstairs, a (very) short excerpt from her novel, and an explanation of how it happened that she spent so much time in Kamouraska when she was growing up: she was related to the Taché family, as documented in an exhibit of the Taché family tree.
(Courtesy Société historique du Côte-sud)
Mathilde Massé, the first francophone Canadian woman to qualify as a doctor
(Société historique du Côte-sud)
The museum has much more, besides: on Kamouraska architecture; on Mathilde Massé who became the first French-Canadian woman to qualify as a doctor; and on Kamouraska politician René Chaloult, who lobbied tirelessly for the Quebec flag that was recognized by the government of Maurice Duplessis in 1948. There are rooms full of the materials of everyday life in a small fishing and farming community, and the museum shop stocks books on history and regional recipes. Unaccountably it does not have a single copy of Kamouraska itself.
On the other side of the road there’s the superb Boulangerie Niemand, with a dozen people queuing up for bread and rolls, buns and viennoiseries, local jams and puddings. It’s lunchtime, and the Café du clocher (88 av. Morel, Kamouraska), has a dozen or more tables in pretty tablecloths set out on the grass overlooking the St. Lawrence (there are tables indoors, as well). 
A gentleman has a basket of chanterelles he picked that morning in the woods nearby, and he’s selling them for $12 a pound. He has a guitar with him, and he sits down to play and sing as you sit down to an al fresco lunch of salad, smoked Kamouraska lamb and some of the local smoked fish. You can even have a good espresso before you hit the road again. The table next to you is relishing three links of organic dry sausage from Fou du cochon et scie, served on a little wooden structure You’re curious about this, and your lunch has been so delightful that you will stop here again on your return trip.
Linda Leith

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