I have yet to pay a visit to the sparsely populated English-speaking communities of Grosse-Île and its hamlet, Old-Harry. So I drive east at sunset, stopping to watch a family of fox kits play by the empty road. My inn that night, La Salicorne, offers a variety of activity packages and provides me a guide for my final morning. Rosie Rankin has a sunny energy she may have acquired from the 20 years she spent in California, but she studied at Old-Harry’s one-room schoolhouse as a child. Her family was among the first settlers here in 1828. She takes me through the dunes at the 724-hectare Pointe de l’Est National Wildlife Area, a beautiful, almost alien world, with insect-eating sundew plants and endangered crowberries.
My flight home beckons, but we detour off the official tour to drop by Rankin’s cousin Carol Davies’ house. “We share a great-great-great-great-grandfather,” Rankin says. Our kitchen chat turns to talk about their family, and their stories about relatives in the 1800s come alive like they happened last week. Davies’ great-great-great-grandfather, Henry Clark Jr., helped save 300 people from a ship called Miracle that crashed into a reef in 1847. “There were 446 people on the boat. He buried 146 in one grave down there,” Davies says, pointing toward the shore.
Time doesn’t stand still on the Magdalen Islands, but the past lives on and mingles with the present. At the airport I think of those who settled these islands, whether by circumstance or accident, and never left, and how simple it is for me to be home in just a few hours. Then I think of their situation in a different way. What if the people who became Madelinots so long ago didn’t see themselves as being stranded? What if they just didn’t want to leave this extraordinary place?
Where to eat, stay and play in the Magdalen Islands
Writer Dee Hon’s top picks for places to eat, stay and play in the Magdalen Islands
Eat & Stay
Auberge Chez Denis à François, Île du Havre Aubert The bouillabaisse here captures much of what’s great about the islands. The locals translate this classic French stew into a dish that’s simultaneously rustic and luxurious. The lobster, prawns, mussels and scallops come from “over there,” the server says, pointing toward the harbour. A hearty meal at the traditionally styled hilltop inn is best followed by a good night’s rest in the cosy upstairs rooms, where you’ll have a commanding view of the ocean. aubergechezdenis.com
Parc du Gros Cap, Île du Cap aux Meules The spectacular rust-red cliffs here are home to roosting cormorants, which you’ll often see hovering over the water. Glide among them by taking one of the guided kayak tours available at the park. parcdegroscap.ca