La Chanson de Tadoussac

Arriving near Tadoussac, Quebec, we were immersed in fog, which spread across the breadth of the St. Lawrence River. Crossing the Saguenay River by the free public ferry, one could see just the tops of other vessels. This cold foggy shroud enveloped the little community of Tadoussac until mid-morning. When the fog lifted, we were in one of Quebec’s most beautiful villages located on the shore of the St. Lawrence where it merges with the Saguenay River. It’s about a 3-hour drive north of Quebec City. The core edifice of this village of around 800 inhabitants is the charming Hotel Tadoussac, featured in the 1984 film, The Hotel New Hampshire. It’s near the confluence of the two rivers and fronts on a beautiful sandy bay. The air is sweet with floral smells, and the lawn chairs beckon you to relax.

The main event in town at this time (June 28–July 1, 2018) was the 35th Festival de la Chanson de Tadoussac. It consists of writers, composers, performers and musicians from Quebec, other French speaking regions of Canada and international artists. It features new performers on the scene along with better-known participants in a variety of venues. The festival has won the Félix Award for the Best Event of the Year and a gold Quebec Tourism Award. The music is eclectic and mostly in French, but can be enjoyed by anyone.

Tadoussac, although small, features several historic buildings and many delectable bistros and restaurants. One of the main attractions is whale watching since the confluence of the two rivers creates an ideal feeding ground fo beluga whales. Many other whale species, dolphins, seals, Greenland sharks and sea birds also frequent the waters. Blue whales and belugas in this area are considered endangered species. Consequently, the waters around Tadoussac, which include part of the Saguenay Fjord and St. Lawrence River estuary, form the 20-year-old Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park created by the governments of Quebec and Canada. Its purpose is to protect the whales and marine life and regulate activities in the park to ensure sustainability of the area.

“La Chanson de Tadoussac” or “The Song of Tadoussac “ has its roots much further back than the festival. Its song has been sung for over 8,000 years of Aboriginal habitation in the area. Its strategic location made it important for fishing as well as an important trade route via the Saguenay River for Aboriginal people. French explorer Cartier arrived in 1535 to discover Iroquois hunting seals. Basques from Spain were also in the area in the mid-1500’s hunting whales, fishing cod and fur trading. Pierre de Chauvin, a captain of the French Navy established the first fur trading post in North America at Tadoussac in 1600. Today, an accurate replica of the trading post stands near the original site just next to the Hotel Tadoussac and serves as an informative museum of the area’s history. On the opposite side of the Hotel Tadoussac another historic structure has been standing for over 250 years, the Tadoussac Chapel or the Indians’ Chapel. It’s the oldest wooden church in North America built by Jesuit missionaries to convert the Montagnais Aboriginals to Christianity.

It’s of interest to note the uniqueness of the French and Aboriginal relationship. The French took full advantage of the network of Aboriginal trade routes. However, it was not simply bartering goods back and forth. In order to procure the furs, which the French were dependent on Aboriginal people for harvesting, processing and transporting, a relationship of trust had to be established. The French became deeply involved in Aboriginal society and politics. There was an interchange of technology and materials; as well, intermarriages were fostered. They treated Aboriginals with respect as human beings and did not compete with them for land.

The fur trade began to decline in the early 1800’s because of over hunting and fish stocks were also becoming depleted. Lumber companies came in and agriculture began. By the late 1800’s logging had been exhausted. In 1864, the first Hotel Tadoussac was built, and following a fire the second was rebuilt in 1942 on the same site. Tourism thrived for nearly a hundred years until ship lines stopped serving Tadoussac in 1966. In the 1980’s Chauvin’s Trading Post was established as a museum. In 1998, the Hotel Tadoussac, the Trading Post and the Tadoussac Chapel were established as a protected area of monuments of national significance. All these events, including the Festival de la Chanson de Tadoussac, have contributed to Tadoussac’s re-establishment as a major tourist attraction.

A visit to Tadoussac would not be wasted.