IN THE QUEBEC HEARTLAND
By Lauren Kramer If there are modern-day Quebecois explorers, or coureurs du bois as they are known in Canadian folklore, Raymond des Rosiers is one of them. For the 44-year-old guide at Auberge St. Alexis des Monts in Quebec, his favourite time of year is October when, for two weeks, he douses himself in animal urine, lays salt blocks on the ground and wakes at 4am to race to his tree hideout. The reason? Moose.
"My hunting buddy and I have only caught two in the past ten years," explains the former trapper. But despite his highly uncertain odds of a kill and the $800 he's spent on permits over the last decade, des Rosiers keeps coming back for the thrill of the hunt. A bullet in a moose is testament to extreme patience and perseverance. Plus, it means great-tasting meat for a year.
I'm in the terrain of trappers, the Quebec interior known as the Mauricie. In this plane-shaped swath of land that stretches between Montreal and Quebec city, the landscape is heavily forested, its lush mass of trees broken only by the 17,500 lakes that dot the region. Here, the forested Laurentian mountains rise and dip as they have done for centuries, with no-one but the black bears and elusive moose to pay them heed. Peppered with charming French villages the land is a playground for hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts who come to escape city life and embrace the wide, open spaces.
Lac a l'eau Claire is like a sheet of glass on the day I step on board a seaplane, and as we teeter into the sky, the vastness of the Mauricie is laid bare in minutes. From 2,000 feet you can fully comprehend the rich vegetation that spreads with abandon across the land. Multiple beaver dams testify to hours of tireless work by our furry national symbols, more than a million of which make their home in Quebec. And hundreds of clear, fresh lakes carve liquid shapes into the landscape, boggling the mind with the sheer quantity of pure water.
Within 15 minutes we descend onto Lake Sacacomie, on the verge of which sits the rustic log timbers of the Hotel Sacacomie. The hotel offers a variety of recreational options, but its beaver and bear trips have become a firm favourite, giving guests a glimpse of the local wildlife.That's how I find myself in the company of another modern-day explorer, Marian McMurray. Formerly a trapper, the sun-wizened McMurray traded in his gun some years ago after watching the price of pelt drop consistently. Though in his past he was once a voracious beaver hunter, in 2002 he befriended a pair of beavers at a nearby dam, affectionately naming them "Charlie" and "Charlotte." Ironically, he now guides educational visits to their habitat where he teaches wide-eyed visitors about their lives.
The beaver duo must be blissfully unaware of McMurray's past, for when he arrives brandishing their favourite treat - a few branches of trembling aspen, "Charlie" shows up immediately. Without a hint of fear, he swims across the dam toward the outstretched hand and gingerly snaps off the leafy end of the branch before making his way back across the water.Like a loyal dog, Charlie can be relied on to show up every night for this treat, a whiskered face with black eyes that implicitly trust the leathery ex-trapper. Twice he approaches the shore for his treat, and on the third time, when an on-shore performance is required of him, he clambers to the water bank, grabs his branch and plunges back in.
A bear-viewing hut is our next stop, and on this summer's night, instant gratification awaits, both for the bears and the guests. We arrive to see two of them mesmerized by the metal drum placed on a site 200 meters from the viewing hut, and filled daily with a mixture of corn and molasses. By sticking their paw through a hole in the drum, the bears are able to extract the food they covet, and it keeps them occupied for hours.As the cameras begin their tirade of furious photography and the mosquitoes feast on exposed, sun burnt skin, I'm wondering about the environmental friendliness of this scene. Yes, I reflect, it's better than seeing the animals in a zoo. But at what expense, I can't help but wonder. IF YOU GO:
2. Trout fishing is virtually a national pastime in the Mauricie region #1365
3. The rustic timbers of Hotel Sacacomie overlooks the Sacacomie Lake #1512
4. Visiting Mauricie by seaplane is a faster and more scenic option. #1731
5 Reeling in a trout #1812
6. Bear feeding on corn and molasses near the Sacacomie Hotel bear-lookout. Photo: Courtesy Hotel Sacacomie
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