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As I said on the previous page, I haven't come all of this way merely to turn around and go quietly home. I have a cunning plan.

I'm not the kind of person to give up without a struggle.

As soon as I could find a mobile phone signal (and aren't I glad that I bit the bullet and bought a mobile phone and SIM card last year), I made three phone calls in rather rapid succession, as a result of which I was back at the ferry terminal early the following morning.

For once my Belgian BNP-Fortis and my French Credit-Agricole cash cards worked at the same cash machine, which was just as well as I was obliged to stock up with a huge pile of cash, and did you know that the Canadian $50 bill is made of polymer these days, not paper?

nordik express natashquan lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

The ship that's moored up there at the quayside is called the Nordik Express. She's an icebreaker and runs the navette, or shuttle, from Rimouski to the Ile d'Anticosti, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan and a few other places in between, and then on to half a dozen isolated communities along the Lower North Shore.

She carries passengers, supplies and the mail. And with these communities having been icebound for several months, they are desperately in need of supplies and so the freight capacity is totally full.

nordik express natashquan lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

As I said yesterday, no chance of stowing the Dodge aboard and that's fair enough. If there's no room and a long waiting list there's nothing that I can do about that, especially when it involves people with more priority than me. The residents of the Lower Shore have a right to the facilities ahead of the casual tourist who pulls up at the port.

However, there's still room for a few passengers and so it will come as no surprise to you to learn that Yours Truly and Strawberry Moose leapt at the chance.

cars in containers nordik express lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

The ferry has a carrying capacity of about 12 cars, and you can see how they are carried on board ship. They are driven into a container frame and craned aboard, being stacked one on top of another with all of the other containers.

Strawberry Moose and I decided that one of these days we are going to bring Caliburn here and let him have a go at this. He would quite enjoy it.

cars in containers nordik express lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

One of the phone calls that I made earlier was to the ferry company to book myself a place on the ship (I did mention that the wi-fi at the tourist information office at Natashquan was switched off) and as a result, here I am on board, looking at one of the vehicles strapped firmly into its container.

Strawberry Moose was in the suitcase in the hold - the company is very rigid about what comes into the passenger compartment - and you could hear the sea shanties from up here.

The first thing that I noticed on coming aboard the ship was the overpowering smell of diesel. If we have a rough crossing, the fumes will disturb more than just a few passengers.

Secondly, a rubbish bin here is called a poubelle, even though it is a comparatively modern French word dating from the middle of the 19th Century.

leaving natashquan nordik express lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

So "weigh anchor" cried the captain. "Half a tonne" came back the reply, and we said goodbye to Natashquan, setting sail for deeper waters. And wasn't I happy to be at sea again? Many people have told me that my whole life seems to be all at sea, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree.

We had the usual safety message, of course.
"three short blasts on the ship's siren means that you should put on your life jackets"
"five short blasts on the ship's siren means that you should report to your muster station"
"seven short blasts on the ship's siren means that you should abandon ship"
"one long blast on the ship's siren means that the ship's siren is stuck"

And I check my pockets to make sure that I have the bar of soap in there. That way, if I do fall overboard I can get washed ashore.

lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

As we moved farther out from the coast I began to talk to a few people sitting around me. And a really big mystery that had puzzled me for a number of years was immediately cleared up.

You may remember when we were the city of Quebec a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in passing that there seemed to be so many people of Asiatic facial characteristics in the big cities of Canada, and I speculated on the reason for this.

However, the Montagnais people have clear Asiatic facial characteristics and so do many other First-Nation people of the Far North of Canada. The person with whom I was speaking explained that so many First-Nation children leave the area to continue their studies in the big cities and never return.

It may well be that many of those whom I've been thinking might be of Asiatic origin are in fact First Nation Canadians of this area.

Talking of children, there was a group of kids running around the boat playing chase or hide-and-seek or something, rushing in and out of the doors. Despite trying hard to focus on the fact that I was a kid once upon a time, it eventually began to get on my nerves after a while.

I reckoned that if it conitnued like this, a few swimming lessons would be called for.

Mind you, my lack of good humour might be due to events that occurred in my own childhood. You can tell just how popular I was, for when we played hide-and-seek, I used to hide but the other children never came to look for me.

Another thing that I was surprised to see was all of the freight that was being unloaded from the Nordik Express at Natashquan. Seeing that there is a road that goes as far as Natashquan these days, I reckoned that it might have come by road.

But then of course there are issues about drivers' hours. I suppose that these are regulated in North America just as much as they are in Europe. Sending all of this up here in a lorry and then going through all of the loading and unloading procedures will have severe implications on the hours of work of a lorry driver.

Drivers' hours regulations don't of course apply to a ship's voyage and so if the freight set out from Rimouski or somewhere else on the southern shore, or came by train from Halifax, then it would arrive here first by ship.

Another thing that I have noticed around Canada and that I've mentioned before that has an implication with the issue of drivers' hours is that there are very very few pull-ins for drivers to take a rest. I've been caught out a few times by this and ended up sleeping on supermarket car parks and the like.

By now, the weather outside has changed dramatically - and for the worse too. It's absolutely pelting down with rain and there's thick fog too. I can hardly see a thing outside the windows and I'm terribly disappointed about this.

Mind you, I wasn't particularly surprised. I'm well-aware of weather conditions in the Gulf of St Lawrence and when you add my usual luck into the equation, this was odds-on to happen.

It did however remind me of a story that I heard about a shipwreck in the Gulf. A ship carrying blue paint collided with a ship carrying red paint, and the survivors were all marooned on the Ile d'Anticosti.

kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

First port of call is the little harbour of Kegaska. This is a village, of about 120 inhabitants of which almost all of the working population is engaged in commercial fishing, as you can tell from the number of small commercial fishing boats moored here.

Crab, lobster and petoncle, whatever a petoncle is, are the principal catch and I imagine that they are taken to the processing plant at Havre-St-Pierre, although one of my fellow-passengers did say that there's a fish-processing plant a little further along the coast at La Tabatiere.

kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

Luckily, by now the fog has lifted a little so that we can actually see where it is that we are mooring, but the rain is still streaming down like nobody's business and it's very unpleasant outside.

And I can tell all about the weather from first-hand experience too. You didn't really think that a simple torrential rainstorm was going to keep me from setting my foot ashore in an isolated community along the Lower North Shore, did you?

nordik express kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

So while you look at the Nordik Express unloading a couple of shipping containers here (and I suppose that you saw as we sailed into port a couple of shipping containers on the quayside waiting to be picked up), I'm going off for a little ramble onshore despite the weather.

While I'm doing that, I can tell you a little about the history of the area. Kegaska was founded by the Hudsons Bay Company sometime round about 1831 as a post to trade with all of the local First-Nation inhabitants of the area, of which in those days there were quite a few.

kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

As well as First-Nation inhabitants, there are a few Francophone inhabitants too. Some Acadians came to settle here sometime round about 1852-53.

There was a major demographic change round about 1870-71 when an epidemic of some nature (I'm not well-up on French medical terms so I wouldn't know how to spell it) carried away a good percentage of the population and most of the survivors moved away.

kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

The fishing rights were then sold to a group of Newfoundlanders, some of whom then came to settle here.

Another year to note is 1973. Despite the opportunities offered by hydro-electric power, not to mention the power of the wind, electricity didn't arrive here until that year. That's remarkably late for a community such as this, given all of the potential around here, and it's things like this that make you realise why it is that the locals talk of this area as "the Forgotten Coast".

kegaska lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

But never mind for a moment the issues of electricity arriving here. I'm intrigued to know how these two lorries arrived here, as they certainly would never ever fit on the Nordik Express.

I had visions of the drivers waiting for the depths of winter and the thick ice in the river, or else the proud owner of an old World War II LCT (landing craft, tank), the type that was used during the invasions of mainland Europe in 1944, is living somewhere in the vicinity.

And you've no idea how surprised we are going to be tomorrow in that respect.

The next time that I come to Kegaska, I'll be boarding the ship here for sure, but I won't be alighting from it first.

The reason for that is that on 26th September 2013 a bridge over the river Natashquan was opened, which meant that it is now possible to drive all the way along the north shore of the St Lawrence River as far as here on Highway 138.

And believe me, I shall be coming out here to try it at my earliest opportunity.

And not only that. They reckon that within a few short years the road might be opened as far as La Romaine.

Whatever next?

Back on board the Nordik Express, someone asked me if I had managed to get to see the Brion.

We mentioned shipwrecks in something of a light-hearted fashion just now, but in fact the Brion was a cargo ship out of the Iles de la Madeleine that was wrecked on the western shore of the peninsula here in 1976. Her remains may still be seen.

Drat and double-drat!

la romaine lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

Our next stop along the North Shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence is the small port of La Romaine. This is a small village of about 120 or so inhabitants and serves a hinterland of about 1100 people, mostly Innu but some Francophone inhabitants.

The actual village is quite some way from the port, so I was told, but never mind. The weather was looking even worse than at Kegaska and so I had no intention of going too far. Just to put my feet ashore.

la romaine lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

With not being able to reach the settlement I can't show you any photos of it, but I can tell you that it was created in 1860.

Formerly, there were three small trading posts in this region to deal with the First-Nation inhabitants but they closed down and everyone moved away. It was as a result of this that the settlement here was created.

Electricity came to the settlement in 1967 and I was told that there was someone here who ran a dog sled until 1994 - the last on the Lower North Shore apparently.

la romaine lower north shore gulf st lawrence canada mai may 2012

That's the settlement - way over there in the distance across the bay. And you can see exactly what I mean by the weather as it is thoroughly atrocious now. I've never been out in driving rain quite like this.

But I'm not going another step in this weather. It's about time that I head back to the ship anyway.

One thing that should be said about La Romaine is that it's just to the east of here that we say goodbye to all of the peat bogs. We are now officially in the sub-arctic tundra, what Cartier called "The Land God Gave to Cain", and that is another one of my goals for this journey accomplished.

I'd spent a great deal of time on board ship chatting to a young girl, a student at University in Montreal, who lives at St Augustin, one of the stops further along the coast. She was on her way home now that term had ended.

Quite uncannily, her physical appearance was a cross between two girls whom I had known very well back in my youth - Pamela Heys and Nina Wilson - even down the Nina's wayward tooth. I had to make a double-take the first time that I noticed.

Our party then grew from La Romaine onwards with the addition of a couple of young Québecois girls and a guy from St Paul's. They had joined the ship sometime earlier but the ship was practically deserted by now and so we all grouped together for a chat.

The guy originates from Nain in the far northern Labrador coast, another one of my intended destinations one of these days, and he told me all kinds of exciting things. In fact it turned into a quite an exciting and interesting voyage even though the weather was thoroughly dreadful.

Our discussion not unnaturally turned to the problems of the Lower North Shore, all 400 kilometres of the northern shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence between Natashquan and the border with the Province of Labrador.

It began when this girl (and to my dismay I've forgotten to make a note of her name) was telling us that she is now on the third day of her voyage home after leaving University and she hasn't finished her journey yet by a long chalk.

She had taken the train from Montreal to Rimouski and then the Nordik Express up along the coast. I asked her about the shuttle bus that I had seen at Havre-St-Pierre, but she replied that it takes even longer to come home that way.

In fact, of all of her classmates, some of whom come from Japan and other places scattered about the globe, her journey home takes the longest and it is in the same Province as the University, never mind the same country or even the same continent.

I was told quite convincingly that in the opinion of the inhabitants here, the Quebecois Government see this area as nothing more than, and I quote, "sub-Arctic tundra. a couple of Eskimos and a bunch of inbred English shipwreck survivors, and the whole area isn't worth a dollar".

The settlers of European origin along the Lower North Shore - the Basse Cote Nord - are not Francophones but Anglophones, with English being the predominant language (which explains my issues at Blanc Sablon in 2010 ), despite whatever the Quebecois authorities have to say on the matter.

They are in the main descendants of fishermen ... "fisherPERSONS" - ed ... from Labrador and Newfoundland who came to the area in the 19th Century and in some cases even before, and their ethnic make-up continues to dominate.

They've fought to retain their heritage despite this area being part of the Province of Quebec where Francophonie is supposed to be the rule, pointing out that this area has only been part of Quebec since 1927. Prior to that, this area was not part of Canada at all but of the British colony of Newfoundland, which did not join Canada until 1949.

As an aside, you'll recall that I mentioned a few days ago that the Quebecois authorities have not ratified the decision of 1st March 1927 as it did not award to Quebec much of the area that it claimed. However you have no idea of the speed at which, despite the failure to ratify the decision, the aforementioned authorities moved in order to occupy areas that had never formerly belonged to Quebec.

Hypocrisy? Perish the thought, hey?

Meanwhile, back at the ran ... errr ... Nordik Express, our conversation continued.

The 6000 or so people who live along this part of the North Shore are called "Coasters" and they consider themselves to be living on what they call "the Forgotten Coast". They consider that the price that they have paid for clinging on to their Anglophone culture, heritage and language is to be starved of resources and infrastructure as a punishment, in the same way that the Zionists starve the Palestinians of resources and infrastructure for the same reason.

In fact, I was sitting in a bedroom in a guest-house the following evening typing up these notes, I was listening to the radio. There was a programme being broadcast, part of which was a story that certain delegates from this area were trying to lobby the Ottawa Government to have Highway 138 declared a "National Highway" so that Central, rather than Provincial, Government funds could be employed to complete the Highway between Natashquan and Blanc-Sablon

It really is astonishing, to think that an appeal of this nature has to be made in respect of a highway that is exclusively within just one Province of Canada

Any kind of reason and logic would suggest that the area east of Natashquan be handed back to Labrador and let Labrador deal with the issues of the Lower North Shore, but you would not expect to see the words "reason" and "logic" used in connection with a discussion about the Quebecois authorities.

Having considered themselves to have been wickedly oppressed (which is far from being the truth) in the past, the Quebecois have now found some kind of target that is weaker than themselves and so they are determined to exact the fullest amount of revenge possible, even though these people had nothing whatever to do with any kind of oppression that the Quebecois consider themselves to have suffered.

Reason and logic go out of the window at times like this.

Strangely enough, it's exactly the same story as that which has been going on in Occupied Palestine since 1947, but I digress.

Just in case, by the way, that you are wondering whether all of this is just the opinion of a couple of people sitting around a table venting their spleens on a long, boring (well, to some) sea voyage through the pack ice because they have nothing better to do, or otherwise trying to "seed" a gullible tourist, a similar (but somewhat less extreme) version of the same story was recounted to me by quite a few other people that I encountered on my travels.

We haven't quite come round to blowing up mail boxes and murdering politicians and whatever, as did the Quebecois terrorists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it would be interesting to see what the Quebecois authorities would do if the inhabitants of the Lower North Shore inhabitants were to fight for their rights in the same way that the Quebecois fought for theirs. I bet that they wouldn't be given immunity from prosecution and free passage to Cuba.

Perhaps I should start a revolution. After all, my friends tell me that I'm quite revolting.

And just in case you are thinking that I am making up most of the above, then I'm supported in my views by no less a person than the mayor of Blanc Sablon, Armand Joncas. In August 2014 (well over two years after all of the above took place) he
"expressed his discontent over neglect to the Basse-Côte-Nord area from the Quebec government, and opened up a channel regarding the secession of the Basse-Côte-Nord to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Joncas cited a lack of a continuous road network to Quebec, isolation and lack of interest from the Quebec government and close logistics and cultural identity with the people of Labrador as his reasons" accessed 29th September 2014

And now we have an absolute calamity!

I've just been outside to take a photo of the ship smashing its way through the pack ice and - nothing! The camera has ceased to function.

I really can't believe this. I've come all of this way at great expense in order to be stuck fast in an ice-floe, and here I am, and there is no camera to record it! I really can't believe this.

Well, yes I can really. It's just the kind of thing that would happen to me. All of this way out to here and to finish up like this. It's probably Divine Retribution for me having said all those naughty things about the Quebecois. Our hero Father Frederic Jansoone has conjured up yet another miracle.

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