A reunion in Kamouraska

It seems like just yesterday that I was packed and ready for my first day at Bishop’s University in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Now, here I am a little rounder, a lot greyer, but just as excited, looking forward to a week’s reunion with five friends I first met in 1960 at that university. As I wait for the bus to take me on the first leg of my journey, the September weather is exactly the same as 43 years ago – warm and sunny with a hint of fall crispness in the air.

Our designated meeting place is Kamouraska, one of the jewels of Quebec’s Bas-Saint-Laurent Tourist Region. Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, approximately four hours east of Montreal, Kamouraska is directly across from La Malbaie and the Charlevoix hills. The charming 1820 country house we arrived at – our maison du paysan au bord du fleuve avec vue impregnable — was everything my friend’s e-mail described. It was the perfect setting for our long-anticipated reunion.

With each day as idyllic as the next, we could not believe our good fortune. We enjoyed delicious food, each other’s company and superb weather — the variables on which a good holiday hinges — and wead them all. Happy hour on the veranda gave us a front-row seat for Kamouraska’s famous sunsets with plenty of time to share old memories and make new ones. We played a little bridge, talked about our families, our careers and whether the intervening years had answered any of our Existential Philosophy questions.

Of course, we also made time for trips into town. Visiting the village of Kamouraska, first settled in 1692, is like a trip to Europe without the overseas flight and the expense. Most of the oldest houses were destroyed in 1760 by General Wolfe, who put the whole area on fire to ensure the French army couldn’t get help in Quebec City. The newer homes, built in the 1800s, are brightly painted and well appointed, with overflowing window boxes and lush flower gardens. They retain the distinctive arched gutter overhangs, commonly known as the Kamouraska roof. Wandering the town with the ocean in the background is a photographer’s delight.

With our combined 200 years of culinary expertise and fresh local ingredients, we enjoyed making home-cooked meals together. We bought fresh and smoked fish from the poisonnerie, salt meadow lamb, handmade chocolates, local jams and cheeses, and an unbelievable variety of the most delicious bread from the Boulangerie Niemand. 

In nearby Saint-Pascal, we took a short hike up la Montagne à Coton, a steep and isolated hill, very typical of the area’s geography. Several well-placed lookouts provide spectacular views of fertile farmlands that follow the traditional allotment pattern of river frontage dating from the seigneurial regime. The Sept-Chutes hike on the outskirts of Saint-Pascal is a scenic trail bordering a succession of waterfalls.

For a little more adventure, we hiked on the nearby islands Île Verte and Île aux Lièvres. A family of beluga whales kept us company during our river crossing from Rivière-du-Loup. 

As for the shopping — pottery barns, artisanats, gourmet foodstuffs – one of our group found three gorgeous hides in the Saint-Pascal tannery to refinish her dining room chairs. Six Bishop’s graduates could not pass up a visit to Breughel’s micro-brewery, especially since one of our group’s ancestors first settled on the property in the 1600s. We found the view from Breughel’s patio pleasant enough to keep us sipping organic Kamour beer until it was time to enjoy another Kamouraska sunset.