Exploring the Géopark de Percé in Canada

Stuart Forster heads to the Gaspésie region of Quebec to visit the Géopark de Percé in Canada.

In April 2018 the Géopark de Percé was named a Global Geopark by UNESCO. That designation and developments within the 555 square kilometre park are helping to raise the profile of Percé and encouraging visitors to stay longer.

Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this article, travelled to Percé as a guest of Quebec Maritime and retained full editorial control of this post. Quebec Maritime did not review or approve this article.

Look at a map of Canada and you’ll see that the Gaspé Peninsula juts into the Bay of St Lawrence like the claw of a crab. It protrudes over the top of New Brunswick, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Nova Scotia.

The town of Percé, which was established as a fishing port, lies almost 1,000 kilometres north-east of Montreal. More than 11 hours of solid driving are needed to cover that distance. Inevitably, there’s much to see along the route, so few people do drive straight through. Why dash from point to point? Most people plan time to break the journey to picnic and photograph the landscapes and lighthouses. If you are in a hurry, you have the option of flying to Mont-Joli or Michel-Pouliot Gaspé Airport from either Montreal or Quebec City.

Are things looking up in Perce? This Northern gannet is, on Bonaventure Island.
Are things looking up in Percé? This Northern gannet is, on Bonaventure Island.

Whales off the Gaspé Peninsula

The Gaspésie region has long been a holiday destination favoured by residents of the urban hubs of south-western Quebec. Humpbacks and blue whales count among the seven species of cetaceans that also visit the region — whale-watching cruises depart from Percé and other ports. Campgrounds and rustic accommodation provide inexpensive bases for exploring the Gaspé and Forillon national parks; for walkers there are numerous trails, ranging from easy-access boardwalks to challenging multi-day hikes. Trails that are popular with walkers and cyclists draw snowmobilers during the winter.

It’s possible to follow the long-distance International Appalachian Trail as far south as Georgia and Florida in the United States. The Appalachians were formed during the Paleozoic Era, which ended approximately 251 million years ago. The mountain chain dips beneath the Atlantic, rising on the far side of the ocean as, among other notable features, the Pennines, in northern England, and Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

Nature and a diversity of birdlife count among the attractions of the Gaspe Peninsula.
Nature and a diversity of birdlife count among the attractions of the Gaspé Peninsula.

A UNESCO Global Geopark

The landscape around Percé offers opportunities to gain an understanding of geological history spanning as much as 500 million years. Sir William Logan, the first director of the Geological Survey of Canada, began his mapping of the country at Percé. Why? The diversity. Within a short distance of the town it’s possible find fossils, coal deposits and see the impact of glacial movement. Cliffs, faults and erosion make Percé an exciting place to visit for geologists. In 2018 UNESCO designated Percé a Global Geopark.

Geology is a subject that can intimidate. Technical terms can be tricky to comprehend and, consequently, often fall on stony ground (you may think that warrants a yellow card for gratuitous and deliberate punning?). Many people don’t know the difference between geological eras and periods. Tektonik, an attraction within the main building of the Géopark de Percé, entertains and informs, introducing aspects of geology without making it seem complex or like hard work.

Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) nesting on Bonaventure Island.
Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) nesting on Bonaventure Island.

Learning and fun in Tektonik

The interactive, family-friendly attraction opened in 2016 and is like a cross between The Crystal Maze — the popular television game show of the 1990s, which was recently revived with Richard Ayoade as the presenter — and an informative escape room. On entering, visitors can select from six different cards with barcodes. The cards are scanned prior to entry. The objective is to complete a series of tasks, which are initiated when the barcode is read.

You can shape sand to learn how the features of the earth’s surface changes over time. Three times red lights flash and a klaxon blares, a signal that calls participants together to watch short films about aspects of geology. Tektonik is a fun way of learning about subjects such as magma and volcanic activity, as well as how the nearby Percé Rock was formed.

Entrance to the Geopark de Perce, which houses Tektonik.
Entrance to the Geopark de Percé, which houses Tektonik.

Samuel Champlain’s ‘pierced rock’

The explorer Samuel Champlain named the landmark le Rocher Percé, which means ‘pierced rock’, because of the arches, worn into the vast, cliff-like rock by the sea. Around 433 metres in length and 88 metres high, it is reminiscent of a stone iceberg jutting from the water. Around 150 types of fossil have been found in the limestone rock, which forms part of Parc national de l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé, along with the nearby Bonaventure Island.

Boat trips run between Percé and Bonaventure Island, which is the nesting site for more than 100,000 northern gannets. The island can also be spotted, far in the distance, from the suspended glass platform in the Géopark de Percé’s observation deck. Yes, it can be a tad nerve-wracking to step foot on the glass but on a clear day the views are worth it.

Perce Rock off the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, Canada.
Percé Rock off Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

Zip lines and adventure

The platform is designed with ramps to be accessible. Minibuses are available to transport guests from the pavilion and information centre housing Tektonik. That building also has a games room in which it’s possible to climb on ropes and relax on hammocks — it may be designed for children but adults can have fun too.

For a greater adrenalin rush it’s worth riding one of the twin zip lines descending from the platform through the woodland of the Géopark de Percé. Zooshing along between the firs and birches, suspended from a metal wire, probably isn’t what most people first imagine upon mention of a geopark.

Can you spot the zipline platform peeking above the forest in the Geopark de Perce?
Can you spot the zipline platform peeking above the forest in the Geopark de Percé?

Interpretive trails in Percé

Interpretive trails run in and from the Géopark de Percé. Guides discuss the fauna and flora of the region, which includes rare birds such as Briknell’s thrush and plant species, including the wonderfully named Howell’s pussytoes, sticky goldenrod and cutleaf fleabane. Members of the Mi’kmaq community discuss the First Nations heritage of Gaspésie. Tours into town explore the history of cod fishing and salting in the region — visiting the waterfront Musée le Chafaud, a site once utilized by cod salters — and connections with the Beatniks during the 1960s and turn of the 70s.

The opening of Tektonik and information centre within the Géopark de Percé has been pivotal in encouraging visitors to extend their stays in the region. Between one and two days was previously the average duration of a visit. That has been extended to between three and four. The fact that it is now one of just three UNESCO Global Geoparks in Canada (the others being Stonehammer in New Brunswick and Tumbler Ridge in British Columbia) is also likely to draw people to the Gaspé Peninsula.

Camping is possible in and near the Géopark de Percé. In an area that is the stuff of dreams for geologists, hopefully nobody seeking accommodation will feel that they are left between a rock and hard place.

A misty day at the suspended glass platform in the Geopark de Perce.
A misty day at the suspended glass platform in the Geopark de Percé.

Getting to Percé

From the United Kingdom, flying to Montreal puts you in position to catch one of the Air Canada flights between Montreal and Michel-Pouliot Gaspé Airport. The flight takes two hours 45 minutes, stopping en route at Quebec City.

Lobster served in Perce, Canada.
Lobster served at La Maison du Pêcheur in Perce, Canada.

Where to eat and drink in Percé

La Maison du Pêcheur (157, Route 132 Ouest, Percé) is a cosy seafood restaurant overlooking the waterfront. Lobster counts among the dishes served.

For locally brewed beer head to the Pub Pit Caribou (182, Route 132 Ouest, Percé). In addition to brews from the micro-brewery you may well find live music being performed.

Time for a brew? Pub Pit Caribou in Perce.
Time for a brew? Pub Pit Caribou in Perce.

Further information

See the Géoparc de Percé website for information about Tektonik and attractions with the park, including the zip lines, suspended glass platform plus cycling and hiking trails. The website includes opening times and prices. The Géoparc de Percé received a certificate of merit from the British Guild of Travel Writers in the organisation’s 2018 Tourism Awards.

The Quebec Maritime website is a good source of information on things to do in and around Percé, The Quebec and Destination Canada websites also have ideas on things to see and do in the region.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was awarded the 2017 British Annual Canada Travel Award for Best Online Content. He available for commissions about the Canada and other destinations and can be contacted via this website.

Photographs illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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