Far From The Wandering Crowds
Any traveler worth his salt-sprayed passport knows he’s got to stray far from the beaten path to discover the real soul of a place. Well, now he and you have done it. You’ve earned your “Good Traveler” badge because you’ve found your way to Baie-Comeau. Good on ya! Good on us all!
But, where exactly are we?
Well, technically we’re going ashore along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. In case you’ve forgotten, this mighty body of water connects the vast washes of the Great Lakes with the cold green seas of the Atlantic Ocean. As best as anyone can estimate, it’s 1,900 miles long if you measure from its most distant headwater to the Atlantic shores. Local boating enthusiasts and fisherfolk will explain further that you’re quite close to the Manicouagan River. They’ll also refer to it as the “Manic” and tell you that a Jesuit named Henri Nouvel paddled upriver in 1664 and officially recognized it as the Grand Manikouaganistikou River. Now you see why the townspeople call it the Manic. In fact, the Manic Dam is very important to the community and the region beyond as it provides electrical power for homes and businesses across the territory. For the record, it’s believed the river’s name means, “where the bark tree is found.” Once ashore, you’ll understand why.
So Who Is Comeau?
Napoléon-Alexandre Comeau, to be exact. Born in 1848, he spent his youth discovering the ways of local Indians. They taught him how to speak their tongue, fish the streams, hunt the animals, and survive in an often-inhospitable environment. He later became fluent in other traditional languages as well as English and French. These skills made him the perfect figure to aid in the rescue of stranded individuals, for which he was later decorated by the Canadian government. Without formal training Comeau functioned as a doctor and brought into this world more than 200 babies. All in all, he was an almost larger-than-life man who left his mark everywhere, including on the town you now visit.
Where To Start?
Town, if you want. And this might be just one of those destinations where the greatest guide is a resident or two you engage in casual conversation. Surely, they’ll point you to Place La Salle. This is where they go for nights on the town, a good meal of regional specialties, and shopping. Of course, most Canadian towns feature landmark churches and Baie-Comeau is no exception. St. Amélie showcases some 30 stained glass windows plus a Casavant organ that’s delighted many parishioners. St. Andrew Anglican’s signature is its Tudor style.
Another impressive structure is the landmark hotel Manoir Baie-Comeau. In French, it’s “L’Hôtel Le Manoir.” The year 1937 was a busy one for its creator, a gentleman named Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick. Not only did he construct this magnificent manor but also he formally founded the town of Baie-Comeau. Meanwhile, in this striking French colonial home, he hosted his friends and employees on holiday from their jobs at his Chicago Tribune newspaper. He was, indeed, the owner and publisher of this powerful publication and was known as a very controversial figure. For the record, the original structure sadly burned to the ground in 1965 but was rebuilt later from stone by the Quebec North Short & Labrador paper company. That’s how you see it today.
Mother Nature Calls
Well, Canada is a natural wonderland, as we all know. And you can gaze upon a tiny slice of it from the St. Pancrace Lookout at just shy of 2,000 feet above sea level. Then there’s Mance Lookout, as well. Further afield is Pointe-aux-Outardes Nature Park. Bird lovers will be in Bird Heaven because the naturalists have recorded in excess of 250 species that have flown by or made this area their home. And a big home it is for this park covers the entire western tip of the Manicouagan Peninsula. Oh, don’t forget your binoculars if you go.
If you don’t go, just wander about town and chat up a couple of the 10,000 Baie-Comeau locals. They can tell you all about their life here and something about the more celebrated citizens who call this town home including Canada’s former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who was born here.