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Articles Blog

Havre-St. Pierre, Canada

Karyn Planett

A Walk In The Canadian Woods 

This tiny little spot on the Canadian map is rich with the types of blessings Mother Nature casts about her vast globe. Found in the heart of the Minganie Region, Havre-St. Pierre boasts a backdrop of carpeted forests and limestone cliffs as well as a scattering of sculpted islands and little hamlets of clustered houses. Against this tableau, one discovers the history of indigenous peoples, the story of intrepid explorers, and the touch of 21st-century man. 

The Tiny Port 

Havre-St. Pierre’s 3,500 people can trace their town’s history back to 1857 when a clutch of a half-dozen fishing families began to carve out their lives here. They gave it the name of Point-aux-Esquimaux, which only lasted until 1927 when it was changed to Havre-Saint-Pierre* in honor of the patron saint of fishermen. 

The focus of the townsfolk, who call themselves Cayens due to their Acadian roots, changed from fishing to mining with the opening of the mines in the Allard Lake district a mere 25 miles from town. Ilmenite was found in such quantity that it was considered to be the world’s largest deposit of this precious commodity. For those in the dark about this material, it’s an iron titanium oxide that is the primary ore of titanium. If you already knew that, make your way to the head of the class and collect a cookie. And if you have a titanium hip, take your time getting there. 

Locals boast that their community is known, somewhat casually, as the Minganie regional capital as it offers many services outlying areas cannot. 

“Take Care Of The Place Where You Live” 

A short 22-mile distance from the port of Havre-St. Pierre is a place called Mingan. Mingan is an Innu First Nations reserve at the meeting point of the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence and the Mingan River on Mingan Bay.  As you’ll quickly learn, “Mingan” translates into “Ekuanitshit” in Montagnais, which means, “take care of the place where you live.” 

That heartfelt motto is the translation of the name of the Innu First Nation community found here. These Innu have lived in this area since approximately 5,000 years prior to the arrival of the first Europeans. Officially, they number just above 500 so they guard their history and protect their traditions with a passion. 

For the record, others believe the name Mingan is from the Innu word for “timber wolf”, which is maikan while some claim the translation is “place where things run aground.” 

The people themselves are also known as Mingan. In the past, their skills as hunters caught the attention of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) which, among others, opened trading posts in the area. They traded caribou, beaver, salmon, seal oil, pelts and such to the HBC, which has been in continuous operation for nearly 350 years. At one point in time, it’s said the HBC was the largest landowner in the world, including among its holdings15% of North America through its Hudson’s Bay watershed. 

Though the Mingan were seal hunters and such in the past, their economic base today revolves around the creation and marketing of art and handicrafts. Member of the community also serve as fishing guides or trappers. Tribal elders are dedicated to passing on their traditional ways to the next generation. Just know more than 97% of the Innu people who inhabit this community speak as their first language neither French nor English. 

Out And About 

Some visitors to Havre-St. Pierre travel about 45 minutes out of town to a place called Logue-Pointe-de-Mingan. Dating back to 1849, it attracted fishermen who searched for the big catches of cod. Today, Paspayas (anyone born here) showcase the Mingan Island Cetacean Study center with its exhibition on the many marine mammals native to the Saint Lawrence including several species of whales.  

Others visitors find their way to the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. This natural wonderland, laced with hiking trails, is graced with some 30 sculpted limestone islands and more than 1,000 granitic islets and reefs that are a photographer’s dream. Sculpted by a tireless sea, these rounded rocks are home to numerous seabirds and hearty plant life, while dolphins, seals and whales swim offshore. 

But Before You Depart … 

You’ll want to sample some of the fine food offered in the small restaurants in town. Typical menus including lobster and surf clams, game dishes featuring venison and duck, fresh vegetables plucked from nearby farms, buttery cheeses from local dairies, maple syrup pudding and wild blueberry cheesecake. With all these temptations, you might never leave this little bit of heaven. 

Before you leave, however, ask someone to point you toward the Roland-Jomphe Museum for a look back at the town’s history. Then ask them to hum a few bars of “La Côte-Nord”, made famous by Carolyne Jomphe. It captures the welcoming spirit of the Cayen’s signature hospitality in lyrics like, “Bienvenue chez-nous, vous dira t’on.” In English, these are words of a warm welcome that locals seem to live by. You’ll surely discover this as you wander about Havre-St. Pierre.