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I never knew that Saskatchewan was a whole lot more than the prairie, and even the prairie is fascinating when seen the way...

Even the prairie is fascinating when seen the way Great Excursions presents it.

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  • Jun 1, 2016 - Jun 10, 2016

Day 1 - Québec City, Québec

One of the oldest, and loveliest European settlements in North America, Québec takes its name from the Algonquin word meaning ‘where the river narrows.’ The city that Champlain founded in 1608 was the capital of New France, and later, British North America. Today, the proud capital of the province of the same name boasts the old-world charms of Vieux Québec, the world-famous Chateau Frontenac hotel, and the only remaining intact citadel walls in North America. Cultural riches, superb cuisine, and an incredible view over the river make Québec the perfect place to begin our voyage!

Day 2 - Fiord du Saguenay

Home to Aboriginal cultures for thousands of years, the Saguenay Fiord’s first European visitor was Jacques Cartier in 1532. The Saguenay drains fresh water from Lac St. Jean, but the greater part of its volume is salt tidal water from the St. Lawrence Estuary. The result is ideal habitat for marine mammals including four species of whales – fin, minke, blue, and the famous (endangered) Saguenay beluga population. Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and Saguenay Fiord National Park both protect the region’s vast natural riches.

Day 3 - Le Bic Prov Park

It’s easy to forget Québec is a coastal province – but not at Parc National du Biq. Watching the seabirds swoop and dive, viewing seals basking in rocky coves, or basking in the region’s glorious sunsets, the spirit of the Atlantic Ocean is ever-present. Salt marshes and rocky hills define the park, located on the South Shore of the St. Lawrence. Aboriginal artifacts dating to 5000 BC attest to the region’s natural riches; many such artifacts are now preserved in the park’s interpretive centre. Walking trails give access to Le Bic’s unique landscapes; birding and wildlife opportunities abound.

Day 4 - Havre-Saint-Pierre/ Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve

Due north of Anticosti Island on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, Havre-Saint-Pierre has a unique history. The village was settled in 1857 by a group of Acadian deportees from Georgia, by way of Magdalene Islands. The local dialect retains strong elements of Acadian French to this day.

The spectacular natural sculptures of the Mingan Islands, are formed of limestone, shaped by the action of the sea. At 50 degrees N, these islands owe as much to the north as to the east for their character. Atlantic puffins and Arctic eiders vie for the attention of birders, while harp, harbour and gray seals cavort in the waters. Not to be outdone, the flora of the islands is wildly diverse, including 450 plant species, 190 lichens and 300 mosses!

Day 5 - Anticosti Prov Park - North Shore

A huge island in the very mouth of the St. Lawrence River, Anticosti Island is known for its breathtaking scenery and extraordinary birdwatching opportunities. Larger than PEI, Anticosti is the twentieth-largest island in Canada by area, but has a human population of only a few hundred. By contrast, more than 160,000 non-indigenous white-tailed deer make their homes on Anticosti – rightfully known as a hunter’s paradise. It’s also a great spot for birds: 60 per cent of Québec’s known bald eagle breeding grounds are here, and more than 220 species of birds have been sited at Anticosti, along with numerous seals and whales.

Day 6 - Forillon National Park / Gaspé

The Gaspe Peninsula, also known as Gaspesie, separates the mouth of the St. Lawrence from the Baie de Chaleur. Dominated by high cliffs on the north shore, the Gaspe includes the eastern tip of the Appalachian mountain chain and consequently offers amazing views, both of, and from its highland regions, which jut above the treeline.

The first National Park in Québec, Forillo, is an important birding and marine mammal location. Forillon also preserves human history in the Grand-Grave National Heritage Site, telling the story of the fishing families who once made their homes here. The park contains Canada’s tallest lighthouse, and fortifications remaining from the Second World War, when German u-boats were a threat to Allied shipping.

Day 7 - Île Bonaventure Prov Park / Percé

Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé is the formal name of the park at the eastern tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. But most Canadians are more familiar with its best-known feature, the awe-inspiring Percé Rock. Less well known perhaps is the area’s superb Northern Gannet colony, extolled as the largest and most accessible in the world.

Named by Samuel de Champlain, the rock itself is world-renowned, containing a huge natural arch within a mass of reddish limestone and sandstone. A second arch once pierced the rock but collapsed in 1845, leaving a massive column at one end. Percé Rock has revealed 150 species of fossils, and more than 200 species of birds are found nearby. Fin, minke, humpback and blue whales ply the nearby waters of this magnificent coastal outpost.

Day 8 - Îles-de-la-Madeleine / Québec

Long frequented by Mi’kmaq people, likely walrus hunters, the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were first sighted by Europeans when Jacques Cartier sailed among them in 1534. Today, although closer to Nova Scotia and PEI, they form a regional municipality of the province of Québec.

However, the islands have a history distinct from that of mainland Québec. When the British expelled the Acadians from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Magdalen Islanders remained, and to this day take great pride in their Acadian heritage. There are also long-standing English settlements, and a percentage of the population can claim descent from survivors of the many shipwrecks that have occurred among the Islands.

Pack ice has historically surrounded the Islands during winter, leading to near-total isolation for months at a time. Besides fishing, shipping, salt mining and tourism, sealing on the pack ice has been a traditional source of income and subsistence for Islanders.

Day 9 - Southern Coast Newfoundland

You could be forgiven for not knowing the French history of Newfoundland: sections of the island’s coastline changed hands multiple times, and the remnant communities have in general come a long way since they were unequivocally French. The name of the tiny outport of Francois, for example, is pronounced locally as ‘Fransway.’ Accessible by boat only, this charming fishing village surrounded by spectacular cliffs offers a glimpse of a way of life that has largely disappeared.

Newfoundland’s South Shore offers many surprises, including vast stretches of virtually uninhabited wilderness. Fiords, cliffs and islands offer excellent Zodiac cruising territory and terrific birding.

Day 10 -  Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, France

On a trip that traces the history and geography of New France, it’s appropriate that we wind up… in France. The small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon remain officially a part of the French Republic, albeit only a few dozen km off the shore of Newfoundland. 

In charming Saint Pierre (population 6,000) you’ll find fine wine and cheese, excellent coffee and pastries, even contemporary French fashion items in a post-card pretty town. European style dwellings stand shoulder to shoulder with typical East Coast architecture, and French license plates adorn the Renauts and Citroens on the winding old streets. Vive La France!

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