Havre-Saint-Pierre: Simplicity, Solitude & Seafood

SEPT-ÎLES, Canada – If the small town of Havre-Saint-Pierre, Canada, could be represented and identified by its restaurants, we would see the entire local flavour profile immediately. There are only two “restaurants” in town. There are quite a few snack-bars – including the Casse-croûte au Capayou and the Casse-croûte Mille-Sabords – but for a full meal with a glass of wine or a beer, there only are two options: Chez Julie and Promenade.

And you simply have to ask people who live there to know that Chez Julie, albeit a bit more expensive, offers much more. Oh, with only two options, a traveler passing through Havre-Saint-Pierre will have no difficulty to try both restaurants – and we did, and the Promenade is worth its weight – but dinner must be had Chez Julie. When we arrived, a queue was already stretching onto the porch.

Then, once inside, we were welcomed in an unpretentious space, where workers are seated and shamelessly order bottle over bottle, lobster over lobster. The crowd is composed of a large majority of men, mostly between their early thirties and late fifties, who eat greedily, drink constantly, talk loudly and seem right at home. This atmosphere of bonhomie is easy to get into, and when we’re presented menus, we simply ask the waitress what they do best. Obviously, Havre-Saint-Pierre is on the sea – on the edge of a gulf, specifically – and seafood is featured.

We decide on the “assiette du pêcheur”: a whole lobster, scallops, shrimp, halibut fillet, cod fillet, crab. In fact, this dish is, according to the menu, for one person… and only costs 60$! Need I say more?

Everything is cooked in the greatest simplicity. The lobster is boiled, fillets and scallops sautéed in butter, shrimp are simply blanched… a real delight. Local products cooked in a local fashion. When will this “revolutionary idea” catch on elsewhere?

The secretive Manitou River, next to Havre-Saint-Pierre

The road stretches for miles. Nothing in front, nothing behind. No mountains, no embosses. No other cars, nothing. Animals? They lurk, hidden, invisible to the eye, which itself is in any way focused on the road. Sunglasses, windows down, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Then, a small wooden sign, bearing writings unreadable from afar, seem to advertise some sort of refuge.

Once past the sign, a building stands. But in a split second, it’s far away, like all the black spruce and lichen that are on the roadside. It already seems hundreds of miles away, visible only in the rear-view mirror.

Then, about halfway between Havre-Saint-Pierre and Sept-Îles, lies a river. “Rivière Manitou” is written on a large green sign. Let’s take a chance, stop the car.

We are alone. No one. Nothing. But before us, from the side of the highway, wooden stairs lead down to a path in the woods. Then, after only a few steps, we discover a magnificent waterfall. It seems to fall into infinity. Too intrigued to be reasonable, we pass underneath the metal wire that serves as a safeguard. A single misstep, a simple slip on the slippery wet rock, and we fall to certain death. Now we see where the fall leads: a few tens of meters below the water fails in what appears to be a lake. We walk down.

Look around once … twice … Still no one? Get naked and get in!

It’s impressive: a fall, a lake, clear fresh water, and a striking odour of purity. After about fifteen minutes in the water, we get out, reborn. And the trail continues further. Let’s go see!

Another surprise: what we thought was a lake is actually a reservoir for a second fall, an even grander one.

Then, we refuse to accept that our visit is over. We refuse to leave. It’s only after an hour of solitude in a stunningly magical place, we meet – finally and unfortunately – other people, also visiting the waterfall. That meeting has the immediate effect of driving us out of there. Quick, let’s go back to find infinite solitude on the highway.