The St. Lawrence Rivers cuts through Québec, and is the soul of the province, ever since the early days of being a French colony and settlement.
West of and upstream of Montréal, between Lac Saint-Pierre (which is actually part of the St. Lawrence River) and Lake Ontario (roughly adjacent to Highway 401 in Ontario), the freshwater reach is usually calm, if only because of the 1950s-era St Lawrence Seaway project dammed the river and added navigation locks. Near downtown Montréal, in Lachine, you’ll find impressive rapids.
The main Trans-Canada Highway route is on the south, following AutoRoute 20 from Montréal to Levis , opposite Quebec City (and if you have time, there is a meandering road Route #132 that follows the south bank of the St Lawrence, from upstream of Quebec City to Riviere du Loup, and around the curing shoreline of the Gaspe Peninsula), and the secondary Trans-Canada Highway route is AutoRoute 40 on the north shore, connecting Montreal, Trois Riviere, and Quebec City.
East of Quebec City, the St Lawrence River widens as you get closer to the ocean, and in the estuary the waters become salty and are home to whales and other large marine mammals every summer, and smaller fish like eels that thrive in these waters. From its majestic vantage point high atop the summit of Cap Diamant, Québec City’s fortress overlooks the St. Lawrence. In the gulf, where you can barely see one bank from the other, and the only way across the river is by ferry, the St. Lawrence is commonly called “la mer” (the sea) and was the site of many battles with German submarines in World War II.
To discover the river by car, take one of the many panoramic routes that wind along its banks, and discover stunning scenery and a host of charming ancestral villages (many dating back to the 1600s and 1680s) await you!
The North Shore is characterized by forest and rugged mountains overlooking the river, the South Shore is characterized by gentle farmland plains. To cross from one bank to the other, simply board one of the many ferries.
The river has a number of charming, if not historically important islands, each with its own distinct cachet. Not far from Québec City lies the immense Île d’Orléans, with its farms, churches and villages dating back to early New France. Grosse-Île, across from Montmagny, has several small isles and islands, and served as a quarantine station for European immigrants arriving by boat from 1832 to 1937.
To tour the many river islands, and see the seabirds, seals and whales, take a cruise. You can sample locally caught fish such as Kamouraska eel, caught and smoked in the old-fashioned way. In the springtime and autumn, watch hundreds of thousands of snow geese as they make their migratory stops in the area.
There are several points where Quebec Ferries cross the St Lawrence (some just go to a significant island in the river, though most cross to the other side), in order from west to east (see the map below):
- L’ille Verte
- Rivière-du-Loup-Saint-Siméon (across the Saguenay River)
- Matane – Baie-Comeau – Godbout Ferry
- Île d’Entrée-Cap-aux-Meules (from PEI)