Nestled between the Appalachians to the north and Chaleur Bay to the south, our region enjoys a micro-climate very different from that which exists in the northern part of the Gaspé; in both summer and winter, temperature extremes are rare. And yes, on either side of the bay – in Québec and New Brunswick – the water really is warmer than elsewhere and can reach 20°C; summer clothing is a must. There is little fog. It’s one of the most suitable water bodies for pleasure boating.
Chaleur Bay is about 100 kilometres in length. It’s fed primarily by the Restigouche, Bonaventure (with its crystal-clear water), Nouvelle, Petite-Cascapédia and Grande-Cascapédia rivers.
The shoreline is composed of sandstone, mudrock and limestone. Wherever the cliffs are red, you’ll know the iron in the sedimentary rock is being transformed by an ongoing process of oxidation; if there’s no oxidising iron present, the rock is greenish.
The WATER side:
-Pebble: The seashore here is often exposed to high winds; rock fragments on the beach are worn and polished by the action of the waves. Myriad tiny organisms feed on the seaweed cast up on the shore; lift them up and you’ll find a mini marine zoo!
-Sand: Mostly located near rivers, sandy beaches can extend some way out from the shore, forming sandbars. Their fine, reddish sand is the result of eroded sandstone and shale.
A number of beaches are located along the edges of barachois (from barra, the Latin word for bar and choa (meaning small in Basque). A barachois is a lagoon or marsh separated from the sea by a sandbar. There are some fifteen barachois along Chaleur Bay. Some are estuarine in nature meaning they form where a river flows into the bay like at Bonaventure; others, like the ones at Paspébiac and Carleton-sur-Mer, are lagoon-like and have no rivers.
-Rock: These beaches, backed by cliffs, feature rocky outcrops and huge boulders. Here you can find crustaceans, sea stars and seaweed. There are beaches of this type at Shigawake and along Caps Noirs in New Richmond where the rock, marked by the upheavals of the past, exposes the geological history of the region.
On almost any Gaspé Peninsula beach along Chaleur Bay you may find semi-precious stones including agates (photo); these shiny, translucent stones come in an array of colours from grey, to orange, yellow and even, blue. Jasper (photo) is opaque and ranges from reddish, brownish to yellowish in colour.
For fossilisation to occur successfully, it must be accompanied by sedimentation that is fast enough and deep enough to shelter dead organisms from deterioration. In the Late Devonian and Early Carboniferous periods, the Miguasha area was an estuary and the sedimentary conditions were particularly suitable, producing the sedimentation needed to preserve organisms. It offers us a fantastic window into the geological and climatic past of Chaleur Bay and the living conditions that existed here several million years ago. At the Musée d’histoire naturelle de Miguasha, a UNESCO world heritage site, you can admire the fossil fish that show how vertebrates evolved as they conquered land.
The MOUNTAIN side and its forests
Conditioned by the climate, geology and terrain, the plant cover along Chaleur Bay is highly diversified.
At elevations above 1,000 metres, the soil is composed of hard rock (granite, volcanic and metamorphic rock) and the terrain features soaring cliffs overlooking the neighbouring uplands. This is the home of the alpine tundra that covers the highest summits (Mont Jacques-Cartier and Mont Albert, for instance). In summer, the caribou pasture here, feeding on terrestrial lichen, mosses and other plants they manage to find here. In winter, when the weather leaves an icy layer that prevents them from scraping at the ground with their hooves, the caribou head down the mountains to the forests in the subalpine layer where they feed on tree lichen.
The balsam fir-black spruce domain lies at elevations of between 600 and 700 metres. It occupies high summits in the area and stretches from the centre of the peninsula to the tip, wherever the maritime climate has less influence.
Areas at elevations of between 300 and 600 metres (Mont Saint-Joseph, Pin-Rouge), are home to the balsam fir-white birch domain, suitable habitat for moose. There are numerous winter deer yards along the river banks in these areas where the white-tailed deer gather for the winter.
Finally, areas lying at elevations of between sea level and 300 metres are home to the balsam fir-yellow birch domain along the Chaleur Bay shore. This domain is most suitable for maple syrup production.