The Beaches of Cacouna

Over Time and Tide

Seasonally and annually, depending on the strength and direction of the winds, the beaches of Cacouna are either smooth and sandy, stony and uneven, or covered in seaweed tossed up by storms. Interspersed with rocky points, these beaches bordering the banks of the river have formed slowly over several thousand years. Since the disappearance of the glaciers in the region and continental uplift, the waters of the St. Lawrence have reshaped the landscape. They have eroded the cliffs, where now stratified rock deposits can be seen. The waves have also stirred and shaken rocks, which have shattered into smaller particles to form grains of sand.
 
Between the beach at the Fontaine Claire inlet and the cultivated fields, changing huts were built on the shore. They were used by urban families, from the 1840s onwards, who reached them via the cliff paths or the rue du Quai. 
 
 
Photo source:
Ernest Mercier, Private collection of Georges Pelletier and Lynda Dionne
 
 

The Nourishing Sea

View of the west of Cacouna fishing weirs.
 
Well before the arrival of the Europeans, Aboriginal bands travelled up and down the St. Lawrence to feed on waterfowl, fish, shellfish, or marine mammals. They got out of their bark canoes and also travelled along the beaches on foot from one place to another. Thanks to the land clearing of the LeParc seigneury, the early settlers circulated on the shores before the first path was officially established. The Cacouna fishermen made their way there twice a day, during the season, to collect their catch. From one tide to the next, some recovered the wood left on the shoreline by the waves to use as firewood for their dwellings. Sometimes, after a storm, they would find barrels or cases of provisions (apples, fish oil, etc.) or even dishes or construction timber lost by seafaring vessels.
 
Photo source:
Mary Tudor Montizambert, Private collection of David Crombie
 
 

The Popularity of Sea Bathing

Summer vacationers in the 1890s taking advantage of the landscape, canoe trips, and the beaches, bathing in the salt water.
 
During the summers of the 1840s, travellers fleeing the heat and insalubrity of the towns discovered the extensive beaches of Cacouna, its mild healthy climate, and especially the opportunity of sea bathing that was beneficial to their health. In this region, the waters of the upper estuary are salty and very cold even in midsummer, due to the upwelling of water brought directly from the Arctic by the Labrador Current. However, with the rising tide, this water regains heat through contact with the tidal flats heated by the sun. Salt sea bathing popularized Cacouna, which consequently became a beach resort and holiday destination. In 1862, the building of the St. George’s Hotel (later called St. Lawrence Hall) on the cliff increased the number of visitors. 
 
Photo source:
First advertisements: Journal Le Canadien, 1866
Photo: Ernest Mercier, Private collection of Georges Pelletier and Lynda Dionne
 

River and Beach Attract Businessmen & Politicians

Beach of the Hotel St. Lawrence Hall.
 
On the long beach of Cacouna, opposite the hotel St. Lawrence Hall, numerous changing huts accommodated the vacationing families. A small wooden path enabled people to walk down to the water’s edge easily. Around 1900, while some people bathed in the salt water, others left in a canoe, and the children played in the sand.
 
With the circulation of sailing ships and steamers in the second half of the 19th century, the rocky terrain of the cliff offered beautiful vistas of the St. Lawrence and also of the mountains of Charlevoix, the islands, and the mouth of the Saguenay River. This panorama attracted businessmen and politicians of Québec, Montréal and other places, who then had cottages or villas built with a path down to the beach. Along the shore, little huts enabled the summer vacationers to change into their bathing suits. Over the years, these changing huts gradually disappeared. From the 1950s, families of the region built summer cottages along the shoreline to take full advantage of the beach and landscape. 
 
Photo source:
Bas-Saint-Laurent Museum, Rivière-du-Loup, Belle-Lavoie fund, NAC bl0176
 



Excerpt of
Maritime Cacouna and its Old Hamlets

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