The quiet town of Percé on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is best known for the large rock jutting out of the Gulf of St. Laurence that’s graced a million Instagram feeds, but there’s a new geologic attraction in town. In 2018 Géoparc de Percé – the first UNESCO Geopark in French-speaking Canada – opened (the other two Canadian geoparks are in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, and Stonehammer, New Brunswick).
Several years ago Gaspé resident Cathy Poirier and some friends realized people were looking out to Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island, but few appreciated the significance of the peninsula’s geology. Located in the heart of the Appalachians, this region is where William Edmond Logan, our first director of the Geological Survey of Canada, got excited about rocks.
Weaving together over twenty sites of geologic and scientific importance, Poirier, project Manager Yvan Whittom, and seventeen founding businesses raised funds for an Experiential Pavilion with a multi-media show, hiking trails, and a map, and created a cooperative to manage the region’s first year-round attraction. Now Poirier is mayor, couples are getting married on the GeoParc’s suspended glass platform high above Percé, and you’ll find plenty of family adventure and a great road trip (Percé is an eight-hour drive from Quebec City, seven from Fredericton).
Start your visit with a multi-media orientation at the Experiential Pavilion and The TEKTONIK Interactive Adventure. Lights flash, thunder booms, rocks whisper, and holograms reveal the geology and rock history to delight the youngest travellers. Return after dark to see the free multi-media projection on the outside of the pavilion with the legend of Gluskap and the creation of the Mi’kmaq people.
The GeoParc has 18 kilometres of hiking trails, zip-lining and a suspended glass platform with views of Percé and the Gaspé Peninsula (take the shuttle bus for easy access). It has all-season camping and ready-to camp tents with equipment and heating, making it an excellent place to base your explorations.
Early in the day while the ocean is calm, take the ferry to Parc national de l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé and see six of the sites including the famous Percé Rock and Anse à Butler (the reception and information areas for Bonaventure Island). Not part of the geology but not to be missed is the hike to North America’s largest migratory bird sanctuaries, and one of it’s most accessible gannet colonies. With over 200,000 gannets, it’s awe-inspiring to stand meters away from these sleek white birds as they preen and split the air with their calls.
Back on the mainland, pause at the Percé Church. Built more than a century ago from local stone, the walls of brown sandstone are subject to erosion, a critical GeoParc theme. The church’s steeples and stained-glass windows offer testament to early Gaspé residents and their descendants’ tenaciousness as they craft the area’s rock wealth into a new attraction.
Other Must-see stops in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula
With a preponderance of porcupines, this forested peninsula pokes into the Gulf of Saint Laurence. Known by Mi’kmaq as the place “where land ends”, the park has Canada’s largest colony of Atlantic kittiwakes, a historical cod fishery site, WWII coastal battery, and some of the country’s prettiest sunrises.
French explorer Jacque Cartier broke an anchor in Gaspé Bay. Going ashore for repairs, he left with more than a working anchor. He took official possession of the area for the King of France, much to the displeasure of First Nations. The waterfront attraction includes the reconstruction of a 1900s village with heritage house where you can enjoy tea and cookies, a tavern with adult refreshments, and storytellers in period costume explaining the peninsula’s complex history.
For a quick orientation to the Gaspé Peninsula history, visit the museum’s fishing boat, watch historical portraits come to life with digital wizardry, and stroll through a gallery of local art. Visit the Jacque Cartier monument to see the harsh effects of colonization on indigenous people.
The author travelled to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula in September 2019. She was a guest of Parks Canada and Quebec Maritime, but they did not review or approve this article.