Cruising has slowly been returning to the North Shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, with Baie Comeau, Sept Iles and Havre St Pierre all having hosted modern cruise ships for the first time in the past couple of years. The first international cruise ship to visit Sept Iles was Holland America Line’s Maasdam, which called on May 19, 2009, on a voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Montreal. Maasdam berthed in Sept Iles at the Monseigneur Blanche Wharf, where until 1961, the Clarke Steamship Company’s North Shore had offered a weekly cruise from Montreal as far as Havre St Pierre and Natashquan. That service also carried regular passengers and freight but was closed down fifty years ago after a new highway was constructed along the North Shore from Quebec City. North Shore then went to cruise in the Greek islands. Recently, however, a $20.4 million 124-metre extension has been added to the wharf to allow cruise ships of up to 985 feet to dock.
Cruising to the North Shore and Labrador was most popular with the Clarke Steamship Co, founded in 1921 by what up until then had been a family involved in publishing and pulp and paper. To the right is a typical scene from 1935, with Clarke’s North Voyageur, the first of three ships to carry that name, berthed at Pointe Noire, now part of the Port of Sept Iles.
Meeting the ship on the wharf is the Gulf Pulp & Paper Company’s locomotive number 20, a unit that had been built for the Intercolonial Railway in 1900 and acquired by Gulf Pulp & Paper in 1924, along with a combination passenger and freight car and a number of flat cars. The bell-mouthed smokestack was to prevent sparks from starting forest fires along the nine-mile railway line that connected Pointe Noire with the pulp mill town of Clarke City.
Cruises on North Voyageur, which had berths for 62 overnight passengers, ran 12 nights round trip from Montreal and started at $100. Ports of call included Quebec, Godbout, Clarke City, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, returning via Natashquan, Sept Iles and Franquelin. To-day, ships as large as RMS Queen Mary 2 call at Corner Brook, which has also seen a revival of cruising.
The new cruise terminal at Sept Iles, with Norwegian Spirit in port from New York. The new wharf extension allows cruise passengers to board another train that takes them to visit an Innu summer camp on the Moisie River, a famed salmon river that has been fished by prime ministers.
A new 14-night itinerary will be offered in September 2012 by Saga’s Quest for Adventure, sailing for its Spirit of Adventure brand. Departing Halifax on the 17th for St Pierre et Miquelon, the French islands just off Newfoundland, she will then make her way to les Iles de la Madeleine, Havre St Pierre, Sept Iles, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Saguenay, Baie Comeau and Gaspé before returning to Halifax. This 18,591-ton vessel can accommodate 446 passengers in lower berths. Built in 1981 as the first Astor, she sails now as Saga Pearl II but will move to Spirit of Adventure in May 2012, when she is replaced by the 752-berth Saga Sapphire (built as Hapag-Lloyd’s last Europa in1982 and now sailing as Bleu de France).
For further details of opportunities to cruise the Gulf of St Lawrence in particular or Canada/New England in general call The Cruise People Ltd in the United Kingdom on 020 7723 2450 and in North America at 1-800-961-5536.