Saguenay was a great addition to my bucket list trip in Quebec.

My bucket list has always included a winter trip to Quebec. It’s a bit strange to fly from Arizona to the Arctic Circle in February. The trip to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean was an unexpected detour from Carnaval in Quebec Citie. The fact that I was always warm despite the air temperature never exceeding 12F (-11C) is due to my layering. Quebecoise people are extremely welcoming. Although I encountered fewer people who spoke English in Quebec City and Charlevoix, my other destinations on this trip, all were friendly, patient and helpful when I was struggling to remember everything that Mme. Affille was my high school French teacher.

Welcome To Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean

What is this thing called again?

Marc laughed in thickly accented English while Helene continued to pour and hand the drink to the other group members crammed into a one bedroom fishing shack that was floating on ice above 400 feet (122m), ice-cold Fjord water.

Helene had pulled a rope through the hole in her floor just moments before. The bucket of seabass was outside, as the temperature at midday was -20F (28C). She opened the netted bag as the rope ended entered the shack and took out a bottle very chilled vodka.

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We’re sitting in the thick, six-foot-deep (2m) ice sheet over Baie du Ha. Ha! Off-shore of Anse-a-Benjamin in central Quebec, near Saint-Fabien and the Saguenay-La Saint-Jean area. We’re enjoying the hospitality in this luxurious, toasty shack of the man called the “Maire de Le Baie”.

Ice fishing in the Saguenay Fjord, near Quebec. Photo by Chantale ouellet via iStock. Getty Images

Marc measures out a quarter inch (65mm), or about one-quarter of an inch, of pure Quebecoise Maple Syrup into each glass. Helene pours a quarter-inch (65mm) of pure Quebecoise maple syrup on top to create a two-color drink.

Marc tells you to “hold the vodka on your lips.” “Then, wait until the syrup flows into your mouth.”

If I hadn’t had a Canadian bourbon with maple syrup the night before, I might have been reluctant. On a cloudy Canadian morning, we were standing around chatting with two French couples, one Arizonan and three Quebecoise, all from Saguenay. We also had two grandchildren, who brought soft drinks. In Quebec, maple syrup is served at every meal. We all yelled “skol”, and downed drinks. The entire trip was similar to the one we took from Quebec City to Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean.

Photo by Eric Jay Toll. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Fjord Saguenay

The Fjord of Saguenay is located in the middle of the region. It is one of only a few and largest inland fjords in the world. The fjord does not empty into the Atlantic Ocean but connects to the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Fleuve de Saint-Laurent.

The fjord formed by the Riviere saguenay is more than 900 feet deep (274m). A massive bar at the confluence of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent traps the saltwater in the deepest parts of the fjord.

Saguenay Fjord, the largest inland fjord in the world, is covered by a thick layer of ice. The ice in the bays adjacent to the fjord is over two meters thick, and many fishing shacks are built on it. A breaker of ice smashes the channel for commercial boats in the main channel. Auberge Cap-de-Ouest’s view is facing south, towards the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Visit the Musee du Fjord in La Baie

Musee du Fjord is a great place to learn about the Fjord and its geography. The aquarium contains fish from different depths in the fjord. The fjord is home to these deep-saltwater species that cannot be mixed with ocean fish. My guide pointed out that starfish in the Saguenay Fjord have six arms, instead of “normally” five.

The length of the line will determine whether you can catch saltwater or freshwater fish in the fishing villages along the river. This explains the bucket of seabass Marc kept in his outdoor freezer. Most residents of the ice-fishing village own their shacks. However, there are some that are owned by Contact Nature, an organization local nonprofit.

Outdoor Experiences In Saguenay

Contact Nature is a partner of the local and provincial governments in outdoor recreation. Plein Aire is an outdoor recreation centre in the mountains southwest from La Baie. Its center has a place where you can rent snowmobiles and cross-country skiing equipment, or snowshoes and arrange a dog-sled ride in the boreal forest. Contact Nature helped me enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in Saguenay, allowing me to show off winter in Quebec.

Quebec offers a wide range of winter sports. Photo by MarcBruxelle, iStock. Getty Images

Dog Sledding Is A Must-Do During Winter In Quebec

The experience of dog sledding can be a very unique one. They are smaller than Labrador retriever dogs, but still very frisky. When their mushers begin to hook them into harnesses, they are so excited. I sat on the seat of the sled, covered in a thick blanket and headed into the boreal trees tunnel. The dogs are pulling at a fast pace. They are brought to a halt periodically by the musher, but are eager to continue.

When the lightbulb went off in my head, I laughed because most people in Quebec are French-speakers. The dogs will only obey commands given in French.

Allez!

“A gi! Paul, the musher calls out “A gi!” as the dogs turn right after a brief pause. He says, “They changed the route this year and the dogs are still learning how to turn right here instead of going straight.”

On the snow-covered groomed trail, a dogsled pulls its weight. The dogs pull hard on the one-hour ride through the boreal forest. Only the French commands and the swooshing of the sled and the pounding of the dogs’ paws are heard. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Marc Andre Galbrant is the executive director of Contact Nature. We meet again after our ride. We have a burger at the Plein Aire cafe in Riviere Mars.

Galbrant said, “We’re here to make sure people can enjoy the outdoors throughout the year.” In the summer we offer canoes, kayaks, hiking and camping.

Enjoy an Open-Air Preserve in Wintertime Quebec

Dawn brought with it a day of bright Canadian sunshine poking its way through the clouds. At Saint-Felicien, along Lac-Saint-Jean, the temperature was lower than at La Baie. Overnight the temperature fell to -40F which is also equal to -40C. The highlight of today is Zoo Sauvage. This open-air preserve has wild animals from boreal forests, sub-arctic areas, and other regions in their native habitat.

Trams and small buses are used to travel through the Zoo. On the bus, we wound our way through the preserve. A herd of elk were grazing and poking their noses through the snow in one place. When we stopped, a bull insisted on walking over to within a few metres of our bus. The bull stood proudly with a smug expression on his face. He turned around and walked off with a snort. We walked towards a replica of a 19th century logging camp.

The bull elk is a bit smug as it comes up to the car and checks out the passengers. He then walks off into the snowy field. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

We walked out of the bus and walked past the dining hall, bunkhouse and restored log cabin. As we passed, a lone horse poked its head out of the corner. We snapped some photos and then turned to walk to the bus. A bison walked up to get a closer view.

The bison wandered off from its spot checking the tires of the bus to stop at the edge birch forest for a photo in Saint-Felicien. Saguenay-Lac Saint-George Region, Quebec, Canada. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

The driver said, “You must attend here.” I understood. Merci, Mme. Affille. As I swung around to see the bison head away from the bus into the birch forest, it gave me an opportunity to pose in between the trees. The bus continued to meander, passing by arctic deer, wolves and moose. We then returned to the main building. We walked a short distance to the habitat of the polar bear, but when we arrived, the bear turned and lumbered up the hill.

Adapting To Winter In Quebec

Saguenay & Lac-Saint-Jean offer a lot to do. Snow sports are endless. The snow sport activities seem endless.

The mobile phone French-English Dictionary helped me to ask “Were you cold?

After he had helped me to look it up and repeated it several times more slowly, I was able to understand. Quebec’s snowmobile trails connect major cities to rural areas. Snowmobilers often travel up to dozens of kilometers per day during a multi-day trip from Quebec City to Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean.

Contact Nature, located south of Baie in Quebec, Canada, runs the Plein Aire Center where two snowmobilers, from Quebec Citie, chat outside the cafe. The pair traveled hundreds of kilometers on the Quebec snowmobile trails to reach the Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean area. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Saguenay Traditional Lunch

After returning to the hotel, I sat in the lounge, with my feet raised, and watched an icebreaker make its way up from the seaway.

After visiting Quebec on several occasions, I craved a bowl soupe-aux pois, a traditional Quebecois soup made with yellow peas, ham, and other ingredients.

When I asked at the hotel, they told me that it was no longer fashionable. The next day I went to La Fornee in Saint-Felicien and the chef prepared a special bowl for me. This is the perfect meal for a foggy provincial day at a cafe where everyone speaks French.

Arts And Crafts In Quebec

After lunch, it was time for a visit to an Economusee Pelletier-Bottier, a furrier and taxidermist in Normandin, Bilodeau.

Bilodeau consists of craftsmen who work with animal leather and fur. Taxidermists of international renown, they mount animals for museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Natural History, in New York. The Mounties, or Royal Canadian Mounted Police wear their famous fur hats.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police hats were made by Bilodeau in Normadin in Quebec, Canada, a family owned furrier, taxidermist and clothing company. Before being distributed to the RCMP, each fur-covered hat is sewn by hand and combed by hand. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

They are a living museum that demonstrates the evolution of the craft since its foundation in the 19th Century. Bilodeau, which is no longer a part of the network for artisan economusees in 2022, has built a $700,000 interactive exhibit with robotic animals and an excellent learning experience.

There are also other economusees across Quebec where passionate artisans show off their craft. Living museums play a dual role in local economies as both a tourist attraction and economusees.

The Saguenay Region has many regional museums.

Winter in Quebec is a great time to visit unique museums. In their reserve, near Roberval, the local indigenous peoples of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh first nation in Mashteuiatsh have opened the Musee Amerindien De Mashteuiatsh, which features historical and contemporary arts.

Snowshoes evolved from birchbark and the canoe is a real treasure. Beadwork and leatherwork are beautiful. The museum offers interactive crafts and stories, as well as beadwork and art.

The Mashteuiatsh embroidered designs on leather to decorate their instruments and clothing. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Visit The Saguenay Region during your winter in Quebec

Many visitors to Quebec believe that the only place where they can experience winter is in Montreal or Quebec City. Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean is a region with a wealth of things to see, do and eat. It is more Quebecoise and less cosmopolitan. This gives a real feel of French Canada.

It was abiento, not au revoir. While I loved my winter in Quebec I plan to return this summer, without the parka. I want to hit the bike paths. Wander has more ideas for things to do and see in the Quebec region at any time of year.