Etienne Fiola grew up in rural Gaspesie, just a few dozen kilometers from where he lives now, in Rimouski, the gateway to the region. It’s the capital city of the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, just to the west of Gaspesie.
We met up with Etienne for a stroll of this interesting city of about 50,000 during a weekend when the town was having a big music festival and street celebration.
I was impressed with some of the things we saw and what he told us about how half this city burned to the ground on a windy day in the 1950s, called “The Red Night. Only a few brick buildings survived, he said, including a large cathedral which might be converted into a library. Now that’s a great way to reuse an elegant building.
We passed a series of wooden boxes, about four feet square, which Etienne explained were mini gardens built by a volunteering group with the help of the city, full of vegetable plants. People are encouraged to pick the lettuce and other veggies and the boxes look great as they encourage healthy eating.
We walked through a long avenue that was blocked off to traffic. This was the last night of a 10-day street festival with beer stands and music on one end, and lots of restaurants serving limited menus out on the street, using tents and tables provided by the city. The city also has dotted the downtown with colorful plastic Adirondack chairs, encouraging people to sit for awhile.
We walked up a hill toward a popular ice cream joint called La Chocolaterie aux Bienfaits. It is also a chocolate maker, which is why the people always ask for chocolate coating with their ice cream.
We passed a ViaRail station, with train service to Montreal that takes 8 hours, while a drive there only takes 5 hours. The freight trains that own the tracks force the passenger trains to pull over on sidings, which stretches out the journey. Next to the station were a series of wooden structures open in front, which Etienne said was used for the Saturday farmer’s market, and for the Christmas market held in December.
Along the St. Lawrence river are a wonderful bike and walking trail that’s dotted with white steel structures with two-level seating for people to enjoy the view. The tide, he said, stretches out about 1/4 of a mile and after we got our cones, Etienne said we had to get back to the river. It was time for the evening show–a dramatic sunset that lines the whole shoreline in orange and then turns the clouds brilliant red.
The city has a university and hospital and is home to many marine research facilities. The biggest employers include the hospital and the universities. Many of the fishermen who were forced out of business after the 1992 moratorium on cod fishing have turned to other fields, and young people are encouraged to come live here–there is plenty of room, apartments can be had for $600 or less a month, and there’s free health insurance too. All in all, Rimouski has a lot going for it and deserves its reputation