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The Charms of Chicoutimi

© By Ruby Pratka
  Check the index of any Canadian travel guide for their listing of Chicoutimi, Québec. In all likelihood, you will discover a brief descriptor that presents a few bed-and-breakfasts, nice views of the Saguenay River and an abandoned paper mill. In fact, there's more to the town, and also much more to the paper mill as well.
     Chicoutimi is a city of 300,000, but the eerie absence of big city noise and the leafy, tranquil main street, lined with shops make it seem much smaller. It boasts a surprisingly vibrant music scene; free concerts including big-name acts are held at the Vieux Port performance area in the summer and at the cathedral. Windows of bars and cafes are plastered with concert posters. Vieux Port also offers a bar and an ice cream stand and is a popular for walks at all hours of the day and night.
     The town is definitely worth a stop for those interested in regional history. Like all Industrial Revolution boom towns throughout North America, Chicoutimi remembers days when it was the world's leading producer of paper pulp in the early 20th century. The expansive "Pulperie," abandoned in 1930, serves now as a museum with permanent exhibits on the workings of the paper mill and the history of the region. Its main attraction is the transplanted house of Arthur Villeneuve, a Chicoutimi barber, who, in his later years, painted the walls of his house inside and out with vibrant cityscapes of Chicoutimi and drawings of forests and holy places.
     A short walk from the Pulperie is La Petite Maison Blanche, or "the little white house." During the catastrophic Lac Ste. Jean flood of 1996, much of Chicoutimi's La Bassin neighbourhood was washed away. One of the few buildings that remained was a tiny white house, which survived because its foundations were partly built into the surrounding rock. After the owner's death, the city turned the house into a museum and the surrounding area, a memorial park. A fountain representing the flood flows, and carved slabs in the ground indicate the numbers of dwellings destroyed. The museum remains tasteful and informative.

     

     The Bon Conseil Historical Centre, operated by the Sisters of Good Counsel, a local order of nuns, opens by appointment only except in July and August, and is a definite attraction for those interested in local history.
     Boat cruises on the Saguenay River are a popular draw. In July and August, cruises run from Chicoutimi proper, but from June to September, cruises run from the tiny town of Ste. Rose du Nord, next to the Fjord of Saguenay, 40 minutes down the Fjord Highway. Hiking in the Fjord area offers breathtaking river views. The best time to visit the town that straddles the Saguenay is summer, after any danger of blizzards has long passed. Travel by car or bus; the Saguenay Intercar Bus Line operates several trips daily between Québec City and Chicoutimi. There is a VIA Rail train station in nearby Jonquiere. The nearest airport is in Québec City, four hours to the south. For accommodations, check out the early 20th century Hotel Chicoutimi in the heart of downtown. There's also a surprisingly large assortment of welcoming B & B's and inns. During the summer, the CEGEP de Chicoutimi (community college) rents space in its dorms to travelers on a budget.
     French is the predominant language here. Bilingual signs, menus, museum guides and timetables, common in Québec and Montreal, are sparse. It is likely that you will find someone who can explain things to you in English, but those who are unilingual are at risk. Those tourists who practise European French might also be disoriented by frequent use of Canadian and Anglo jargon in everyday speech.

     

     

Ruby Pratka (Journalism, Carleton University) is originally from the US, but moved to Canada at the age of 17 "for the adventure." Her favorite destinations include Ljubljana, Paris, Boston and Ville-de-Québec; she is looking forward to going to Russia this fall! She speaks English, Russian, French, some Dutch and some Slovene. Her articles have appeared in Potomac Area Council of Youth Hostels' Voyager, Ottawa Capital Xtra, Carleton Charlatan and Carleton Rostrum Newsjournal.

Photo Credits
Patrick Potvin: Hiking Ste. Rose du Nord Rapids
Ruby Pratka: Marshlands in the nearby town of Ste. Fulgence, Pulperie grounds, abandoned pulp mill turned into a history museum, Fjord of Saguenay.
Québec Tourism: Chicoutimi - Church, Fountain, Window

If you go
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Tourism Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean: http://www.saguenaylacsaintjean.net/defaultz.asp
Chicoutimi Chamber of Commerce: http://www.ccchic.qc.ca/
Tourisme Québec: http://www.bonjourquebec.com/qc-en/accueil0.html
Hotel Chicoutimi: http://www.hotelchicoutimi.qc.ca/Contacts/Contacts.htm
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicoutimi,_Qu%C3%A9bec

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