Coolest School Trip spotlight: La Mauricie National Park

If you had a time machine and decided to travel to Québec 500 million years in the past, you might think you had made a severe miscalculation upon stepping out and seeing the landscape. Sure, time machines can be complicated and there is a lot that can go wrong when travelling so far back into the past, but you’re a time travelling pro and you’ve mastered the controls of your time machine. So why does it look like you’ve landed yourself somewhere in the Himalayas? Well, here’s a bit of good news for you – your time machine isn’t broken! You are actually witnessing the landscape as it was hundreds of millions of years ago.

One of Québec’s most defining characteristics is its rugged topography, and it is home to one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world – the Laurentians. Long before glaciers swept in to cover the area with ice during prehistoric ice ages, these mountains were, in fact, very similar to the Himalayan Mountains. Over the course of hundreds of millions of years, massive ice sheets moved across the land, slowly scraping away the towering peaks of the ancient mountains and sculpting them into what they are today.

La Mauricie National Park is one of the best representative samples of the majestic Laurentians – rolling hills, lush forests and more lakes, rivers and streams than you could possibly imagine in a single park. The water bodies found in the park are, for the most part, remnants of the most recent glacial period, when the entire province of Québec was covered by ice. Of course, on a geological time scale, “recent” is pretty relative – we’re talking 12,000 years ago!

The ice sheet that covered the area was enormous and in some places was more than a kilometre thick. Can you imagine how heavy all that ice would have been? It was more than enough to compress the earth beneath it and when the ice eventually retreated, much of the land that had been pressed down by the ice sheet became flooded. Water coming in from the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence formed what was called the Champlain Sea, which covered the area and introduced a whole host of new aquatic species to what would one day become the lakes and rivers of La Mauricie.

As the land began the very slow process of springing back up, isolated bodies of water began to form, creating more than 150 lakes that are now a prized feature of La Mauricie National Park. The wide range of different fish species turned the park’s waters into fishing heaven, and it was because of this that some of Québec’s very first prestigious, members-only fish and game clubs came to be established in the late 1800s. Two of the lodges that were built for one of these, the Laurentian Club, still remain on the shores of Lac à la Pêche and now offer accommodations to the park’s many visitors.

Another interesting thing about the park is its history of logging – decades before the park was officially established, nearly half of the forest within its current boundaries was subject to logging. A visit to the park today will stir up echoes of the once-booming logging industry of times past. Scattered throughout the park, you’ll find dams, old logging roads, and piles of logs accumulated on lake bottoms. If you search hard enough, you’ll find big piles of stones and rocks along the shorelines of some of the park’s rivers and streams, originally put there to redirect the flow of water to help transport lumber out of the park.

Open year-round, La Mauricie is a fantastic place to visit no matter what time of year it is. In the summertime, you can check out some of the incredible hiking trails that pass through the park’s extensive forests, canoe or kayak on the beautiful lakes and rivers, and if you’re lucky, you might even get to see one of the park’s most famous residents – the eastern wolf! During the winter, you’ll get to experience the park in a completely different setting. Strap on some cross-country skis and start exploring the vibrant winter wonderland or grab some snowshoes and try your hand at geocaching. Whatever it is you choose to do in the park, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience.

Brainstorming contest entry ideas about La Mauricie National Park? Here are some suggestions on where to start:

  • As a prominent member of society, you’ve been granted membership to the prestigious Shawinigan Club, the first fish and game club to be established in the area. Among many other well-known figures joining the Shawinigan, Sir Wilfred Laurier was one of your fellow club members. What would it have been like to spend time at the club’s lodge with such grand company? Who were some of the other club members and what did they do for a living?
  • Pack up your axe and saw, and head out into the forest of La Mauricie for a long day of work as a lumberjack. What types of trees would you be cutting down? What was that lumber used for? How was all of this lumber transported out of the park and where was it transported to?
  • Experience what it was like to be living as a nomad ages before the upscale fish and game clubs were around. What did you hunt for and where did you come from? What challenges would have been presented in travelling through the as-of-yet undeveloped land in the park?