The whole of the eastern tip of Grosse-Ile has been designated as a National Wildlife Reserve. This area contains forests, lagoons and miles of sandy beaches - with limited motorized access. This area is primarily meant for protection of species such as the Piping Plover and the Horned Grebe. The beaches are spectacular and the entire area can be enjoyed by walks, either alone (there are no charges) or with a guided tour offered by Club Vacances les Iles (since changed to La Salicorne according to one of the reviewers of this page). The photo is of the beach at Grande Echouerie (Big Estuary) but is now called Old Harry Beach according to the same reviewer. This view of the East Point Reserve area in the background, was taken near Old Harry.
When we first reached Grosse-Ile, we turned left off the highway into a smaller part of it called Grosse-Ile Nord, our first sight of the Scottish settlements on the island. There are a few houses scattered around the hill and a small fishing boat port as on most of the islands. Overlooking this was a very nice cemetery, with a view out over the harbour and the peaks of Grosse-Ile visible in the distance. We had a wander around in it to see what story the gravestones had to tell. Some of the names we saw were Best, Keating, Rankin, McPhail and Clarke, with the oldest birth date being about 1841. One marker held the names of a father and his two sons - all died in 1936, did their boat sink?
At the northern end of Dune du Nord, as you finally reach Grosse-Ile, you will observe the tall shafts of the Mines Seleine, the one major industrial operation on the islands. Just after passing the mine complex itself, you will come across an interesting interperative centre on your right - it is worth a stop. The centre has a number of interesting exhibits on the flora and fauna of the area as well as an explanation and exhibits of what goes on in the salt mine.
This mine is one of 3 operated in Canada by the Canadian Salt Company Ltd. As it turns out, both Prince Edward Island and the Madeleines are part of a plateau rising under the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Because of the plasticity and lightness of salt, it tends to rise, leading to the formation of these islands. The salt in the Madeleines was discovered by accident in the late 1960's when drilling for oil was undertaken. Subsequent analysis of the results showed that the salt had risen to within 29 m of the surface at this location so work on the mine began in the late 1970s. The salt reserves here have a purity of 94.5% with an estimated mine life-time of 50 years. The rock salt produced from this mine is mainly used for de-icing of highways during the winter months. Quebec takes 65% of the production with the Eastern United States (storage at Providence, Rhode Island) and Newfoundland (storage at St. John's) respectively taking the remaining 25% and 10%. Mining takes place about 300 m below the surface (to ensure that sea water does not breach the operations) and the crushed rock salt is loaded by a converyer belt directly onto ships that sail into the lagoon via a dredged channel.
The small port of Old Harry is well worth a visit. When we were there, we enjoyed spectacular cliff views with waves crashing ashore into caves and also the very picturesque scene of these lobster boats winched up onto a large wooden platform at Old Harry. In the background is the beach of Grand Echouerie leading out to the National Wildlife Reserve of East Point.