Holding on against the relentless ocean, Cap Noir (Black Cape) is made up of some sort of black rock, probably volcanic, which has a harder texture than most of the material in the islands. In the photo, you can see that it is taking the brunt of the ocean attack, while its weaker neighbours are slowly giving ground. This was the view from the cliff-side field where we observed the whales and gannets, not far west of Bassin. In the upper right corner is a multi-level house belonging to a reclusive artist, according to the locals. It sits all by itself surrounded by huge open fields and a great ocean view from its perch.
Almost at the very southern tip of Rte. 199, in Havre-Aubert, you will find the Musee de la Mer perched on a small hill overlooking the town. For the entry price of C$5 each, it is well worth a look because it has tons of interesting facts about the history of these islands, as well as various relics of their battles for survival against the sea. There are a few native American artifacts from very early days, but the consensus is that the natives decided the islands were not worth the bother of living there (it is a long cold winter when the Gulf freezes over). Although discovered by the French in 1534, serious competition on the islands did not begin until 1618 when the French, English and Basques competed for the Atlantic Walrus trade (hunted to extinction by 1799). The on-going wars over North America between the British and French resulted in the deportation of the original French Acadian settlers from British-controlled Nova Scotia in 1755 - they were driven to remote spots such as northern New Brunswick, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the Newfoundland coast and to Louisiana (where Acadians became 'Cajuns). The British won the war but not much happened on the islands until 1792 when 223 Acadians moved from Miquelon to begin serious colonization of the Iles de la Madeleine. Today they represent over 90% of the islands population. These islands are also known as the "second graveyard of the Atlantic", trailing Sable Island off Nova Scotia, due to their location on the main shipping routes to Montreal combined with the choppy waves, fog and sudden weather changes of the Gulf.
Although it does not look like much from the outside, we found that a look through the Aquarium des Iles was well worth the C$5 each cost of admission! We first of all enjoyed their large outdoor holding tank at the rear where they had a couple of young orphaned seals. It was very enjoyable to watch the curious expressions on their faces and to observe their antics as they swam up to the viewing windows, or from above looking down into the pool. Once they have reached a certain development, they will be released back into the Gulf. Equally impressive were their indoor tanks of fish and crustaceans. It was educational to see what some of the fish in the Gulf waters look like up close and alive. The Atlantic Raven fish is quite an odd looking creature - with its amazing colours and various fern-like appendages! Another great display was their feeding of the lobsters and crabs - by means of a long narrow rod used to bring individual pieces of fish into the range of their mouths and pincers. The aquarium also had an interesting variety of strangely coloured lobster - their blue one was king of the bunch!
La Grave is a group of old fishing village houses and buildings located along a narrow spit of land with a pebbly beach ( 'greve' is French for pebbly or sandy terrain) at the southern end of Rte. 199. It is interesting to walk around this area of small tourist shops, museums and restaurants. This was the only historic spot like this that we came across in our entire tour of the islands. Photo taken from the Musee de la Mer, looking down on the buildings of La Grave, with the peaks of Les Demoiselles on the right.
Towering above the town of Havre-Aubert are two treeless and grassy peaks, known as Les Demoiselles. The lower one has a large cross on it but the higher hill is devoid of any structure. There is actually a rough road almost to the top of the higher peak (or you can walk up). It is worth the effort for the amazing views! Photo taken looking out over the town of Havre-Aubert and its point of land containing La Grave and the Museum, as well as the peaks of the distant islolated Ile d'Entree.
On every one of the Madeleines, you will find world-class sandy beaches, backed by tall dunes. Havre-Aubert is no exception, so we spent an afternoon on its western coast, at the lower end of the Dune de l'Ouest. We pulled out our folding chairs and sat on the windward side of the dunes, admiring the long sandy beach and the view of the ocean as we sipped on our wine. Only 3 or 4 other groups of people came by in more than an hour. The wind started to feel a bit chilly towards the end, so we moved our chairs a few feet to the other, sheltered, side of the dune and had a completely different view. We could now look out over the swamps and forested area leading up to the shallow lagoon trapped between the two main sets of dunes that connect Havre-Aubert to the northern islands.