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Quebec

Quirky Quebec overflows with offbeat attractions

Diane Slawych.

By Diane Slawych, Special to QMI Agency

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RIMOUSKI, Que. -- Who says small towns are boring? In Maritime Quebec, even the tiniest villages have attractions to pique your curiosity. Visitors can search for a lake monster, see unusual sculptures in the water, stop at a castle made of bottles, and walk over a quaint bridge at an obscure border crossing into Maine.

LAKE MONSTER

Scotland has the Loch Ness monster, B.C. has Ogopogo and Quebec has Pohenegamook -- or Ponik, for short. Described as a dragon-like creature with four legs and a long tail, Ponik is said to live in Bas-Saint-Laurent's Pohenegamook Lake, 482 km northeast of Montreal. Dozens of people -- including a 10-year-old child, a lumberjack and a parish priest -- have reported seeing the beast. But sightings were more frequent in the '50s when road construction was taking place around the lake, which may have disturbed the monster. To increase your chance of a sighting, stay near the lake at Pohenegamook Sante Plein Air, a four-season resort that has boating, rock climbing, a Nordic sauna, a range of accommodations and a huge sculpture of Ponik, in case you don't see the real thing. See pohenegamook.com.

LITTLE INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE

Crossing into the United States has never been so quick and easy, or more pleasant. In the village of Pohenegamook, you can walk over the small international footbridge (Petit Pont International) that will take you into Maine in 10 seconds. It's so stress-free and quaint it has become a tourist attraction.

On the other side, there are information panels that detail area history -- including tales of cigarette and liquor smugglers -- and beyond that the Canada-U.S. border service and customs post. Built around 1904, the bridge connected the townships of Pohenegamook and Estcourt and was usually crossed on horseback, buggy or on foot. When a bigger international bridge was built in 1932, the little bridge was threatened with destruction, but residents along the border protested and were granted permission to keep it if they limited its use to pedestrians and secured funding from private sources to maintain it.

REFORD GARDENS

Visitors to Reford Gardens in the Gaspe region are bound to find something unusual when the 14th International Garden Festival opens on June 22. Known for being experimental and often provocative, this year's festival will feature six new projects and 20 conceptual gardens by designers from Canada, the U.S., Brazil, France and the Netherlands. Whenever you visit though, you'll find something unexpected -- from the Himalayan blue poppy (a rare species that doesn't usually grow in the harsh climate conditions of the Gaspe) to an oversized lawn chair that people like to climb into for fun. Elsie Reford created the original gardens here over a period of 32 years. Today visitors can see 3,000 species in about 15 gardens at this National Historic Site of Canada. Check refordgardens.com.

WEIRD SCULPTURE

Now you see it. Now you don't. That's one way to describe some of artist Marcel Gagnon's outdoor sculptures in the Gaspe region. Le Grand Rassemblement (The Great Gathering), is an award-winning work of nature art, inspired by the sea and the tides, that is constantly changing. Some of the 100-plus life-size sculptures are on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. At low tide, you can inspect them up close but at high tide the statues are underwater. The characters in boats appear to be on a voyage when the water reaches a certain level. There's also an art gallery (Centre d'Art), a restaurant, an inn and a souvenir shop. Located at 564 route de la Mer-Sainte-Flavie in Gaspe, there's also an art gallery (Centre d'Art), a restaurant, an inn and a souvenir shop. See centredart.net.

GLASS CASTLE

Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, population 1,663, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, might be just a blip on the map as far as architecture goes, except for its unique visitor centre. The eye-catching structure is made with 27,927 bottles and shaped like a castle. Conceived by Chanel Rousseau as a recycling project, it took volunteers 4,000 hours to complete. Inside is information about the village on the banks of Boisbouscache River. Other area attractions include a golf course and the National Hiking Trail.

The visitor centre is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 24 (Saint-Jean Baptiste Day) to Labour Day, though the real attraction is the exterior.

NEED TO KNOW

The Gaspe region is a birdwatchers paradise where 250,000 seabirds -- razorbills, great cormorants, common murres, Leach's storm petrels, Atlantic puffins, boreal chickadees, blackpoll warblers, and northern gannets -- can be seen in the spring. A tour (June 6-10) organized by the Douglas Community Centre and Gaspe birdwatcher's club will take enthusiasts to Forillon and Ile-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Perce national parks to see some of the area's 350 species. For more on Maritime Quebec, check quebecmaritime.ca.


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