History of the Trans-Canada Highway from Quebec City to Riviere du Loup, Quebec



Lower Fort Garry historic site

Quebec City-Levis and Riviere du Loup 201 km

By 1960, highways were built on the north shore to Sept-Iles, while travel along the south shore between Levis, Rimouski and Matane was only possible by train.

Farmland in this area of Quebec

Aerial view of land plots on Ile d'Orleans Across the St Lawrence, on Ile d'Orleans, and on this side, between the Trans-Canada Highway and the banks of the St Lawrence River, you can see the way agricultural land was assigned by the French to colonize lands along the St. Lawrence. It is very different from the British system of townships used elsewhere in Canada.

In the 17th century, when the King of France had begun to populate New France, the land concessions provided to farmers and settlers provided each with access to the river for both water and for transportation. Since access to water was the valued commodity, the plots were narrow and very long, laid out perpendicular to the St. Lawrence, and averaged 15 hectares (about 37 acres. The settlers built their houses near the shore.

Once the shore was occupied, a road was built behind the first series of lots and a second series of lots with the same orientation as the first was established along the road. Such lots and houses were laid out in "ranges" or rangs which identify the road and the corresponding strip of land. The process was repeated as required by the arrival of new and more recent settlers.

On the south shore east of Quebec City, is Route 132, a small road to the north of the Trans-Canada, which connects many small charming farms and villages dating back five hundred years. This side trip, which parallels the Trans-Canada is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for travellers ont in a hurry.

Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent

This section of the A-20 offers the motorist splendid views over the St. Lawrence River and the mountains of the Côte-Nord, especially Mont-Sainte-Anne (which rises 800 m or 2,625 ft above sea level, only 6.5 km back from teh St Lawrence) and Le Massif. As it continues eastward, the A-20 passes the regional centres of Montmagny and La Pocatière before approaching Rivière-du-Loup and the junction with AutoRoute 85 at km 499. The Trans-Canada Highway departs the AuutoRoute 20 at this interchange and travels south on AutoRoute 85 toward Edmundston, New Brunswick and the Maritime Provinces. The eastern end of the main section of the A-20 is located in L'Isle-Verte, approximately 20 kilometres east of Rivière-du-Loup.

Long-range plans by the MTQ call for the two sections of the A-20 to meet. A 9.8 km section of single carriageway was opened to traffic on December 3, 2011 between Cacouna and L'Isle-Verte. As part of this project, a few kilometers of the highway near Cacouna was moved 1.5 km to the south and the old roadbed was destroyed. The MTQ timeline for completing the highway to Trois-Pistoles is December 2015. Overpasses are under construction for the St-Paul, St-Éloi and Drapeau roads. Regarding the Trois-Pistoles-Le Bic section, an environmental impact study is underway.

The St Lawrence Estuary

After Ile d'Orleans, the St. Lawrence widens quickly, from 1 km at Quebec City to 12 km at 1'lslet·sur·Mer. The section of the St Lawrence, between Quebec City and Riviere-du·Loup is considered the middle estuary of the St. Lawrence. At this point, the waters of the St. Lawrence are a mixture of fresh and salt water. As you get closer to the Atlantic, the proportion of salty sea water is higher.

This part of the St. Lawrence lies on a major migratory route, especially for the snow goose. The re are two sanctuaries on the south side, Saint·Vallier Bay and Montmagny Marsh, and a National Wildlife Area on the North Shore at Cap Tourmente. Along the water there are Scirpus marshes, which are at their eastern limit here because the Scirpus marsh grass cannot tolerate seawater. These freshwater marshes harbour the greatest variety of waterfowl in Quebec.

Hunting was not controlled before 1900 and the snow goose population had diminished to about 3,000. After the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention was signed between Canada and the United States, and restricted hunting to the fall. Between 1931 and 1980, snow goose hunting was banned completely in the eastern United States and it was hunted only in Quebec and in the Arctic. Thanks to these regulations, snow geese increased from 18,000 in 1940 to 40,000 in 1950, and to over 200,000 by 1979, and has since climbed to 15 million birds in 2015.

Greater Snow Goose Information


Glacial Erratics in Farmers' Fields

Around l'Ilet-sur-mer, you might observe stone piles in the fields on each side of the highway. These stones are from the last Ice Age, when retreating glaciers dropped rocks scraped from the earth's surface much further north by the glaciers, and carried south. These stones can be of various sizes, ranging up to significant boulders. These were obstacles to farmers plowing their fields and were generally moved and piled along the edges of fields, to build stone fences. And sometimes, you may see a large "erratic" block can be seen in the middle of a lot. These were just too large to move, and were left in the middle of fields.

La Pocatiere Marshes

Just west of La Pocatiere, the Trans-Canada highway moves closer to the water than the Route 132, nudging against the St Lawrence River.

The lower shoreline along the St Lawrence is divided into two parts: the muddy tidal flat and the tidal marsh, which is able to establish vegetation with various plant species, depending on the duration of tidal flooding

A Spartina marsh lies just to the north (west). This spot alone (with 4,300 hectares) accounts for 95 percent of Quebec's Spartina marshland, which is very rare in Quebec, and is home to two types of Spartina grasses. They filter the water and contribute to the food chains important to the fisheries industry in the area, and provide vital habitat for several migratory bird species.

Earthquake Zone

This area around te mouth of the Saquenay River and the impact zone of Charlevoix meteorite crater (both on the north shore), is the most active earthquake zone in eastern Canada, with 200 quakes a year (though most are under 2.5 on the Richeter scale and not noticeable by humans). There have been five quakes measuring greater than 6.0 since 1663, and that first one knocked a large section of the hillside at Les Eboulements (on the opposite/north shore) into the St Lawrence. Most of these earthquakes occur several kilometres below the river itself, caused by shifts in faults in the Canadian Shield.

Kamouraska Monadnocks

Kamouraska Monadnocks, areial view Just to the southeast of the exit for Kamouraska, beside the village of Saintt-Pascale, is a large "monadnock". This is one of a a series of isolated hills of hard rock (rarely more than 80 metres high, and no more than 700 metres long) which resisted the erosion that lowered the level of the surrounding land. They run roughly parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway. There is also a longer one on the north (east) side of this exit, but less accessible to highway travelers

These monadnocks are made mostly of Quartzite, which has a nearly white (almost clear) surface, and has a fine and regular grain. In spots, the quartzite contains dolomitic sandstone nodules, some roughly 60 cm in diameter, which weather more rapidly than the rest of the rock creating a pitted surface

The rocky cliffs in the area are popular as nesting sites for the common raven. This bird looks like the common crow, but larger, and usually scavenges along the shore of St. Lawrence. Like the crow, however, it keeps an eye out for dead animals lying at the sides of the highway, which provide a supplement to their traditional food sources.

Peatlands around Rivere-du-Loup

The Riviere-du-Loup terraces are mostly peatlands. Although quite varied in origin, peatlands are formed by the accumulation of organic debris in poorly drained depressions, where layer can be distinguished by variations in the degree of decomposition.

When the glaciers passed over the St. Lawrence lowlands. they dug basins in the land, generally parallel to the St Lawrence River. Some basins became lakes of varying depths and the deepest ones, TroisSaumons and Morin Lakes, still exist. Shallower lakes, over time, have been transformed into peatlands. Several large peatlands are south of the Trans-Canada Highway, around Saint-Charles-de-8ellechasse, Riviere-Ouelle, Saint-Andre, Saint-Alexandre, and Riviere-du-Loup.

The peatland looks composed of grassy, treeless vegetation; with a few stunted black spruce and tamaracks, that manage to survive in a very wet environment. Trees grow in height further away, as drainage (and elevation) improves.

The wet meadow are fertile ground for growing sphagnum , members of the Cyperaceae or sedge family (slender wetland plants resembling hay and having solid stems). and low shrubs of the Ericaceae or heath family (blueberries, cranberries, Labrador tea). Peatlands are the home of many semi-aquatic migratory birds in central and northern Quebec, including the short-eared owl, palm warbler and Lincoln's sparrow.

To harvest peat from an open bog, trenches are first dug to lower the water level. Then the top layer of vegetation is removed, exposing the layers of fibrous and partially decomposed peat moss. The. surface is then broken up with a harrow, to allow the peat to partially dry. Then it is collected using a huge vacuum loader, and transported to the processing plant for shredding, packaging, and shipping. Peat is sold across Canada and the United States to enhance lawn soil. Since It is capable of holding ten to twenty times its weight in water. Another use for peat's absorbency is for oil spill cleanups. It is estimated that the supply of peat reserves, estimated at 640 million tons, can last 300 years.

Two carnivorous plants found in Quebec 'speatlands; they are ·the pitcher-plant, the flower-emblem of Newfoundland, and the sundew. Frequently the insects attracted by the nectar get trapped by the direction hairs, and drown in rainwater that collects and stagnates at the bottom of the leaf; the plant then feeds on the decomposing insects

Other Resources

Quebec City to Riviere Du Loup itinerary Quebec Highways Map 50 Years of Trans-Canada

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