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The Archipelago

Video Interview

Yves Marchand, captain and guide for the Randonnée Nature
Jean Cadieux, captain and guide for the Excursion dans les marais

For more information (in French only): Randonnée nature
Société d'aménagement de la baie Lavallière

Video transcript : View

(8 minutes, 20 seconds)


My name is Yves Marchand, and I'm the captain of the Randonnée nature. For the past three years, I have been leading this nature tour of the Sorel islands to promote the beauty of the archipelago. I was trained at the Biophare. The tour includes a history component, where we talk about the Iroquoians, who lived here long before Jacques Cartier's arrival. We also discuss Jacques Cartier's arrival, present the St. Lawrence River and highlight its importance and the importance of protecting it. The Randonnée nature tour is three hours long. We visit the southern islands and the northern islands. Right now, we're near one of the northern islands, which has been left in a wilder state because it was more difficult to build cabins here than on the southern side. That's because the road on the southern side is much closer to the islands. To get here, you have to cross two or three or four islands and several channels. So it was harder to build cabins. That's why it stayed a bit more wild, and there are many marshes and flood-prone areas. We talk about the 288 species of migratory birds in the area when we see them. We also talk about fish. Recently, we have observed a decline in the Yellow Perch population, so a five-year moratorium was imposed. Fishing for Yellow Perch has been forbidden in the region to allow the population to recover. We also talk about plants: arrowhead, pickerelweed, and purple loosestrife, which is an invasive species.

Most people don't realize that the area between Sorel and Trois-Rivières is in a 90 % natural state, and human intervention has barely changed anything. This area is probably just the same as it was when Jacques Cartier arrived. There have been very few changes. Of course, there has been some pollution of the water and of the air, but on the whole animal habitat here is basically the same. That impresses visitors. These vast floodplains, islands as far as the eye can see, channels—that's what they notice the most.

Of course, we cover a lot of history. It's important to be aware that the Sorel islands have experienced terrible flooding in certain years. Many people died in those floods. We also discuss the first colonists who settled in the islands, and Germaine Guèvremont, who wrote her novel, "The Outlander." People on the tour are interested in seeing where her cabin was, and understanding what inspired her to write "The Outlander." There is a big historical component to the tour, and I also talk about the natural environment around us. Today, you can see how beautiful it is. Often, I take photographers out on the tour. This morning, I had a group of locals who come out to see the sunrise; sometimes they come out in the evening for the sunset. Most of the people who come on the tour are here because of their interest in nature.


Before we start the excursion, I have an official speech to make. I want to talk to you about the SABL. This boat you're on is owned by the Société d'aménagement de la baie Lavallière. What does this organization do? Well, it has two key mandates. The first is to welcome people like you on this boat tour, as well as school groups. We want to communicate the beauty and richness of wetland ecosystems. Throughout today's excursion, we'll be surrounded by marshes and swamps. When you leave the boat later today, we hope you'll fully understand why it's so important to protect this ecosystem. The SABL's second mandate is to do research. We work on all kinds of research projects concerning the flora and fauna of these wetlands, in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. So welcome to our tour of the marshes. We'll help you discover many beautiful aspects of these islands in the Sorel archipelago.

There you can see a Great Egret. It's a beautiful bird, all white with a yellow beak and black legs. What's interesting is that this species didn't occur in Quebec about 30 years ago.

That plant to your left plays a key role in wetland habitats. This plant, known as arrowhead, filters the water constantly. One of the ecological roles of a marsh is to filter water, and that's something Arrowhead and other marsh plants do. Arrowhead is also known as the swamp potato. Why? If you pull out the stalk, there is a tuber on the end that looks like a small potato. In the islands, wetlands like these are flooded for about three weeks each year, and not all kinds of trees are able to resist the flooding. To your right, you can see some beautiful silver maples. There are really nice maple stands here. This tree is resistant to flooding. If you look to the left, there's a magnificent stand of poplars. These majestic trees are the biggest and tallest that grow here. These trees can grow to an impressive size. Another tree that's very common in the archipelago is the willow. There are nine varieties of willow that grow on these islands.

Along the shoreline, you can see some small treetops peeking out. That's a project we worked on about four years ago. We applied for funding to plant trees along the shoreline. There's a lot of erosion here, and planting trees helps reduce erosion.

To your right, you can see the structure set up in Baie de Lavallière. That floodgate allows us to retain water inside the bay. What's neat is that if you look, you can clearly see the difference in water levels. There's a difference of at least 1.5 metres between the water levels in the bay and in the river. This structure was built by Ducks Unlimited to retain water in the marsh, which has a surface area of 21 square kilometres. It's an exceptional breeding ground for ducks and amphibians, and fish also come here to spawn.

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