The Magdalen Islands are a hook-shaped archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Distant from the Canadian mainland, this string of eight islands is a part of the Province of Québec that is accessible only by ferry and airplane
I had the pleasure of going there last month with a curious and energetic group of junior high schoolers from Bedford, Nova Scotia. Over the course of our two-and-a-half days there, we drove the length of these windswept islands that are connected by long causeways of sand and tufted grass. We were struck by the unity of land and sea: the salty ocean and the sandy terrain are one. The villages that punctuate this linear land – there is essentially one road that runs the length of the islands – are as tied to the sea as the land itself.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the village known as Old Harry. Here, the 100-year-old Anglican church that is built with the wood of shipwrecks is a monument to Madelinots who lost their lives on the sea. Photographs on the walls of the chapel show us the faces of these victims of the water, poignantly reminding us that they were the beloved family members of the people living on the islands today.
For my fourteen-year-old companions, the highlight of the trip was less cultural and more…natural. They adored our seaside mud bath. Following our guide like a raft of ducklings, we paddled kayaks across a vast, shallow lagoon. We parked our craft on the leeward side of a long spit of land, then walked to the windward shore where we wallowed in the cool, burnt-umber-colored clay. We came out of the experience a bit dirtier, but utterly convinced that the Magdalen Islands are a one of a kind.