This was to be a day off from cycling, a day for Sheryl and I to spend together. The plan for the day was to explore the Métis Gardens. We had missed this famous tourist attraction on our last pass through Sainte-Flavie, in 1998.
We did not have to get up quite as early as on days when I was cycling. Luckily, we still had the constraint of getting up in time for breakfast. As it was, we took the last sitting for breakfast. The breakfast room did not have a common table, but instead had various private tables of differing sizes, almost like a small restaurant. We took a small table for two when we arrived. Other guests were already eating at the larger tables. After the innkeeper served us coffee, we were left to our own to prepare our toasts, as he went off to the kitchen. We caught only brief glimpses of Jacqueline, who did not talk too much. Our innkeeper was not too talkative either, speaking only as he served us, and in a very correct manner, like a seasoned waiter. We ended up having our usual of eggs and breakfast meats.
The Métis Gardens are only a few kilometres to the east of Ste-Flavie along Route 132, the shoreline highway. After passing along the houses of the town, the road takes a sharp right and leaves the shoreline briefly. The shoreline, which had been quite close, was became hidden by a dense forest. We passed first the Parc de la Rivière Métis, and then we came to the turn-off, to the left, for the Métis Gardens. It was a bit confusing.
The entry way brought us to a vast sea of vast parking lots, but few people were there so early - We got there about the time they opened.- so we were able to park quite close to the park entrance gate. All along the inner side of the parking lot was this metallic like wall, a thin metal fence consisting of a tin-like wall about eight feet high and porous with tiny holes through which one could easily look if one stood close. There was a roofed over complex comprising the washrooms, ticket offices, restaurant and gift shop. Beyond could be seen nothing but untouched forest. After purchasing the tickets, one walked alongside the tin-wall about a hundred feet, to a gate where the ticket takers examined the tickets. The ‘gate’ was simply a discontinuity in the wall: one part ended and the next began about twenty feet further out.
We would end up spending the entire day at the Gardens, not leaving until suppertime. We began by following the main trail across the creek and through the creek's small gully, all decked out in flowers.
The Métis Gardens had been designed by an English woman whose rich husband had built a hunting lodge along this stretch of Gaspé coastline in the early part of the 20th Century. (Nearby was the almost hidden English-language hamlet of ‘Metis Beach’.) Bored with the rustic setting, Elsie Reford had laboured many years to slowly transform her corner of the wilderness into these vast gardens which we see today.
We came upon the 'moss gardens' a collection of many different mosses arranged on a big stone near the creek.
Eventually, we worked our way past the stream gully and up onto the open plain near the manor house, where we found the long 'rose walk', over a hundred feet of path with many different kinds of roses on either side, including a special rose for which these gardens are famous.
Below the house is a lookout over the tiny ocean cove around which the estate was built (Hence the highway leaving the shoreline.). We retired to the mansion itself, where we stopped for some coffee and then did the walking tour. The rustic, wood-paneled interior of the turn-of-the-century mansion was spectacular in its opulence. We ended up in the main bedroom of the master and mistress, looking out on the same cove as earlier, through the upstairs windows. Both master and mistress had their private sitting rooms on either side of the master bedroom.
Done with the house and with our luncheon stop, we resumed our garden walk, passing first along the driveway and then coming near the creek again. This time we were atop the gully and looking down on the flowers and on the people wending their way in along the path we had trod earlier. We found a small rest bench near a giant millstone covered with moss and growing bonsai trees.
We passed by the small pond of the estate just as a gentle rain was beginning to fall. It had been raining off and on all day. Early on, I had returned to the car to fetch our umbrellas.
From the pond area led a boardwalk through the tree-covered swamp to 'new' gardens which lay at the eastern edge of the former estate. Here we found the 'festival' gardens: Each year different gardeners built annual displays. Some of the ‘gardens’ were quire ingenious; others were just weird. One garden consisted of a canvas-covered 'pine' forest with a slide. Another was called an 'urban intervention' unit. Another was made up on orange-painted shoes and highway stanchions. Yet another was a maze. The piece de résistance was an eerie 'force field' in the woods.
When we were done exploring the new section, we retraced our route back to the park entrance, where we had lunch in the glass-walled cafeteria, overlooking dense darkness of the quiet woods. Following lunch, we dedicated lot of time to the bookstore and gift shop; we ended up buying quite a number of books. After a while, I tired of the books. I bought myself a coffee and sat down outside the complex, under a tree on the way to the parking lot. Eventually, Sheryl joined me.
As it was about 16:00 when Sheryl joined me, too late to do much else. We discussed how we should spend the rest of the day. We finally decided we would hang around for a while. We walked back through the gardens to the main house and sat out on the covered veranda overlooking the ocean cove. I even dozed a bit, despite the big, private wedding that was going on within the house.
We finally headed on out at 18:00, though with the private party the place was still hopping despite it being well past closing. We had been able to stay because of the wedding and because of our staying effectively 'under the radar'.
As we left the parking lot, I drove east along the highway looking for the turn-off for Métis Beach, the turn-off I had taken while on my bicycle adventure back in 1992. I wanted to show Sheryl the tiny, nearly invisible, English town, nestled within the sea of francophonie. We ended up driving not only through Métis Beach, but also through all the other tiny shoreline towns, all the way to Matane.
We did a drive-through of the entire town of Matane, looking for a good restaurant, before finally ending up at the bristling place we had passed on our very way into the city, out along the highway, Au Phare Ouest. There, in the crowded pub-like atmosphere, we both had a great supers of special 'matane shrimp': Mine were 'au gratin' and Sheryl had hers on a salad.
After supper, we drove back into town and had coffee at the very same Tim Horton's which had been my supper haven from the pouring rain back in 1992. I got some gas and some ice and then we drove back west along the shoreline road, past the industrial piers which I had visited twelve years earlier. There now seemed to be two car ferries that docked at the harbour, but I saw no trace of the former rail ferry.
It was an hour-long nighttime drive back to Ste-Flavie along the main highway and we did not arrive until 22:00. The house was entirely quiet when we entered and the commotion brought the innkeeper’s head to poke out of the private area of the house to see what was going on.
We had had a very nice day.Top