Three hours up the road from Quebec City, there is a storybook town. In that town, there is a wonderful forest, fit for Alice. Fluorescent toadstools and mad grouses that jump out of hiding populate the landscape. Rainy slate glistens in the light escaping through the trees en route to the giant red cross and the most expansive view of Trois-Pistoles, Quebec.
Peering down, a hospital to the right, a school to the left and straight ahead are the silvery steeples of a church, the downtown markers in the sky. From atop the peak, they look like tiny bit pieces in a model town, complete with Via Rail train tracks.
Identically sized farmer’s fields run down the slopes, and the powerful Rivière-Trois-Pistoles runs through the provincial park that borders this town, rich in exploring potential.
Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the mighty St. Lawrence, maritime weather dictates the day’s view of the sea-river and Les Escoumins across the way. Nearby whale-watching (Saguenay River), bird-watching (Île-aux-Basques Bird Sanctuary) and sea kayaking tours are there for the taking.
As for eating activity, Cantine D’Amours assembles the best poutine with plenty of size and saucy variety. Loaded with pepperoni and chewy cheese, Le Gondolier slices the best pizza. It’s also your best bet for catching your hockey or baseball game. Subway, the one fast-food franchise in town, is easily avoided. Cafe Grains de folie has the fine grinds and Wi-FI, but bring a newspaper for summer flies.
The whole town (pop. 3600) in some way participates through spring and summer in the French immersion program, established in 1932, the oldest of its kind. Each of about 400 students lives with one Québécois family, eats with another, and attempting 100 per cent French communication, wherever he or she may go in Trois Pistoles; shuts down the English for the season.
Some English-speakers may be tempted to equate The Tragically Hip song Three Pistols with the story of the town. Since Pistolet and not Pistoles translates as pistol, such is not the case. The town was named for the value of a sunken goblet worth three pistoles, out of use French coins.
In the open fields, on clear summer nights, during popular summer music festivals, stars skip like stones across a reverse black pond. One night, during Echo-fete, one could even hear the sounds of la “Galaxie”, a dance-happy ambient band.
A haunted house lies on the outskirts of town, as does a choice beach and Le Chute Fatima that flows into a natural swimming pool. This town and these destinations were meant for bicycles, easy-to-rent from Sébastien Bélanger on the main strip, 150 Notre-Dame Ouest, where you can find out where to go and pick up a map. One can enter the town’s original refrigerator, take a lesson at the rock-climbing wall, cast a line off the pier, or pay a visit to la forge de berube, an old blacksmith’s workshop turned theatre and mini-museum.
How to get there
From Quebec City cross Pont-Pierre Laporte, head straight for Autorroute 20E, just a few hours up the St Lawrence to Trois Pistoles. Or reach Trois Pistoles by train.