What’s the weather like in Chibougamau? Where is Chibougamau? We take the road to discover

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Artwork by Mary Kirkpatrick

When we talk to people about our road trip, they almost always ask, “Where is Chibougamau?

Since childhood, we ask ourselves the same question.

We grew up in the suburbs of Montreal, and we listened daily to the weather reports from Radio-Canada.

The announcer would share the day’s projected temperature, then go on to list current and projected temperatures for other places in Quebec, and one city on the list was Chibougamau (pronounced Sheu-BOO-Ga-Moo): “And at Chibougamau, the temperature is currently minus 26 F with an expected high of minus 22.″

At the time, we didn’t know where Chibougamau was, but it sparked our imaginations and became a playful name we loved to say!

We have waited almost our entire lives to solve the mysteries of Chibougamau.

In August 2021, our globetrotter was wiped out due to COVID-19. But we want to escape the daily routines of online meetings, neighborhood walks, and streaming movies and series. Recalling our childhood memories, we focus on a road trip through Quebec. Destination: Chibougamau.

From our home in Ottawa, Chibougamau is 900 kilometers away. We are avid drivers and choose to do the trip in two days, following the St. Lawrence River east of Montreal and heading north to Trois-Rivières. We plan to spend the night in La Tuque.

I like to sit in my car and watch the ocean – and I’m not the only one

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Other than booking hotels and reading Wikipedia, we do little planning. We want to be surprised.

The road to Chibougamau from Trois-Rivières is well paved and the weather in August is cool and overcast. From Trois-Rivières, the road we take runs along the Saint-Maurice River to La Tuque. On one side, we see a gently curving river with a long history, and on the other, majestic trees in the boreal forests.

Our main traveling companions along Route 155 are giant logging trucks, each filled with logs of immense length. Throughout our trip, we count more than 70 trucks.

The stage from La Tuque to Chibougamau is enchanting. We are spellbound to see Lac Saint-Jean in its vastness as we climb a hill near Chambord. Then a winding road to the north runs along the shore of Lac Saint-Jean, and we pass Roberval, Saint-Prime and Saint-Félicien. “Are the trees getting shorter and bushier as we go north?” we ask ourselves.

It turns out that Chibougamau is more than 200 km north of Lac Saint-Jean. We follow the tree-lined blue-gray ribbon, feeling almost completely isolated, careful to start with a full tank of gas.

It is mid-afternoon when we arrive in Chibougamau. We are surprised by the extent of the town despite its only 7,500 inhabitants. Note that few buildings exceed two floors. One of the first people I see is a teenage girl with long dark hair expertly navigating her skateboard down the Main Street sidewalk. We follow Lac Gilman adjacent to Chibougamau and notice a recreational trail around the lake.

To reach our bed and breakfast, we travel 10 km east on a bumpy dirt road, past a closed and austere copper and gold mine. We see a black and yellow fox on the way and finally reach our destination on Lake Chibougamau.

Our Gîte, or B&B, “Le domaine de la mine d’or” (“Inn of the kingdom of the gold mine”) was once used to house mining executives. Now Claudy and Jean-Eudes welcome travelers.

We learn that Chibougamau is just north of the 49th parallel, slightly further north than Winnipeg. We also discover that Chibougamau means “meeting place” in Cree. The origin of the name reminds us that we are on the ancestral lands of the Crees and that we admire the robustness of the Crees who have made this land their home for millennia.

Chibougamau was the end of the paved road for many years – although now the paved road extends 180 km further north to Lake Albanel. During the Cold War it was a military base and radar station as part of the Pine Tree Line. Today, among other things, it is a gateway and a service center for northern Quebec.

For us, the centerpiece of our visit is Lac Chibougamau, next to the Gîte. The lake is so big, so quiet on a windless day, so remote and desolate! To take advantage of the sunny, warm day, we’re going for a swim on our own private beach, to celebrate both our 39 years of marriage and for having come so far together during the pandemic. We find the lake surprisingly warm – or is it our imagination? It is definitely an act of escape and freedom. Later, we are captivated by the deep shades of cobalt transfusing the landscape as the sun sets.

We realize that the destiny of Chibougamau is linked to Aboriginal peoples, hydroelectric dams, the forestry and mining industry. Chibougamau is also a cultural meme in Quebec, a word used to refer to any distant place. Musician Robert Charlebois and the group Les Cowboys Fringants have songs that mention Chibougamau.

Now, when people ask us “Where is Chibougamau? we get a distant look in our eyes. Through our all-too-brief five-day road trip, we grew closer to home and closer as a couple to solve the lingering mystery of Chibougamau together.

Barbara Lukaszewicz and Hendrik Siré live in Ottawa.

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