The Amis du marais de Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly
Citizens organize to protect and enhance the St. Lawrence River shoreline
Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River not far from Quebec City, Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly is justly considered one of Quebec’s most picturesque villages. Besides the parish church, built in 1788 and listed as a historic monument, the heritage homes and the ancestral cemetery, the municipality is known for the beauty of its shoreline, site of a fluvial wetland that teems with life. Not only does the wetland offer spawning and feeding grounds for many species of fish, but some 240 bird species can also be seen here; they include depending on the season, the Snow Goose and Canada Goose, as well as several species of migrant duck, including the American Black Duck and the Mallard.
A walk along the shoreline, with cliffs to one side and the river on the other, offers spectacular views. The area is fragile, however, and deserving of protection. In the late 1990s, noting the difficulty of public access to the river, invasions by all-terrain vehicles and the potential for degradation of the site, a group of Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly residents with a shared interest and passion for the preservation and enhancement of the area decided to take charge.
With the help of another environmental group, Les Amis de la Vallée du Saint-Laurent, they founded Les Amis du marais (“friends of the marsh”), an organization that aims not only to safeguard the integrity of the riverbank at Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, but also to promote the site’s potential as a recreational and tourism venue in accordance with principles of sustainable development.
“The preservation and enhancement of the shoreline was, to us, a vital factor in ensuring Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly’s cachet and charm,” Les Amis du marais President Louise Bernier explains with pride. “So we got organized, and persuaded all the economic and tourism partners in the region to join forces with us and help complete the various projects we’re promoting.”
The first initiatives implemented by Les Amis du marais involved improving access to the river, setting up sites for observing the marsh’s wildlife and plant population, and showcasing the environmental, heritage and socio-economic value of the riverbank. In 2003, the group oversaw the construction of a shore trail nearly 10 kilometres long, with five entry points, that allows visitors to enjoy pleasant walks beside the river without endangering the shoreline.
The trail, accessible only at low tide, quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Along the route are signs raising visitors’ awareness of the importance of protecting wildlife and the environment. Each year, a number of observation and awareness activities are held, including conferences focusing on the river, the wetland, ecology, wildlife, navigation and related subjects. Les Amis du marais also organize an annual shore clean-up operation that attracts a hundred or so volunteers from the surrounding region.
Les Amis du marais’s most recent project, which is receiving financial support from Transat, aims to enhance the recreational and tourism potential of the wetland and the walking trail, through such initiatives as production of a website, a new promotional flyer and new signage at the entry points to the trail. These tools will allow visitors to better plan their walking tours based on tide charts, and will also include a trail map, safety guidelines, information about protection of the area, and a calendar of site-related activities (including conferences and clean-up operations).
This project also dovetails with the development strategy for the Route Bleue Québec/Chaudières-Appalaches Water Trail, and is in keeping with a widespread desire throughout the region to promote new tourism trends: ecotourism, hiking, the discovery of unusual sites, environmental awareness and more.
If you have the chance to visit Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly, you will find a pleasant spot with a wealth of cultural, heritage and agro-tourism jewels waiting to be discovered. And if you really take the time to stop and explore, you’ll also come across charming, welcoming, proud and enthusiastic folks like Louise Bernier and her “Amis du marais”.