Eeyou Istchee/Baie JamesThe ultimate great outdoors
In Northern Québec, wide open spaces reign! Barely 31,000 people live in the vast, virtually untouched territory between the 49th and 55th parallels that accounts for nearly one fifth of Québec. The Cree, some 16,000 of whom live in nine communities scattered along the shores of James Bay and the interior, have lived here for millennia and call this land Istchee (The People’s Land). Four municipalities and three villages also dot the region, with economies in large part based on natural resources. Travellers can obtain information about exploring the region from the two different tourism associations: James Bay Tourism and, for stays with the Cree, Eeyou IstcheeTourism.
The call of the north
Covered with countless rivers and stretches of water, the region is one of the last untouched territories in the world. It is home to the largest natural lake in Québec (2,335 km²/900 sq. mi.): Lac Mistassini. The lake is located in the Réserve faunique des Lacs-Albanel-Mistassini-et-Waconichi, a wildlife reserve that covers a territory as big as Sicily! Part of the reserve and its adjacent lands are now included in the projected biodiversity reserve, Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish, a Québec national park in the planning stages. From the 49th to the 52nd parallel, the landscape is dominated by the black spruce of the boreal forest, before giving way to the taiga, which gradually takes over up to the 55th parallel. One huge caribou herd winters in the territory’s northern reaches. Renowned for the abundance of game and fish, the region boasts many outfitters and promises hunters and fishers a fine catch.
Winter: the real deal
A destination this far north obviously has superb snow conditions. Snowmobile trails criss-cross the southern reaches, connecting many communities, from Valcanton to Chibougamau, by way of Matagami, Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Waswanipi, Oujé Bougoumou, Mistissini and Chapais. Snowshoeing takes on a whole new meaning here, and outdoors enthusiasts will find whatever they’re after with adventures from Escapade boréale, each more exhilarating than the last.
While in step with the modern world, the Cree have managed to preserve their language and culture, leading to the creation of the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute. It is now their pleasure to share their culture with visitors. Accompanied by native guides, get a glimpse of their traditional way of life, based on hunting, fishing and trapping. It’s also a chance to hear the tales of their ancestors, taste the authentic cuisine and appreciate the unique arts and crafts of the nine communities. One of those communities, Oujé Bougoumou, has been recognized by the UN as one of the 50 villages that best harmonize Aboriginal traditions with modern life and ecological values with technology.
Modernity and tourism
In the past few decades, the rivers of Baie James have witnessed the construction of colossal hydroelectric installations, including the Robert-Bourassa Generating Facility, home to the world’s largest underground generating site, and the La Grande-1 Generating Station. From the 1950s onwards, tens of thousands of workers gravitated to the region to build this impressive complex. Radisson, the final stop north on the Route de la Baie James (James Bay Road), housed workers who built the dams. Discover the day-to-day lives of the workers with a visit to the Parc Robert-A.-Boyd historic site, which has faithfully recreated an exploration camp.
The territory holds major forest and mineral wealth, including gold, silver, copper and zinc. The region also has rich diversity in ecosystems, with the tundra, the taiga and the boreal forest where, surprisingly, there is a wide variety of edible mushrooms. To explore nature that is rich and full of surprises, you can travel the trails of a biodiversity observation network in Northern Québec, created by FaunENord.
Eeyou Istchee/Baie James, where nature’s perfection, modern life and thousands of years of tradition come together.