Five years ago, upon completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism and Hotel Management at UQAM, I headed back to my home region to settle down there. I was hired as a coordinator at the Office du tourisme et des congrès de Val-d’Or, where I’ve contributed to the promotion of local and regional tourism ever since. Talking about Val-d’Or and the region and learning to rediscover this territory has deepened my love for it as well as my thirst for “living it.” I therefore began spending most of my free time roaming across the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region visiting its attractions, restaurants, festivals and outdoor recreational sites. Each trip has provided laughs, opportunities to unwind and intense or tender emotions; all of which have gone to make beautiful memories. Among the many things there are to see, taste, do or listen to, here is my list of favourites.
I have always had a soft spot for Indigenous culture and peoples. There is nothing I like more than the festivities the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre organizes as part of National Aboriginal Day! Before the start of the traditional dances and music show, we tour the many kiosks. We sample some beaver meat lightly seasoned with mustard, some fresh bannock with melted butter and admire the work of craftsmen who make jewelry, dream catchers, hair accessories and drums. The designs are colourful, beautiful and precise. Then, the show begins. The men gather together in a circle around a huge drum. Yet other men, women and children dressed in regalia (ceremonial dress worn at pow wows among other events) gather around them. Silence … then in a single glance, the drummers begin playing in unison. It’s so beautiful, so intense that my heart flutters and my entire body quivers! The rhythm of the drums reverberates in my legs and they itch to accompany the majestic dancers (but I restrain myself out of respect). One can sense strength and pride in all of their movements, in their gaze and in their posture. Your chakras will be aligned in no time!
Last summer, I went to visit the Labyrinthe des insectes in Amos with my sister and my three-year-old niece, affectionately nicknamed Cyclone Sam. Upon arriving at the main building, we were handed a questionnaire on insects and sent off on a “mission.” We began a treasure hunt through the woods where the answers to the questions on the questionnaire could be found hidden in small blue boxes. It was like being on a mission with Dora the Explorer! At least, that’s what my niece said. She unabashedly provided the soundtrack for the activity by singing at the top of her lungs throughout half of the course: “Allons-y! Let’s go les amis!” (from the French version of Dora the Explorer). In the middle of the course, we came upon a dead end where there was a small house. We thereupon left the world of Dora (such a shame…) to find ourselves among the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. We also visited the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean and that of Peter Pan. In short, it’s as though the maze was designed for the sole purpose of stimulating my niece’s imagination and she had a blast throughout. Upon returning to the main building, we met with Tommy, the labyrinth’s owner, who shared with us his passion for insects, letting us handle and touch them and introducing them to us as though they were his own children. I fell in love with a big hairy tarantula for almost a minute—his passion was so contagious. And he was so patient with Sam! Even though she’s got up to 0.0001 oz. of inherent delicateness (which she usually lavishes only on her dolls), he let her touch and hold a multitude of insects and amphibians in her little hands.
My sister, niece and I also went to the Musée minéralogique de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue, in Malartic. The information to be gleaned there is fascinating. The exhibitions are dynamic and interactive and make you want to learn more about rocks and minerals! An entire portion of the exhibition is devoted to the relocation of the northern part of Malartic, which took place when the Canadian Malartic (then Osisko) open-pit mine was first opened. The photos and testimonials really go a long way in illustrating the scale of the endeavour. There is also an earthquake simulator, bizarre poses one can imprint on phosphorescent rocks and a promenade overhanging fairy stones one can admire. In short, it’s great fun! And there is a park nearby with water games and game modules. I can assure you that following our visit to Malartic, my niece Cyclone Sam had become Sleepy Sam!
The last favourite on my list is the Foire gourmande de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue et du Nord-Est ontarien. This event is such sweet chaos. Here hundreds of foodies gather in a din of chatter, laughter and music and an intermingling of tantalizing fragrances: meats cooking on the grill, fresh corn, cheeses and much, much more. Not to mention that I had a magic moment here; after ordering a cob of corn (the best I have ever eaten in my short life!), I stepped out from under the tent to dig in. Bang! Total change in atmosphere… I felt a cool, gentle breeze, the only perceivable odour was that of fresh grass, before me lay a breathtaking view of Lake Timiskaming. This was a perfect Zen moment for me to enjoy the best tasting corn on the cob in the world.
When I recall all of these beautiful memories, it brings a smile to my face. Moments like these, when nothing else but the present matters, give meaning to the word: living. And when I think of everything that I have left to discover about the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region, of the many passionate people I will meet along my way and who will tell their passion, at least for as long as the visit lasts… When I think of all the landscapes there are to admire, the sweet scents there are to smell and the music that will flood my ears… I get really excited!