Labrador Caravan

June 23, 2007

I took a fairly direct route to the Newfoundland ferry, cutting across Gaspé, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Gaspé is lovely, a world of gentle green slopes and bubbling rivers that is nothing like the stark rocky landscapes of the St. Lawrence. Where the hills of the north shore were hidden in dense forests, cows grazed placidly on the fields of Gaspé and farms dotted the landscape. I camped one night by a shallow river, where a man stood in the water for hours, patiently casting his fishing line and reeling it in. He never caught a thing, but perhaps simply being in the steady song of the river was enough to make the day worthwhile.

In Amqui, a modest town of equally modest pretensions, I stopped in search of coffee and tourist information. I never did find the tourist office, but I did find le Café l’Express’O, a quiet spot on the upper floor of the renovated train station that served good coffee. It’s a good neighborhood place, filled with cartoons of Canadian politicians drawn by a local artist. Two young women with utterly incomprehensible French accents served worked at the counter, and a handful of people sat around the airy room chatting quietly or reading books. What most pleased me, though, when I sat down with my coffee and my computer, was a flier on the table that read

Did you know that…

The Café l’Express’O is a nonprofit cooperative which …

. . . reinvests its profits, when it generates them, in youth initiatives affecting the quality of life of the citizens

. . . is wholly managed by a team of volunteers less than 35 years old
. . . now employs seven young people and has provided the first employment for more than twenty since it opened
. . . received numerous national and regional prizes in the Quebec entrepreneurship competition of 2004
. . . uses in its cooking more than twenty products from the region of Matapédia
. . . has offered to the community, since its opening, almost one hundred presentations, films, and talks
. . . has showed the works of more than twenty visual artists from the region.

As well, the flier told me that

The Café L’Express’O was born of the willingness of young people to counter the exodus from rural areas. We believe that it is possible to live better in our own country! We need only give ourselves the means to take charge of our own community. Together, everything becomes possible!

That flier told me a lot more about Amqui – indeed, about Gaspé in general – than I had read in any of the tourist brochures I’d picked up in Matane. Young people trying to create a life in their own community instead of having to leave in search of work. Using their activity to strengthen the rest of their community, by buying local whenever they can instead of depending on imports. And promoting the works of their own artists.

Stop by there if you are ever in Amqui. It’s at 209-1, Boulevard Saint-Benoît Ouest, on the second floor of the train station. It seems like a good business to support. The coffee’s good, too.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos on this page © Joy E. Hecht.