Translated by Judith Turcotte
It is in the interest of mankind to protect certain attributes of the St. Lawrence River and its shores. Our river possesses attributes of worldwide interest and permit me to introduce you to three of these that we have the responsibility to protect.
The salt mines of the Magdalen Islands are the result of the long evolution of our river and of its history. The islands are situated on a plateau called Madeline. Hard to believe but this plateau was situated at the level of the equator 360 million years ago. It formed a valley and periodically this valley filled up with salt water. For millions of years salt accumulated and formed salt rocks. With the drift of the continents, the plateau has found its current footing. It is thanks to these salt domes that the Magdalen Islands are found on the surface of the water.
These domes are enormous and had not been discovered until 1972. Today, the extraction of salt is done by heavy equipment which circulates underground through galleries and rooms. More than 1,300,000 metric tons are extracted every year. When I visited the Magdalen Islands and I discovered the existence of these mines, I would have loved to have descended and seen firsthand these immense caves and the exploitation of these deposits; however, I had to be satisfied with the Seleine Mines Interpretation Center. It seems to me that a visit into the mine could become a destination with international potential given its origins. An email to the Islands’ tourist information bureau asking for the reasons that visits are not possible has remained unanswered.
A few years ago, I toured the Gaspé Peninsula and it is there that I discovered the Miguasha National Park following a recommendation from my sister Louise, a well-known environmentalist. I was skeptical at first but I did not regret my visit. The park was established to protect its fossil cliff where it is possible to find fossils of fish and plants dating back to the origin of the first terrestrial vertebrates that existed more than 380 million years ago. It was the time when strange species passed from water to land. The importance of this major palaeontological site is known worldwide and it appears on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
After a visit to the permanent exhibition of the park, “from water to land” which presents fossil specimens amongst the most beautiful of the collection, it is possible to take a walk along the fossil cliff. The site continues to surprise: as recently as the fall of 2013, the park unveiled a one-of-a-kind fossil. This fossil constitutes the very first complete specimen never before discovered on the planet of Elpistostege watsoni, a species of finfish of vital importance in evolutionary biology.
If the Miguasha Park permits us to understand the evolution of the species, Anticosti Island permits us the study of the first massive extinction that life on earth has known. The sedimentary rocks of the island allow the analysis of 10 million years of history of life on earth. These sedimentary rocks represent a treasure for researchers the world over. The federal government has just submitted (February 1. 2022) the island’s candidacy to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.