September 21, 2012
Insight into nature with Robin Lessard
Havre-Saint-Pierre boasts a major attraction in the form of Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve which is protected and managed by Parks Canada. To learn more about this attraction of ever increasing popularity with cruise ship passengers, we met with Robin Lessard, Director, Mingan Management Unit.
- As a lead-in, it might be appropriate to provide readers with an overview of Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve.
The reserve comprises a scattering of some thirty limestone islands and over 1000 stunningly beautiful granitic islets and reefs strung out like the beads of a rosary along the north shore of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The Mingan Archipelago refers to the area which became a national park reserve in 1984. In this particular instance, we have retained the word 'reserve' since the park is located partly on land claimed by First Nations communities in the region.
- How long have you been in your current position in the vicinity of our member port of call at Havre-Saint-Pierre?
My posting, quite recent, dates back to November 2010. I am a retired military officer with a passion for canoeing and the great outdoors, and the opportunity to assume command of this unit was a dream come true for me.
- Could you explain to readers the nature of your role?
My job is to coordinate the efforts of my team in fulfilling our mandate which entails protecting the natural environment and rendering it accessible to visitors. We oversee services such as customer greeting, customer experience quality and technical services, while the team responsible for environmental matters takes action to ensure that the park remains in good health. In all, the team includes up to 75 employees in high season.
- What is it about your job that you especially enjoy?
Working for a federal agency such as ours is particularly stimulating given the depth of staff and resources, and the opportunity to work alongside individuals with a passion for what they do. I particularly enjoy being able to combine managerial tasks and fieldwork in a natural setting that is as unique as it is magnificent. The great diversity of files and stakeholders makes for a highly motivating working environment.
- What is the nature of your interaction with cruise ship passengers stopping in at Havre-Saint-Pierre ?
Since the park is the traffic builder for Havre-Saint-Pierre, I work in close cooperation with Rendez-vous Minganie and Cruise the Saint Lawrence to provide the best possible product tailored to the needs of cruise line operators and cruiseshippers alike. We also partner with the local companies contracted to transport passengers to the islands using a variety of types of vessels. It is important for us to tailor our services to demand by providing for flexibility in terms of scheduling and services offered by our guides.
- Which park attributes are of particular appeal to cruiseshippers?
Given the exceptional natural beauty of the park, the uniqueness of what we have to offer remains a too closely guarded secret. We are always eager to introduce the park to the greatest number of visitors possible. t is indeed extremely rare to enjoy access to such a wealth of diverse countryscapes in such a seemingly inaccessible location. More often than not, visitors must travel hundreds of kilometres to experience the back country of our national parks, whereas at Mingan this is simply not the case. The spectacle of the monoliths impresses time and again. With over 500 different species of plants and an abundance of animal life within the boundaries of a park barely 100 km2 in area, visitors are literally blown away by the uniqueness of the natural surroundings. Photographers and birdwatchers are especially appreciative of the park's natural beauty. Tours are tailored to visitor interests be it geology, fauna or local culture.
- Are there any visitor-oriented development projects currently in progress?
At present, we are working on two projects to round out our visitor service offer, including a lighthouse station with facilities conducive to the organization of events such as concerts and presentations. These facilities could also be used by special interest groups.
- How many cruiseshippers annually transit through Havre-Saint-Pierre?
We are delighted to observe that, since 2009, cruisehsipper numbers have been steadily increasing from one year to the next. Although it is sometimes a bit of a challenge when it comes to numbers of individuals, we know that we can accommodate large numbers of visitors at the same time thanks to the excellent level of cooperation we enjoy with community stakeholders and park authorities. Between 50% and 85% of all passengers disembarking at Havre-Saint-Pierre visit us at Mingan.
- What would you like to see for cruiseshippers and for Havre Saint-Pierre in the coming year?
I am confident that the years ahead will bring ever increasing numbers of visitors to our shores. And it is my hope that we will have the opportunity to welcome greater numbers of ships in summer when regional flora and fauna are at their peak. We are always delighted to share this paradise we call home with cruise ship passengers interested in experiencing first-hand the beauty and tranquillity of Havre Saint-Pierre.
Many thanks, Mr Lessard, for taking the time to speak to us. Readers and potential visitors will be marking Havre-Saint-Pierre on their list of places to visit!