This article is part of a series of portraits of people involved in some way with whales on the North Shore. Of Quebec As part of the Whale Route Documentation Project, meet these colourful characters who define the face of the region. Discover their stories that will bring you to life or relive the wonderful stories of the St. Lawrence River and its giant marine creatures!
Jean-Louis Frenette has Pointe-des-Monts tattooed on his heart. For nearly 50 of his 80 years, he has been gazing at the sea here. A retired professor and innkeeper of the Gite du Phare de Pointe-des-Monts, Jean-Louis arrived with the opening of the Cégep in Baie-Comeau. He develops a program to train technicians in wildlife resource management for recreational and tourism purposes: the Hunting and Fisheries Management Technique. Jean-Louis leaves Quebec’s Lanaudière region for the Côte-Nord. The Cégep de Baie-Comeau is still the only institution to offer this technique, which continues to shape the future of thousands of students.
“In addition to applied biology courses, there is also a blend of know-how in administration, geomatics, computer science, outdoor equipment management and, especially, the organization of outdoor recreational activities,” proudly explains Jean-Louis Frenette.
“It is truly the open sea and it is completely normal to spot the back or occasionally the tail of one of the larger whales directly from the beach and hear their impressive whistle-like blows when they come up to breath” – Jean-Louis Frenette
Jean-Louis has Pointe-des-Monts tattooed on his heart. The 80-year-old has lived here for almost 5 decades! In the late 1960s, he buys Madame Fafard’s house, whom he describes as being like a second mother to him.
This spontaneous purchase and the long summer vacation from Cégep allow him to launch a genuine career as a professional fisherman after he acquires, much to his surprise, the fishing licence that came with the residence!
An old salt from Baie-Trinité, the late Henri Tremblay, introduces him to salmon, cod, halibut, and herring fishing, shellfish harvesting and even seal hunting. He learns to discover the River from a different perspective. Jean-Louis raises his daughters in Pointe-des-Monts, whom he introduces to fishing and whale watching in the St. Lawrence.
Thanks to them and the years he has spent on the River, he understands that cetaceans can perceive human emotions and that they can even sense well-intentioned individuals.
When Jean-Louis shares his encounters with large cetaceans, his eyes light up. He is convinced of their great intelligence and the importance of their conservation, contrary to the old beliefs that whales were responsible for the decline of cod in the St. Lawrence.
When he took possession of the house, Jean-Louis also acquired a “homestead” that allowed him to build small log cabins over the years to accommodate visitors. Starting with two, he would later go on to build five, then 10, before ultimately reaching 18 units in 2004. His little chalets continue to welcome visitors!
In addition to fishing, Mr. Frenette has been developing and leading for several years whale-watching trips, scuba diving around shipwrecks and kayaking activities, in an effort to share his knowledge and help visitors discover the site’s historical heritage as well as its extraordinary natural environment. “It is truly the open sea and it is completely normal to spot the back or occasionally the tail of one of the larger whales directly from the beach and hear their impressive whistle-like blows when they come up to breath,” he tells.
Although retired, Jean-Louis Frenette still shares his knowledge with the students of Baie-Comeau’s Cégep. He makes it a point of receiving each graduating class in Pointe-des-Monts and its museum, “Camp Ashini”, a replica of an Innu encampment.
His work on the North Shore leaves a lasting impression of the region’s history. In his view, time is relative and coincidences are merely formalities. Both his teaching and his life in Pointe-des-Monts have left a mark on people. Tourists return year after year, even if it’s just for a coffee with the charismatic professor or to enjoy a breathtaking sunset over the beautiful bay. Because neither Jean-Louis nor Pointe-des-Monts leaves anyone indifferent.