It’s a perfect day for kayaking. You paddle quietly over calm waters of the deepest blue. You are enchanted by the wilderness, the feeling of having the entire world alone to yourself, of being lost in the middle of nowhere, when you suddenly notice a small sandy beach on an island. It’s not so much the beach that catches your eye (it’s the third of its kind you’ve come across), as much as the tent that’s on it. It’s a small tent that has visibly been put to much use and that no doubt belongs to someone who appreciates adventure as much as you do.
It belongs to Stéphanie Brousseau, who just at that moment emerges from the underbrush with branches she has gathered to make a fire. Her smile and friendly tone lead you to accept her invitation to join her by the fire without the slightest hesitation.
The girl before you is young, dynamic, likes to try a little bit of everything and as she says so herself, is ready to “set off on an adventure at the drop of a hat!” Whether it’s taking in a show, going to festivals or camping, she’s the one you want to call at the last minute when you have a crazy idea. “I’m always ready to go,” she confides. “Which is convenient because after that when you call people, they have to say yes!” she says with a laugh.
As you chat, it quickly becomes obvious that Stéphanie has mastered the art of exploring, be it on foot or by kayak, every nook and cranny that the Temiscabitibian backwoods have to offer. When you tell her how surprised you were to meet her alone in the middle of nowhere, she answers: “Nothing beats pitching your tent on a beach! I really like wilderness camping! I adore it really!” And since there aren’t that many outdoor enthusiasts compared to the amount of outdoors we have, you often have the whole place to yourself, unlike other places where there are campsites or parks. What I like to do is to walk as long and as far as I can until I realize that hey, if something happens to me, I’m in deep shit. Of course, I take precautions, I’ve got bear pepper spray with me and everything, but I particularly enjoy heading off alone on foot and challenging my limits.”
This proximity to nature is the reason why she says without hesitation that she’s here to stay: “I’m originally from the James Bay area—from Matagami to be precise. I studied in Rouyn, then in Gatineau. I came back fast enough though! Even if Gatineau isn’t that different from the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region as far as the outdoors go—that wasn’t the problem … it was having to endure 45 minutes in traffic in the morning to go 10 kilometres that quickly convinced me to come back here. And now, it’s clear that I’m not going any farther than here. Or more precisely than Rouyn-Noranda. This city offers amazing access to culture and the great outdoors!”
Because as much as she likes to get lost in the woods, she also likes seeing people and participating in cultural activities. “I like seeing shows by local artists because it’s like you’re directly encouraging someone you can cross in the street and not just some artist that’s completely unaware of your reality,” she says. “There’s a lot of improvisation in regional communities—I love that! I also find open-mike nights really enjoyable! And jams also… Not to mention music festivals or seeing a movie. Not just at the Paramount, there’s also the Ciné-Qualité that shows quality films in their original language at an affordable price. I find that we have an abundance of diversity here.”
As it’s getting late and the sun is sinking below the horizon, you let her know that it’s time for you to paddle on. She wishes you happy trails adding a friendly suggestion: “Talk to the locals! If you go take a beer at Le Prospecteur, sit on a stool at the bar and chat with the people there because everybody’s got a story that’ll make you say: I can’t believe that that actually happened to someone! I myself like to go alone to places in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region and do just that. You always end up talking to tons of people. I think that’s a unique or typical characteristic of the people here. If someone says they’re here to visit the region, everyone will tell them that they should see this or do that. I think that elsewhere people don’t even bother to wonder who you are or where you’re from. I think that’s our pride talking. People here are proud and want to show that coming here is worth the while. It may be a little far, but once you’re here, there’s a lot to see!”