Baie-James (James Bay) is a region in Northern Quebec. It is also called Jamésie or Eeyou Istchee.
Towns and villages
The regional centre Chibougamau-Chapais, a mining town of about 7500 people, serves as the point of entry into this remote and northern region and the end of the paved road. There are a few small towns (and no major cities) in the James Bay region:
James Bay is far from the beaten path and traditionally the home ground of hardy native groups such as Cree and Inuit.
The region's natural resources, particularly its abundant hydroelectric energy, attracted outsiders from the 1970s onward. The area remains remote by Québec standards as the bulk of colonisation has long followed a beaten path that sticks heavily to the St. Lawrence and Ottawa river valleys in the south of the province.
Northern weather and climate is widely variable and often inhospitable. In June, it may be hot (25°C, 80°F) during the day but cool (10°C, 50°F) at night with June overnight temperature near freezing not uncommon. In winter, expect bitter, Arctic cold.
One needs some kind of bug protection, and in hot temperatures, one must find a way to keep cool while inside a bug screen of some kind. In a vehicle, about the only way to be comfortable is to keep driving with open windows. Luckily, there are frequent rivers which, while somewhat chilly, are good for swimming.
All air transportation is done to and from La Grande Rivière Airport (IATA: YGL) near Radisson, which has direct connections to Montréal by the airlines; Air Inuit and Air Creebec, there is usually at least two daily departures on this route, one by each airline. Air Inuit also serves several small Inuit communities further north from the airport.
The James Bay Road is a paved road leading north along the lower reaches of Hudson Bay. It provides access to four Cree communities located along the shore of James Bay, and extends north to Radisson, located at a large hydroelectric dam project. There is paved road to the Cree community of Chisasibi. To reach the three Cree communities of Waskaganish, Eastmain and Wemindji, one must traverse long stretches of gravel road, generally about 90 km of gravel road each.
The James Bay Road passes through a vast and unpopulated region. There is not much traffic. While driving, one sees nothing but trees, rivers and rocks for long periods of time. Wildlife that may be seen include black bear, fox and moose. The most common wildlife to see during June are ravens and dragonflies. There are mosquitoes in most places, and deer flies in some places. The bugs do not seem to be more aggressive or annoying than in more southern areas such as Michigan or Ontario, however because the whole area is bush, there are few or no built up areas to escape to, to avoid the insects. Having a place to rest with bug screens is a must. Bug headnets and bug jackets are a good idea to preserve one's sanity. Long pants, socks and long sleeve shirts are good to help protect from insects. Staying away from trees and brush, and finding spots in the open in windy areas will help reduce the annoyance of insects.
The quiet and isolation along the James Bay Road can be unnerving. People who are not used to such a vast wilderness may feel some discomfort and fear. In some people, it can lead to exhilaration. After a day or two, one gets used to the isolation. There is traffic along the James Bay Road, but most vehicles are driving very fast to try to cover long distances quickly. The James Bay Road officially begins in Matagami, however the transition from northern Quebec farm country to boreal forest happens between Amos and Matagami. As you travel north out of Matagami, you will notice that the trees become smaller and smaller as the hours and days pass. The further north you go, the fewer people you will see.
Fuel is available 24 hours a day in Matagami, Relais Routier and Radisson. If you fill your tank whenever you pass through these locations, you should not have to worry about running out of fuel (depending on your vehicle's range!). Fuel prices in June 2009 were about CAN$1.24 per litre (with 4.5 litres in a gallon, or 3.78 litres per US gallon). Fuel is also available in the Cree communities of Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji and Chisasibi.
In order to best travel the James Bay Road, here are a few suggestions. Drive slowly to allow the driver to enjoy the view and to reduce fuel consumption. Plan on taking two or more days to drive from Matagami to Radisson. Stop at all major rivers and take a walk along the river. Spend time at all waterfalls and climb the rocks a bit. Quite often the natural impulse is to drive as fast as possible to a destination, however, when you reach the James Bay Road, you should take time to enjoy the trip.
Visit a Cree community. Chisasibi has a paved road to the village, however Chisasibi is somewhat industrial. It is not the best village to learn about Cree life and culture. There is a gravel road from Chisasibi to the James Bay Coast. When you near Chisasibi, do not take any of the side streets, and follow signage to the barge. As you approach the barge site, take a left and continue on to a boat launch. Most boats there are freighter canoes.
Wemindji is an excellent location to observe a Cree village. One must travel 96 km of gravel road from the James Bay Road to Wemindji. In 2009, there was an exhibit of how the Cree tipis were constructed near the boat launch in town. Wemindji appears to be a prosperous town with a great deal of construction. Wemindji is surrounded by islands and a chain of lakes that are connected to James Bay.
North of Chisasibi is Longue Point, a dramatic location which appears to be the furthest north that one can drive to the coast of James Bay. It is a launch site for freighter canoes and in winter is a starting point to snowmobile on the ice of James Bay. To find Longue Point, cross the LeGrande 1 dam near Chisasibi and follow the gravel road to the end. This is truly the end of the road and about as far as you can drive north along the bay.
Fishing in the rivers and lakes along the James Bay Road is permitted with a Quebec fishing permit. In the areas surrounding the Cree communities, one must have a guide to fish. Generally there are signs in areas where fishing is prohibited to non-natives.
There are grocery stores in Matagami and Radisson. There is a grocery store in the centre of Chisasibi. There may be grocery stores at Wemindji and Relais Routier. When entering the James Bay region, you must carry enough food and water for several days (minimum). Most campgrounds have no water wells. You may wish to take water directly from the rivers. A pail with a rope tied to the handle makes fetching water from rivers much easier.
There are a number of official and unofficial campsites along the highway which as of 2009 were free (with a requested donation of $5 per day). The official campsites will typically have a picnic table and pit toilet. Many of the official campsites are located near rivers or lakes, and in some cases are next to beautiful waterfalls. Most campsites are gravel, which is not particularly suited for tenting. If you plan on tenting, take a sturdy ground cloth. There are numerous logging roads and turn-offs that one could take and overnight in the wild along the way. A self-contained camper van or motor home are ideal for travel in the James Bay region.
This is a remote and northern region. Encountering big city crime is improbable, but wildlife (such as bears) may pose a hazard. Expect to cover long distances on desolate gravel road with no services and no mobile telephone service between villages. Help is not always close at hand in remote areas in the event of medical emergency, vehicle breakdown or collision with wildlife.
- Head back south through Chibougamau-Chapais. From there, one may go southwest to Val d'Or or southeast to Chicoutimi-Jonquière.