Salmon fishing on the Metis River spans millennia. Archaeological digs at the mouth of the Metis River show that the native peoples fished there, probably feasting on the salmon that were plentiful from June through September. By the 1850s wealthy sportsmen began to cast for rivers to practice their sport – and Quebec’s rivers, particularly those of the Gaspé and the North Shore, acquired mythic status because of their beauty and the size and number of salmon.
The Metis River was a river identified as having great potential. But the salmon met many obstacles, notably the dams and weirs used by the timber industry and later the dams constructed for hydro-electric production that were essential to the local economy. The Atlantic salmon came very close to extinction on this river.
George Stephen, the financier who presided over the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, was attracted by the beauty of the site. He bought land on both sides of the river, acquired the fishing rights and built Estevan Lodge in 1887. He welcomed many distinguished guests. My great grandmother, Elsie Reford, was given the property in 1918. And like her uncle, she loved to fish.
Since that time, much has changed. Today the Metis River is no longer a private paradise, but a river accessible to the public for much of its length. Salmon are again abundant. The property took the name Les Jardins de Métis (Reford Gardens) and is today a National Historic Site and also designated a heritage site by the province of Québec. Estevan Lodge has become a vibrant cultural space. The Gardens welcome more than 50,000 visitors every summer.
This exhibition on salmon fishing on the Metis River explores the story of the people inspired by the special allure of the salmon. The Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar – the leaper – is known for its unique attribute of returning to the river in which it was born to spawn. The Metis River had a special hold on humans as well – becoming the venue for an annual pilgrimage to fish its waters.
I hope this exhibition guides you to visit us as well.
Director, Les Jardins de Métis / Reford Gardens