Promontory, on Gros-Cacouna mountain, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, under a sky dotted with airy clouds

Putep ’t-awt : A new land-based marine mammal observation site at Gros-Cacouna


Project: Putep ’t-awt
Number of employees: 7
Region: Bas-Saint-Laurent
Program: Tourism Relief Fund (TRF) – Special initiative implemented to foster economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This CED support has made it possible: to build and fit out a land-based beluga observation site to develop a new tourist attraction that follows eco-friendly practices so that the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation (WWFN) can benefit from post-pandemic market opportunities.



Rhythmic drum music starts the video as drone footage shows the Putep 't-awt beluga whale observatory from the foot of the rocky Gros-Cacouna mountain ridge. A feminine voice begins the narration:

"Sitting atop the Gros-Cacouna mountain, the new land-based marine mammal observation site of the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation celebrates the natural riches of its territory."

Several views of the observatory, all captured by drone, follow one another. The camera then shows conifers on the mountainside and the St. Lawrence River, whose water reflects the sunlight. Birds are visible on the water's surface. The narration continues:

"The very first of its kind on the South Shore of the St. Lawrence River, the site—baptized Putep ’t-awt—has several vocations: Among other things, it enables the public to observe a beluga nursery and fosters the protection of the endangered species."

A new drone image now shows a pod of beluga whales swimming in the estuary. A note on the screen indicates that the images were captured under research permits and are courtesy of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM). New views of the site appear on the screen, and the camera slides under the observatory walkways to give a glimpse of the solar flower that powers the site. The narration explains:

"Particular attention has been paid to the sustainable character of the observatory’s facilities. It was constructed so as to minimize its ecological footprint, and the buildings are supplied with electricity through an astounding solar flower."

The camera returns to the view of the St. Lawrence belugas. An animation shows several circles on the screen moving to form the CED logo, which then gives way to the logos of the Cacouna observation site and the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation. The voice concludes:

"CED is proud to support this Indigenous economic development and tourism project in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, while also helping to highlight the Wolastoqey identity, the affirmed guardian of this exceptional location."

A final shot shows the Gros-Cacouna mountain, with the port of Gros-Cacouna in the background. The video concludes with CED's ministerial signature and the Canada wordmark.

Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, as if placed atop Gros-Cacouna mountain, a promontory lashed by northeasters and sea spray discretely emerges. It could not be more in symbiosis with the landscape that shelters it than if it had been carved into the very rock in Wolastokuk, the WWFN’s territory. Baptized Putep ’t-awt (Beluga Trail in Wolastoqey), the WWFN’s new land-based marine mammal observation site does credit to its entire community, celebrating the natural riches of its territory.

Walkway on the mountain under a sunny sky
Walkway on the mountain under a sunny sky

Keen to place the beluga at the core of its development projects, the WWFN enlisted the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), a CED client, the Marine Mammal Observation Network (MMON) and the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park (Parks Canada) to establish this project, which quickly received unanimous support and was welcomed with enthusiasm by all partners who had been approached, starting back in 2018. The site, inspired by those at Baie–Sainte-Marguerite (SÉPAQ) and Pointe-Noire (Parks Canada), would become the very first of its kind on the river’s south shore. Thanks to its unique, distinctive character, Putep ’t-awt has also received the support of Tourisme Québec, Indigenous Tourism Quebec, Tourisme Bas-Saint-Laurent, Tourisme Rivière-du-Loup, the MRC de Rivière-du-Loup and the Parc côtier Kiskotuk, all convinced of the great potential for economic spin-offs for the region.

Values centred around identity, with a minimal footprint

It is understandable how proud the WWFN is of having proposed an economic development project with both tourism and scientific aspects to it. Its first large-scale infrastructure project is thus founded on two pillars: Eco-tourism attraction and research site. Putep ’t-awt thereby provides the public with a rare natural observation site of a beluga nursery and fosters the mammal’s protection by enabling the study of its behaviour. In fact, Esther Blier, Project Lead for the WWFN, specifies that “the entire site was designed to be able to host the collaborative, immersive activity Window on Belugas, managed by the GREMM, which enables the public to discover this mammal differently thanks to technology, but also without bothering it in its habitat.”

Cacouna island, archival photo
Cacouna island, archival photo

Creating the ideal conditions to observe the endangered species, the site—integrated into the Parc côtier Kiskotuk along nearly 30 kilometres of shoreline—was designed based on the WWFN’s architectural and landscape identity charter. This charter embodies the values of the community, whose very identity is expressed through its relationship with its environment. In fact, the Wolastoqey attest to a great respect for their territority, Wolastokuk, and so Putep ’t-awt has been integrated as naturally as possible into the landscape that surrounds it.

With a focus on eco-friendly practices, the project offers sustainable facilities with a minimal ecological footprint. Created when the western part of Gros-Cacouna mountain was dynamited to build the port in the 1970s, the rocky terrain where the Putep ’t-awt site is situated has seen minimal human activity since work began in September 2022. To develop it, the WWFN implemented several environmental measures, including reduced water, electricity, and fuel consumption; the use of eco-friendly materials; energy recovery; reduced waste production; and the application of circular economy principles. A concrete example? To limit the impact on the mountain’s fauna and flora, small-scale machinery was used to transport materials and complete the work. The narrow roads developed initially for the machinery are today pedestrian trails leading to the observatory, criss-crossing the mountain over nearly two kilometres.

Jacques Tremblay Grand Chief of the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation, standing in front of a birch forest.
Grand Chief Jacques Tremblay of the Wolastoqiyik Wahsipekuk First Nation

With a bird’s eye view of the river and the staggering landscape of the Charlevoix region on the horizon, the site, located at the edge of a cliff, obviously presented its lot of challenges—including obtaining, prior to construction, all the authorizations required and financing needed for the project to be deployed. On this subject, Grand Chief Jacques Tremblay says that he is delighted with the growing relationship between his nation, the only Wolastoqey nation in Quebec, and the Government of Canada: “I am pleased that we have been supported in our efforts to bring this innovative new project to fruition. This is a concrete gesture to conserve a threatened species. In line with our profound values, the Putep ’t-awt marine mammal observation site establishes biodiversity protection as a vector of tourism development.”

The WWFN, eager to respect its architectural and landscape charter, and despite its prior inexperience in the field, ensured strict sustainable development principles were applied. It also highlights the exceptional, ingenious collaboration among all those involved in the different stages of the site’s development, which made it possible, among other things, to continue with construction during the winter season in order to breathe new life into this territory that has been greatly altered by Man, while meeting tight timelines.

A model for products with tourist appeal

At the heart of the WWFN’s concerns: Raising the profile of and showcasing the Wolastoqey identity and positioning itself as the affirmed guardian of this exceptional site. It would like to see Putep ’t-awt become a model of infrastructure with high standards of social and environmental responsibility. How it was built is, for the community, a perfect example of this: In close collaboration with various players—whether in the fields of science, tourism or economic development or at the level of government agencies—the WWFN has been able, through an integrated approach, to protect and highlight the Gros-Cacouna mountain and marsh ecosystem, as dear to its people as is the beluga. By diversifying the experience currently on offer in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, its sustainable, original regional tourism project will foster the development of the recreational tourism hub that is the Parc côtier Kiskotuk—already equipped with infrastructure and interpretation areas highlighting the different facets of its culture. And odds are this large-scale attraction in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region will quickly become a site not to be missed!


Showcasing the Wolastoqey culture: A unique experience in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region 

As part of the Canadian Experiences Fund of the Federal Strategy on Jobs and Tourism, the WWFN received support from CED to develop a new, authentic Indigenous tourism experience within the territory of the Parc côtier Kiskotuk. This involved designing and installing infrastructure such as an agora, a shaputuan, and wigwams; creating an outdoor discovery trail dotted with totem-type sculptures; and developing various interpretation activities (guided hikes, tales and legends evenings, etc.). The project has made it possible to introduce and showcase the Wolastoqey culture and increase the park’s appeal.

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