Fermont, Quebec, where residents live in The Wall, is a coveted place for road trippers. The small community at the end (or the beginning) of Route 389 is unique, resilient and welcoming. The 500 kilometres of the 389 Highway separating Baie-Comeau and Fermont offer many attractions, from the impressive Manic 5 powerplant to the magnificent Manigouagan Reservoir, better known as the Eye of Quebec, nestled in the Monts-Groulx. This road trip on Route 389 to Fermont, Quebec, is an outstanding adventure.
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Where is Fermont, Quebec?
Fermont, Quebec, is a small mining town in Northern Quebec near the Labrador border. It is accessed through Highway 389, a winding unpaved road through forests and mountains. The route is famous for a road trip from Baie Comeau ending 565 kilometres later in Fermont.
Fermont came to be with the prospering mining industry in Northern Quebec. The massive mine in Mont-Wright needed to accommodate its workers and their families. As a result, the town was established in the early 1970s and is still thriving today.
Is Route 389 in Quebec paved?
Large parts of Route 389 are paved, but there are still sections of gravel roads. The first 200 kilometres from Baie-Comeau to Manic 5 are on a paved but hilly and winding road. After Manic 5, drivers will drive on 100 kilometres of gravel road. Then, near the old townsite of Gagnon, the road is paved for another 100 kilometres. From Fire Lake to Mont Wright, it is again a dirt road with numerous train track crossings. The last 20 kilometres to Fermont are paved.
A bit of History
The northern winters in Canada are what they are. The residents of Fermont had to cope with frigid winds during winter. So engineers built a wall to protect the town from those ferocious winds. The wall is over one kilometre in length and stands five stories high. It shields the 600 houses in downtown Fermont, Quebec, making winter’s weather more manageable for its residents.
Baie-Comeau, Quebec – km 0
Baie-Comeau is a city built on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. It is 700 kilometres east of Montreal. The scenic drive from Quebec City to Baie-Comeau through Charlevoix on Highway 138 follows the St. Lawrence River. The landscape is beautiful, with the road stuck between mountains and water.
The start of Route 389 is off Highway 138 in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. But, before heading out on this famous road, enjoy what Baie-Comeau has to offer.
Parc des Pionniers
Enjoy a walk by the water among the sculptures and end up on Champlain Beach. There are numerous parks in Baie-Comeau to enjoy walking, hiking, biking or sitting on a bench with nature and water for a view.
Baie-Comeau is famous for its brewery, St-Pancrace. You can stop at the brewery and buy their different craft beer, or if you are not pressed for time, I recommend having dinner at their restaurant and enjoying one (or more) of their local beer.
La Place is where all the shopping happens. There are plenty of boutiques and stores with local crafts and brand names to enjoy an afternoon of shopping. Don’t miss the Galerie d’Art Claude Bonneau with its fantastic collection of antiques and everything Coca-Cola, or the Borale Soap Factory for locally handmade soaps of all kinds. The Manoir du café serves excellent coffee and tasty pastries.
Manic 2 – km 22
Maybe not as imposing as Manic 5 but still impressive is the dam at Manic 2. You can view the dam in its entirety at the visitor center at km 22.
The dam’s doors up high above can trigger your imagination as to what it would look like to observe the water cascading down the ravine at high speed. The chute beside the doors was meant for the log drive.
You can take a guided tour of the central and the dam and learn about its construction and the workings of the power plant. You need to make a reservation online, but the guided tour is free.
The Drive on the 389 North
The 389 from here to the next stop, relais Manic-Outarde is a winding and hilly paved road. It will test your breaks a few times. But the scenery is also superb; endless forests and lakes will follow you along the route.
Relais-Manic-Outarde – km 94
The Relais Manic-Outarde is a good place for a rest stop with a gas station, a cafeteria-style restaurant, and a small snack bar selling chips, chocolate bars and cola. There is also a beer and liquor store. You will have noticed the turn-off for Manic 3 just before reaching the relais.
From here to Manic 5, the road is the same paved winding and hilly route. The hydro lines follow the road, sometimes crossing it to cross a few kilometres again later. The mountains and trees will be your companions for the next couple of hours. Be extra careful of wildlife that sometimes ventures on the road.
Manic 5 – km 214
The impressive Daniel-Johnson Dam was built in the 1960s over 13 years. It stands 214 meters high from its bottom to the top and is 1.3 kilometres wide. At the height of its construction, the workers’ camp counted 3000 inhabitants and another 1500 in the small town of Lac-Louise nearby. With 13 arches and 14 buttresses, it weighs an impressive 6 million tons of concrete.
I highly recommend the free guided tour of the underground powerplant Manic 5 PA and the dam. While waiting for the guided tour, check out the exhibit and learn about the construction and life around the camp.
The tour begins with a short presentation on some history and basic information on how the dam and the central work to create energy and electricity. The tour guide then brings visitors underground into the mountain where Manic-5 PA is located. Walking around this noisy central with the mountain for walls is impressive.
Visitors also get the chance to walk in one of the giant arches. Standing at the base of this colossal monument, you realize how massive it is. The last part of the tour is on top of the dam, where visitors can observe the reservoir created by the dam.
If you wish to take this free guided tour, you must reserve it in advance on the website.
The Drive on Route 389 North
The following 100 kilometres from Manic 5 to the Relais Gabriel will quickly change to a hilly gravel road. Your going will be slower as you manoeuver the potholes and the gravel. Again, wildlife can be an issue on this road. Be vigilant, as you will encounter big trucks that are not hindered by road conditions.
Relais-Gabriel – km 315
The Relais-Gabriel would be a quick stop for gas and grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, which is more like a cafeteria. They also sell chips, chocolate bars and pop.
From the relais, keep an eye on your right. You will soon see a body of water with scattered islands and mountains behind it. These would be your first glimpses of the Manicouagan River and the famous Oeil du Québec.
L’Oeil du Québec
This body of water in an almost perfect circle with the island in its center is known as L’Oeil du Québec (the eye of Quebec). It was created over 200 million years ago when an asteroid 8 kilometres in diameter hit what is known today as l’île René-Levasseur. The 100-kilometre-wide crater created by the asteroid’s impact is one of the world’s largest astroblems. The eye sits in the Manicouagan-Uapishka region and is one of Quebec’s largest nature reserves.
Monts Groulx – km 335-365
This magnificent region offers more views and many adventures. The untamed nature of the mountain range of the Monts Groulx will make any hiker fall in love. Click here for a complete guide to hiking in the Monts Groulx.
Station Uapishka – km 336
The Station Uapishka sits right by the water. The station offers rooms and cottages for rent, including packages with meals.
There are also a few campsites right by the water on sandy beaches with campfire rings and picnic tables. The lake views are unique, and you get the sunset behind l’île René-Levasseur.
Station Uapishka offers many adventures for outdoor lovers on the water and in the mountains:
- Kayaking on the Manicouagan Crater Lake: you can explore the lake or take a guided kayak tour around the Eye of Quebec
- SUP boarding on the lake
- Fishing and wade fishing in Manicouagan Lake
- Hiking one of the many trails in the Monts-Groulx
The Drive on Route 389 North
You will drive through the Monts-Groulx from Station Uapishka to the site of the old town of Gagnon. These beautiful mountains with miles of untamed nature make this part of the drive spectacular. The forest extends in valleys and up the mountains.
You will drive through an area that still bears the mark of a forest fire. The long blackened tree trunks stick out above the small brush and the pines and fir that are new and thriving.
Gagnon, Quebec – km 390
The town that disappeared. Gagnon was a mining town. From 1959 to 1985, some 4000 habitants called it home. Driving by this highway, you once would have seen the cafeteria, a hotel, an arena, a hospital, an airport, the school, and the church. None are left.
As the mining industry declined over the years, the townspeople were expatriated, and the buildings were demolished.
All that is left are the sidewalks and the median. You can still see some side roads that would have made up the town, but they end after a few feet in brush and forest. Nature has reclaimed the space.
The Drive on Route 389 North
Passed Gagnon, you will get another 100 km of the paved road, but as you near Fire Lake, this will change. The road between Fire Lake (km 480) and Mont-Wright (km 547) is a winding dirt road with potholes crossing the train track a dozen times.
Be mindful as you drive this part, as vehicles can surprise you at any turn, and the big 18-wheelers take up a lot of space on the road. And you will undoubtedly encounter many on your way.
The road gets pretty slippery when wet, so be cautious in the rain. And, of course, being isolated with untamed nature all around, be alert for wildlife.
The last 20 kilometres before Fermont is paved is a nice break from the winding gravel road.
Fermont, Quebec – km 565
Fermont is a mining town established in 1974 in Northern Quebec, where summers are short, and winters are long and cold. The small town sits at the end (or the beginning) of Route 389, 565 kilometres North of Baie-Comeau.
This far north, the fierce winter wind would make conditions unbearable in the winter. The solution came from an engineer inspired by a concept he knew of in Sweden. The construction of a wall that could house facilities, workers, and their families and protect the families living in the houses beyond the wall from that extreme wind.
The wall is 1.3 kilometres long and five stories high. It is shaped as a pointed arrow strategically angled to be the most effective at shielding the wind.
One could live in the wall and rarely have to come out of it as it also houses most community services:
- the school
- many shops such as a hardware store and a sports store
- the Liquor Store
- the grocery store
- a hairdresser and barber
- the arena
- a pool
- a bowling facility
- a laundromat
- the post office
- the police station
- a bar and restaurant
- many apartment units
- commercial office space
The houses in Fermont are nestled between the wall and the Deviault Lake. The site for the town was chosen because the vast lake is a barrier between the city and possible forest fires.
Place Daviault Door 20 of the wall has an exhibit telling the story of the town and how the wall was conceived and built.
Also, please stop at the Fermont Information Center, where the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and treat yourself to a souvenir they have on display.
Hike Mont Daviault Trail
These short easy trails go up to the summit of Mont Daviault across Daviault Lake. You have the option of 4 paths of different lengths ranging from 700 meters to 1.3 kilometres. The lookout over the city is impressive. You can see the wall at all its size and the 600 houses it protects.
Jean Fortin Park
Make a pit stop at Jean Fortin Park to take a selfie with the impressively huge Caterpillar mining dump truck. If you stand under the gazebo, you will have a nice look over part of the wall and the town below. There is a picnic table you can take advantage of for a snack or lunch.
Chasing Nothern Lights
Once you make it to Fermont, make time to chase northern lights. The blue-green lights dance in the sky above Fermont many nights of the year.
Keep the Road Trip Going
Fermont, Quebec, is the end of the road for the famous winding Route 389 North. If you don’t want your road trip to end here, keep going a few kilometres east of Fermont for another fantastic adventure on the Translabrador Highway in Newfoundland and Labrador. This newly paved road is another excellent choice for a road trip through forested valleys and rolling hills with small towns with each of their charms and attractions.