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Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area Management Plan [Proposed]

1. Description of the protected area

Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area was created in 1986 by Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service to protect important nesting sites for migratory birds, especially colonial seabirds and particularly the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima). It is home to this species’ largest colony in North America. Table 1 summarizes general information about this National Wildlife Area.

This protected area of 404 ha is located in the brackish and salt waters of the St. Lawrence River Lower and Upper estuaries. It is made up of approximately a dozen islands or portions of islands, which are spread out over 120 kilometres (km) between Kamouraska and Rimouski (Le Bic) (Figures 1 and 2 and Table 2) and are at a maximum elevation of approximately 30 metres. The distance separating the islands from the south shore varies between two and ten km. The larger islands are mostly colonized by Balsam Fir-White Birch stands and White Spruce stands; while the smaller islands are generally covered in wet meadows composed of herbaceous vegetation.

Table 1: Information on Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area.
Protected area designationNational Wildlife Area
Province or territoryQuebec – municipalities of Kamouraska, Saint André and Rimouski (Le Bic);
Regional County Municipality (RCM) of Kamouraska and RCM of Rimouski-Neigette
Latitude and longitude48°04’N and 69°29’W
Size404 ha: 83.5 ha of lands and 320 ha of intertidal flats
Protected Area designation criteria (Protected Areas manual)aCriteria 1a –
The area’s islands play a vital role in seabird nesting in the St. Lawrence Estuary, especially for the Common Eider, and they are an important resting and feeding place for waterfowl and shorebirds.
Criteria 3a –
The area provides colonial birds of the St. Lawrence Estuary with an island habitat that is relatively protected from the threats of predators and human disturbances.
Protected Area classification system (Protected Areas manual) aCategory A – Conservation of Species or critical habitat
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Classification b Category Ia – Strict nature reserve
Order-in-Council numberSOR/DORS/2000-123
Directory of Federal Real Property (DFRP) number27013 (Île Bicquette only)
Gazetted1986
Additional designationsThe following islands in the National Wildlife Areas are internationally designated as Important Bird Areas (IBA): Le Long Pèlerin (Les Pèlerins), Île aux Fraises, Le Pot du Phare (Brandypot Islands), Île Blanche and Île Bicquette.
Faunistic and floristic importanceMore than half of the estuary’s Common Eider pairs, approximately 10,000 couples, nest in the National Wildlife Area. The National Wildlife Area also supports large colonies of Razorbill and Black Guillemots. La Grande Île is home to Quebec’s westernmost colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes.
Invasive SpeciesOn certain islands, exotic (or introduced) plant species make up 25 to 35% of all plant species in open areas. Some of them are considered invasive, including the Reed Canary Grass, the Wild Radish and the Smooth Bedstraw. Some animal species such as the Double-crested Cormorant can cause damage to habitat should they become abundant.
Species at RiskThe area is home to a species that is at risk under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) and under Quebec’s Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species (ARTVS), namely the Peregrine Falcon, which nests in the National Wildlife Area. The Red Knot probably uses the National Wildlife Area’s intertidal flats and the Barrow’s Goldeneye uses the adjacent waters.
Management agencyEnvironment Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service
Public access and useRestricted public access only on Le Pot du Phare, one of the Brandypot Islands (Îles du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie). Hiking, wildlife observation and photography are authorized only in designated areas (trails, lookouts) and at certain times of the year.

a Environment Canada, 2005

b IUCN, 2008

Figure 1: Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area
Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area map. See long description below.
Long description for figure 1

Protected area of 404 ha is located in the brackish and salt waters of the St. Lawrence River Lower and Upper estuaries. It is made up of approximately a dozen islands or portions of islands, which are spread out over 120 kilometres (km) between Kamouraska and Rimouski (Le Bic) and are at a maximum elevation of approximately 30 metres. The distance separating the islands from the south shore varies between two and ten km. The larger islands are mostly colonized by Balsam Fir-White Birch stands and White Spruce stands; while the smaller islands are generally covered in wet meadows composed of herbaceous vegetation.

Table 2: Islands, parts of islands and intertidal flats in Estuary Islands National Wildlife Areac
SectorIsland or part of islandEstimated area (ha)d
National Wildlife Area
Estimated area (ha)d
Island (total area)
Îles de KamouraskaÎle Brûlée14.7414.74
Îles de KamouraskaLes Rochers (southwest of Île Brûlée)e2.482.48
Îles de KamouraskaLes Rochers (northeast of Île Brûlée)f1.431.43
Îles de KamouraskaÎle de la Providence3.723.72
Îles de KamouraskaLa Grande Île (part)18.3819.33
Les PèlerinsLe Long Pèlerin (part)3.8071.04
Brandypot Islands (Îles du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie)Le Pot du Phare (part)7.769.33
Brandypot Islands (Îles du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie)Le Pot du Phare intertidal flats4.68-
OthersÎle Blanche and reefs5.955.95
OthersÎle Blanche intertidal flats202.73-
OthersÎle aux Fraises and reefs8.508.50
OthersÎle aux Fraises intertidal flats113.17-
OthersÎle Bicquette (part)16.7317.38

Total hectare (terrestrial): 83.50 ha

Total hectare (flats): 320.58 ha

Grand Total hectare: 404.08 ha

c The National Wildlife Area’s islands, parts of islands and flats are the property of Environment Canada and are managed by the Department.

d Source: Environment Canada, 2013a

e Sometimes called the western reefs.

f Sometimes called the eastern reefs.

Figure 2: La Grande Île in Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area
Photo of la Grande Île in Estuary Islands
Photo: Chantal Lepire © Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service

1.1 Regional Context

Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area extends over 120 km between Kamouraska and Rimouski (Le Bic). As a result of its geographic spread, it straddles several administrative entities. It is part of the municipalities of Kamouraska, Saint-André and Rimouski, and the RCM of Kamouraska and Rimouski-Neigette, located in the Bas-Saint-Laurent administrative region. The territory of the RCM of Kamouraska, which is home to 22,000 people, is involved in agriculture, forestry, energy, and tourism, among others. The manufacturing sector plays an important role and benefits from the presence of major employers. The RCM of Rimouski-Neigette is home to more than 54,000 people, 85% of whom live in Rimouski. This city, which is an important regional economic driver, supports a commercial seaport, a high concentration of businesses, services, educational and health institutions, numerous corporate headquarters and major administrative centres. The RCM also includes a large area dedicated to agriculture, forestry and tourism. The Bas-Saint-Laurent region has various tourist attractions including parks, gardens, bike paths, hiking trails, museums, and historical sites. Further, discovery activities on the St. Lawrence, such as kayak excursions and whale watching cruises, are offered at locations such as Saint-André, Rivière-du-Loup, Trois-Pistoles, and Le Bic (Rimouski).

None of the islands in the National Wildlife Areas are inhabited or open to the public, with the exception of Le Pot du Phare, in the Brandypot archipelago, where nature observation, interpretation activities, hiking and lodging services are permitted during the summer and where close to 1,000 tourists go annually. Seasonal access to the island is allowed under an agreement between Environment Canada and Société Duvetnor Ltée, which owns the other islands in the archipelago (Le Gros Pot and Le Petit Pot). This organization is also a tenant of the lighthouse that is located on the north-eastern tip of Le Pot du Phare (on lands owned by Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and is used for lodging. The collection of eiderdown, which does not threaten the species in any way, is carried out in some of the National Wildlife Area’s islands by Société Duvetnor Ltée and the Société protectrice des eiders de l’estuaire (SPEE), two non-profit organizations. Interpretive activities and down collection are authorized by Environment Canada under commercial permits. These two organizations have been active in the preservation and development of the area for several years through service delivery contracts awarded by Environment Canada. In addition to the recreation and tourism activities it manages at Le Pot du Phare, Société Duvetnor monitors and protects the National Wildlife Area’s main islands. This organization has significantly contributed to the knowledge and protection of resources for more than 30 years. The SPEE has monitored and protected Île Bicquette for close to 25 years.

The National Wildlife Area is part of a network of sites dedicated to preserving the natural heritage of the St. Lawrence Estuary and its coastline, including Parc national du Bic, a terrestrial provincial park located west of Rimouski, and Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. The latter encompasses a large portion of the St. Lawrence Estuary and almost all of the Saguenay River Fjord, and is jointly managed by Parks Canada and Parcs Québec. Several of the estuary's islands are protected by non-profit organizations, including the Société Duvetnor (which owns the Les Pèlerins archipelago, with the exception of Le Long Pèlerin island, and Le Gros Pot and Le Petit Pot islands in the Brandypot archipelago), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (which owns a portion of Le Long Pèlerin) and the Société Provencher (which owns the Razades islands and Île aux Basques). In addition, a large portion of Île aux Lièvres, formerly owned by Duvetnor, was recently acquired by Québec’s Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs (MDDEFP). Duvetnor still owns a small portion of the island (59 ha).

1.2 Historical background

1.2.1 Prehistory

Approximately 10,000 years ago, the Bas-Saint-Laurent region lay under a post-glacial sea (Dionne, 1977). As the waters receded, the area became habitable. Archeological sites discovered in Rimouski, notably in Le Bic, that date back to the oldest prehistoric period in north-eastern America, the Paleo-Indian (11,000 to 7,000 before present), suggest the existence of human settlement in the Bas-Saint-Laurent prior to 8,000 before present. There is little evidence left of these Paleo-Indian's way of life, but it appears that they lived off hunting, fishing and gathering (Fortin et al., 1993). Several sites from subsequent periods (Archaic and Woodland, 7,000 to 500 before present) were discovered in the Bas-Saint-Laurent. They indicate that for several centuries Aboriginals frequented the shores of the post-glacial sea and, later, of the estuary as well as inland areas, searching for land and water game (Fortin et al., 1993).

1.2.2 History

European contact

When contact with Europeans occurred (historical period, around the 1500s), the Aboriginals living in the region that is now southern Quebec divided into two major groups or linguistic families: the Algonquians (e.g., the Montagnais or Innus and the Maliseets) and the Iroquoians (first the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, who disappeared from the St. Lawrence Valley after the passage of Jacques Cartier, and later the Mohawks and Hurons). Although the Iroquoians frequented the Bas-Saint-Laurent during long journeys from their wintering areas located further upstream, the region was mainly frequented or inhabited by Algonquians, including Innus, Mi’kmaq, Maliseets and possibly the Abenakis of the East (Fortin et al., 1993).

Between 1550 and 1652, the Innu hunting grounds covered the entire Bas-Saint-Laurent (between Rivière du Loup and Rivière Matane) and a large portion of the north shore (between La Malbaie, Sept-Îles and Lake Mistassini) (Fortin et al., 1993). They also occupied the islands next to the south shore (F. Parcoret, pers. comm., 2013). Around the same time, the Mi'kmaq traditional territory extended between Prince Edward Island and Gaspé. Therefore, present-day Bas-Saint-Laurent was located on the northwestern edge of their territory. The Maliseets inhabited a vast territory that included a large part of present-day Bas-Saint-Laurent, New Brunswick and Maine, the heart of which was the Saint John River valley (N.B.). These people’s way of life was disrupted to a large extent by the arrival of the Europeans. The Innu population declined in the middle of the 17th century (starting in 1652). The Mi’kmaq and Maliseets were still very present in the Bas-Saint-Laurent area during the 17th and 18th centuries, but they subsequently experienced periods of crisis and decline (Fortin et al., 1993). Today, the Bas-Saint-Laurent’s only aboriginal community is the Maliseets of Viger First Nation. It owns an area in the Township of Whitworth, near Rivière-du-Loup, and a small plot of land in Cacouna, which is the smallest aboriginal reserve in Canada (Maliseets of Viger First Nation, 2014).

Colonization and seigneurial system

The earliest settlements of a sedentary population in the Bas-Saint-Laurent were created under the French seigneurial system (1653-1854). This system involved granting a portion of land to entrepreneurs (the “seigneurs”), where they would establish inhabitants (“censitaires” or settlers). Between 1653 and 1751, 19 seigneuries were granted in the Bas-Saint-Laurent (Fortin, 2003; Fortin et al., 1993). The area’s islands were allocated at that time, and were the subject of countless transactions, gifts, legacies and sales over the next three centuries. Bédard (2010) describes some of these transactions:

  • Île aux Fraises, Île Blanche and Le Pot du Phare [as well as Île aux Lièvres] were granted to the Sieur de Saint-Lusson on November 7, 1672.
  • The Îles de Kamouraska were granted to the Sieur de La Durantaye in 1674. They are all quite close to the St. Lawrence's south shore and several of them are accessible by foot at low tide. This proximity explains their marked human use and the existence of residual fishing rights. Several weir sites were set up on the shores of the archipelago's islands under rights often vested by deeds.
  • Île Bicquette was granted to Monsieur de Vitré on May 6, 1675 (along with the Île du Bic).
  • The Les Pèlerins archipelago was granted to François Jean Baptiste Deschamps, Sieur de la Bouteillerie, and to Étienne Landron and Louis de Niort on May 11, 1697, as a fiefdom and a seigneurie. The archipelago was used mostly as a commercial fishing station.

During the first half of the 18th century, the settlement of the Bas-Saint-Laurent progressed very slowly. During that time, the population was concentrated in four seigneuries: Rivière-du-Loup, L’Isle-Verte, Trois-Pistoles and Rimouski. Even after the British Conquest (1759), the Bas-Saint-Laurent was too far from the centre of the colony and had little appeal for young families who preferred the good farming lands of the Côte-du-Sud (south shore of the river between Beaumont and Kamouraska). The overpopulation of the Côte-du-Sud seigneuries eventually led to increased settlement in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region in the early 1800s (Fortin, 2003).

National Wildlife Area

Environment Canada acquired the National Wildlife Area’s islands and portions of islands from private owners (by mutual agreement) and through interdepartmental transfers. On June 19, 1986, Environment Canada created Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area to protect colonial seabirds that nest in the estuary and their habitats, specifically a significant portion of the Common Eider population. When the National Wildlife Areas was created, the Îles de Kamouraska, Les Pèlerins, Le Pot du Phare, Île aux Fraises and Île Blanche had Migratory Bird Sanctuary status. Since this status was no longer necessary given the area's new status as an National Wildlife Area, these five sanctuaries were abolished in 1996 by an Order in Council.

This document is the first approved management plan for Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area. In addition, conservation plan of this protected area was published in 2003 (Canadian Wildlife Service, 2003).

1.3 Land ownership

The islands, portions of islands and intertidal flats (or foreshores) that make up the National Wildlife Areas are owned and managed by Environment Canada. The total area of the islands and portions of islands is 83.5 ha and the total area of the intertidal flats is 320.58 ha. Only the intertidal flats surrounding Île Blanche, Île aux Fraises and Le Pot du Phare are part of the National Wildlife Area.

Some of the islands and portions of islands adjacent to the National Wildlife Area remain private property, while several belong to organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing the environment. In addition, Fisheries and Oceans Canada owns parcels of land adjacent to the National Wildlife Area on Île Bicquette, Le Pot du Phare and La Grande Île.

1.4 Facilities and infrastructure

The National Wildlife Area’s facilities and infrastructure are described below and in Table 3. The portion of Île Bicquette that is in the National Wildlife Area (Figure 3) includes some infrastructure, i.e. the former lighthouse keeper’s house, a foghorn building, a pump building, a boathouse and a cross (Figure 5). There is a shed on the boundary between the National Wildlife Area and a parcel of land that belongs to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (its exact location remains to be confirmed).

Le Pot du Phare (Figure 4), in the Brandypot Islands, includes a trail that measures approximately one kilometre, short boardwalks, wooden observation platforms and stairs (Figure 6) located inside the National Wildlife Area, the ownership of which remains to be confirmed. On Le Long Pèlerin, a skeleton tower (automated light) and a brick tower (lighthouse ruins) located in the National Wildlife Area belong to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Figure 7). On Île de la Providence, in the Îles de Kamouraska, a cottage located in the National Wildlife Area and belonging to Environment Canada is in an advanced state of deterioration.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada owns some land adjacent to the National Wildlife Area as well as navigational aids and other infrastructure located within. This includes three automated lights installed on skeleton towers and located on La Grande Île, Le Pot du Phare and Île Bicquette. The lighthouses on Île Bicquette and Le Pot du Phare are still present, but are no longer in operation. The lighthouse on Le Pot du Phare (Figure 8) is a classified federal heritage building that is employed by Société Duvetnor as its operations centre (in addition to other infrastructure on site, including a dock, the lighthouse keeper's house, a kitchen and an information pavilion). The land owned by Fisheries and Oceans Canada also includes two heliports, one on Île Bicquette and the other on Le Pot du Phare. The foghorn building on Île Bicquette is recognized as a federal heritage building by the Federal Heritage Building Review Office (FHBRO) owing to its historic and architectural significance and the special place it holds in its environment.

Table 3: Facilities and infrastructure in the Estuary Islands National Wildlife Area
IslandType of facility or infrastructureApproximate area or lengthOwner
Île de la ProvidenceDisused cottage100 m²Environment Canada
Le Long PèlerinBrick tower (lighthouse ruins)10 mFisheries and Oceans Canada
Le Long PèlerinSkeleton tower (automated light)13.9 mFisheries and Oceans Canada
Le Pot du PhareSentier La Chaloupe (trail)
Wooden stairs, observation platforms, small bridges and walkways (boardwalks)
1 kmEnvironment Canada
Île BicquetteOld lighthouse keeper's house160 m²Environment Canada
Île BicquetteFoghorn building145 m²Environment Canada
Île BicquettePump building9 m²Environment Canada
Île BicquetteBoathouse80 m²Environment Canada
Île BicquetteCross-Environment Canada
Île BicquetteShed9m²Environment Canada
(the exact location and ownership of the shed remains to be determined)
Figure 3: Facilities and infrastructure on Île Bicquette
Map of Facilities and infrastructure on Île Bicquette
Long description for figure 3

The portion of Île Bicquette that is in the National Wildlife Area includes some infrastructure, i.e. the former lighthouse keeper’s house, a foghorn building, a pump building, a boathouse and a cross. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

Figure 4: Facilities and infrastructure on Le Pot du Phare
Map of Facilities and infrastructure on Le Pot du Phare
Long description for figure 4

Le Pot du Phare, in the Brandypot Islands, includes a trail that measures approximately one kilometre, short boardwalks, wooden observation platforms and stairs located inside the National Wildlife Area, the ownership of which remains to be confirmed. Further details can be found in the preceding/next paragraph(s).

Figure 5: Cross, automated light, former lighthouse and foghorn building on Île Bicquette
Photo of Île Bicquette
Photo: Patrick Labonté © Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
Figure 6: Stairs on La Chaloupe trail located on Le Pot du Phare
Photo of la Chaloupe trail
Photo: Stéphane Turgeon © Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
Figure 7: Automated light and old lighthouse on Le Long Pèlerin
Photo of automated light and old lighthouse on Le Long Pèlerin
Photo: Sylvain Giguère © Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
Figure 8: Lighthouse and buildings on Le Pot du Phare (outside the National Wildlife Area), Société Duvetnor’s operations centre
Photo of Société Duvetnor’s operations centre
Photo: Benoît Roberge © Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
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