Through rain and insults, environmentalists walk across Gaspé to protest energy projects

The Peoples' March for Mother Earth is a 785-kilometre trek aimed at protesting against oil and gas exploration in the Gaspé.

Dozens will canvas Gaspé region to make their opposition to fossil fuels known

The group participating the 42-day trek includes people who live in the Gaspé, Montreal, Quebec City, the Eastern Townships, Anticosti Island and even one from Toronto. (Peoples' Walk for Mother Earth/Facebook)

Day 16 was the toughest. 

A few dozen people were nearly halfway done their lengthy trek around the Gaspé Peninsula; they had almost gotten used to the blisters and sore feet.

Then the torrential rain started.

The group set out on May 28 from Amqui, Que., on the Peoples' March for Mother Earth, a 785-kilometre trek that hopes to send a message of protest against oil and gas exploration in the region.

The projects the group opposes include:

  • The Chaleur Terminal project, a plan to build a three-kilometre pipeline and oil shipping terminal in nearby Belledune, N.B.
  • The Bourque, Galt and Haldiman oil and gas exploration sites that pepper the peninsula.
  • Trains carrying tankers of crude oil cars through the countryside heading toward the Maritimes.
  • Tugliq and Pétrolia's plans to create a 59-kilometre liquid natural gas pipeline.
  • Drilling sites on nearby Anticosti Island.

The disparate group of 30 to 40 walkers includes some locals, but also people from Montreal, Quebec City, the Eastern Townships and Anticosti Island. There is even one participant from Toronto.

While not everyone is walking the entire route, they all have the same message — opposing oil-and-gas projects on this grand, breath-taking and sometimes difficult landscape.

'Prosperity is the water'

Alexandre Brunet and the crew have a strict itinerary to follow. They need to walk 25 to 30 kilometres a day in order to complete the tour of the peninsula in 42 days.

A car hauls their provisions from site to site. When they aren't camping, they sleep on the floors of school gymnasiums and seniors' clubs.

Each day, four participants hop on bikes that were bought with donations. Their job is to do community outreach — stopping people in the street and knocking on doors.

Their visits aren't always well-received.

"A few times, people say, 'What do you bring to Quebec? Find a job,'" said Brunet.

While not everyone is walking the entire route, they all have the same message: opposing oil-and-gas projects. (Peoples' Walk for Mother Earth/Facebook)

The unemployment rate in the region is 17.1 per cent — by far the highest in Quebec — feeding hopes that oil-and-gas projects will bring economic benefits.

It's an argument Brunet finds "ridiculous" because, he says, the landscape is also valuable.

"To us, prosperity is the water," he said.

The day the storm hit

Monday, June 13, more than two weeks after they first set out, was the day the storm hit.

That morning they were packing up a campsite in Pabos, Que., not far from New Carlisle. Everything they owned was completely drenched.

"It was tough as hell. It was hard," said Brunet, who has been with the march from the start.

When a storm hit June 13, the group had to walk through 50 to 80 millimetres of rain. (Peoples' Walk for Mother Earth/Facebook)

He and his fellow trekkers would face 50 to 80 millimetres of rain that day. In fact, June has so far been the wettest month ever recorded in the Gaspé. Brunet walked right through it all.

"We were directly on the sea shore. It was enormously windy," he said.

"We were making penguin formations and sticking together to get through the rain."

The group hopes to reach Rimouski by July 10.