On the Boardwalks of Bouctouche & Percé

The Spectator squeezed in a working holiday this past week, driving from Sydney to Québec City by way of New Brunswick’s Acadian Coast and the Gaspé Peninsula.

It’s very early in the season, which has its positives — no crowds or blackflies — and its negatives — very little is open. But the scenery is so beautiful it doesn’t really matter.

I have a way of viewing everything I see while traveling through a Cape Breton filter. It’s a tendency I believe I share with many Cape Bretoners and one for which I’ve been (I would say rightfully) mocked. (A friend once suggested that faced with the mighty Amazon I would find a way to compare it — unfavorably — to the Mira. “It’s nice, but if you came broken, I don’t know that anyone would see that you mend.”)

I would argue, however, that when the filter is applied to see if there are lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions it can be a helpful tool rather than a tiresome expression of Cape Breton chauvinism, so when I visited the boardwalks in Bouctouche, NB and Percé, QC, I was interested to see what lessons they might hold for the boardwalk builders of the CBRM, given that the same angry sea affects them all.

Dominion Beach boardwalk, storm damage, November 2018, photo by Corinne Reid.


La Dune de Bouctouche

When they’re not cutting down trees or controlling the media or refining and transporting petroleum or doing things generally antithetical to the well-being of their home province, the Irvings fund positive ecological projects like the Irving Eco-Centre at La Dune de Bouctouche, established to “preserve and restore one of the few remaining great sand dunes on the northeastern coastline of North America.” (Bouctouche was the birthplace of the patriarch, KC Irving.)

Boardwalk at the Irving Eco-Centre, La Dune de Bouctouche Beach, May 2019. (Spectator photo)

The dune itself stretches 12 kilometers into Bouctouche Bay in the Northumberland Strait and the facility is impressive — it has 800 meters of boardwalk with stairs down to the beach, tours by electric vehicle for visitors with disabilities, free public education programs and odorless composting toilets (emphasis on that last feature my own, the center itself doesn’t make a big deal about it). Added bonus: the center was open in late May and a very well-informed staffer answered all our questions.

But the boardwalk used to be more impressive — it was originally 2 kilometers long, but has been seriously damaged twice since opening in 1996. The first incident, a storm surge in October 2000, meant some sections  of the boardwalk had to be repaired and about 600 meters replaced.

La Dune de Bouctouche Beach, pre 2010. (Source: NB Tourism website)

A 2004 report from the Southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability noted that climate change has had — and will continue to have — dramatic effects not just on the man-made boardwalk, but on the dune itself:

[T]he southeastern region of NB was in 2000 affected by two major storms that trigger[ed] responses from communities, decision makers and scientists in order to understand the potential impacts and possible adaptation measures to gradually implement to sustain the communities and the natural ecosystems. These storms had major impacts of this natural ecosystem and lead to a loss of 24,000 m3 of sand from the beaches. In addition, breaches and overwash occurred in several areas along the spit.

When the boardwalk reopened in the spring of 2001, a spokesperson for the Eco-Centre told the CBC it was hoped the repairs would “last another 25 years.”

In fact, they lasted another nine.

In December 2010 another storm surge destroyed 1.2 kilometers of the boardwalk and pushed the dune back roughly 5 meters. (The storm was actually a series of storms in rapid succession that inflicted significant damage all over the Maritimes that December — including to the Gabarus seawall and the Dominion Beach boardwalk.)

Damaged Eco-Centre boardwalk, Bouctouche, NB, December 2018. (CBC Photo)

The damaged section (over 50% of the boardwalk) was never replaced. The site, as noted above, now boasts 800 meters of boardwalk.

The staff person we spoke with was deeply pragmatic about the situation — they’re battling Mother Nature, she said, and Mother Nature is going to win.

So one option for dealing with damaged boardwalk, particularly one situated in a delicate ecological environment: don’t replace it.



Percé is a village of 2,000 people on the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The invention of the automobile and the advent of regular summer vacations helped turn the Gaspé into a booming tourism region (she wrote authoritatively, having read it on a plaque in Percé). The big attraction is the Percé Rock.

The region has been experiencing serious erosion for years, as the strength and frequency of storms has increased.

The particular stretch of the coast I’m talking about, Anse de Sud, runs from the Percé wharf to the Riôtel Hotel and is the ” historic, cultural and economic heart of Percé.” To the north, it was protected by a concrete seawall, built in the 1970s, on top of which sat the boardwalk. (Seawall and boardwalk were sold to the town by the province for $1 in 1998.) To the south, the coast is low, rocky cliffs protected by a rubblemound revetment.

As in Bouctouche (and elsewhere in the Maritimes), 2010 was a particularly bad year for the Percé boardwalk.

In 2016, the federal and provincial governments, realizing that ad hoc annual repairs were not the answer, contributed to a cost-benefit analysis for climate adaptation in eastern Quebec’s coastal areas. The authors focused on five sites, one of which was Percé, which they said was:

…already experiencing significant impacts of climate change, due to sea-level rise, milder winters, loss of ice cover on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and changing storm patterns. In particular, the waterfront boardwalk and the buildings behind it have been subject to repeated damage for several years. It is becoming urgent to implement appropriate me[a]sures to protect the coast, notably to maintain tourism traffic.

The researchers noted that the boardwalk and seawall, intended to protect the coast, ultimately did  more harm than good as “waves would crash into the seawall, deflect back into the sea and return with even more force and height.”

So they considered a number of options for the Anse de Sud segment of the coast and recommended “beach replenishment with pebbles.”

The theory behind “beach replenishment” is that it is better to adapt to the sea than try to fight it:

Instead of building rigid concrete, steel or riprap shore structures, engineers have developed a strategy more suited to maritime erosion. This consists of periodically nourishing the shore with sediments collected elsewhere, whose purpose is to dissipate the energy of the waves without eroding the natural shore.

Less than a year later after researchers made their recommendations, in January 2017, a wild winter storm gave them the opportunity to test their solutions, wiping out the boardwalk and doing major damage to some of those business and tourism assets:


Today, the boardwalk looks like this:


Another option for dealing with a damaged boardwalk (or seawall): replace it with something that works with the sea rather than fighting against it.

And that’s what I learned on my trip to New Brunswick and Gaspé.