“Let us be French, let us be English, but most importantly, let us be Canadian.”
-Sir John A. Macdonald, First Prime Minister of Canada
If there’s a warmer welcome for cruise ship guests than the one we received in Saguenay, Quebec this morning, I haven’t seen it. Viking Cruises’ Viking Star berthed just after 7:00 am this morning, arriving pierside to a crowd of locals dressed in period garb complete with dancing, live music, fresh blueberry pie, local blueberry juice, and maple syrup on ice.
The MC – a local artistic director – had one sentence for Viking Star’s Captain, Rune Lokling. “Bienvenue a’ Saguenay! Captain, blow your horn!” Captain Lokling complied and Viking Star’s deep-throated bass note rumbled for miles over the town and the Saguenay Fjord. The Vikings had truly arrived.
Saguenay is nested at the end of the Saguenay Fjord, in La Baie de Ha! Ha! No, I’m not adding those exclamation marks for emphasis – it really is called La Baie de Ha! Ha! Or, in English, Ha! Ha! Bay. It’s name is derived from a sort of a joke; early navigators would sail up the river, only to find it dead-ends where present-day Saguenay is. Regardless, it’s my new favorite place name ever.
This morning, I set out to explore Saguenay independently on-foot. The town is small, but offers plenty of charm, numerous bars, cafes and restaurants (almost all with bilingual English and French service), and an attractive Riverwalk that runs right past the Cruise Terminal where Viking Star is berthed.
Viking offers a great number of shore excursions here, that range from in-depth tours of the countryside to floatplane sightseeing tours of the Saguenay Fjord. But I elected to patronize one of the local bars in order to get some work done (Quebecois beer is fantastic, as is the local poutine), and then spend some time aboard the relaxing Viking Star before taking part in tonight’s complimentary Viking Experience ashore: an English version of the immensely-poplar La Fabuleuse stage show that is put on in Saguenay.