The Jacques-Cartier River, about 180 (more than 100 miles) km-long is located in south-central Quebec, near Quebec City.
The river and is easily accessible for nearly all of its length, from its source in the Laurentian Mountains, and its mouth is situated 30 kilometres west of Quebec City.
A large part of the Jacques-Cartier River has been nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System for role in the Canadian history and for its outstanding beauty. The river is protected for most of its length by Jacques-Cartier Provincial Park in the north and by other publicly owned lands to the south.
The Jacques-Cartier river basin comprises two distinct parts: an upper section in Jacques-Cartier Provincial Park, and a lower section comprising the southern edge of the Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands, which extends from Donnacona to Tewkesbury and is mostly protected by large blocks of publicly and privately held land.
The upper section extends from Tewkesbury to the river’s headwaters. The river banks here are partially wooded and moderately populated. The Jacques Cartier River also displays the geological evolution of southern Quebec.
The primary feature of the valley is its representation of the two main geological structures associated with Quebec: the Canadian Shield to the north and St. Lawrence Lowlands in the south. In the north, for 160 kilometres from its source to the village of Pont-Rouge, the river crosses the Grenville Province, the youngest of the Canadian Shield ‘provinces’ at 955 million years of age. For the rest, the river crosses the St. Lawrence Lowlands, which are composed of lower Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks about 500 million years old, with limestone and clay shales.
The present course of the Jacques-Cartier is the result of a long evolution of many geomorphological processes, some of which continue today. The Jacques-Cartier valley supports wildlife typical of mixed forests of eastern Canada. There are about 25 species of mammal including the moose, black bear, racoon and white tailed deer. There are also more than one hundred known species of birds including the osprey and American kestrel, and about two dozens of species of fish among which are the speckled trout, which is particularly abundant, and the Atlantic salmon, which is being reintroduced.
The human development of the Jacques-Cartier valley is an eloquent illustration of the major periods of colonization in Canada At the river mouth, the seigniorial pattern of the land subdivision, the place names, and the architecture evoke the French period. After the conquest of 1759, English settlers arrived and established the system of townships. By the early 19th century, lumbering and agriculture flourished. Along the river, several sawmills and gristmills were constructed.
At the same time, sport fishing for salmon reached its heyday, to the extent that a law was passed in 1854 protecting the species. However, in spite of this, salmon became increasingly rare, disappearing completely with the later construction of dams and the industrial use of the water.
As the Jacques-Cartier is located near Quebec City, it attracts thousands of fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts. The river offers a wide range of activities, of which by far the most popular are fishing and boating. In fact, the Jacques-Cartier River is well known beyond Quebec for its canoeing and rafting.
Each year, a large number of visitors make the trip, canoeing and camping at serviced sites within Jacques-Cartier Provincial Park. Although of secondary importance, there are five other canoe routes totalling 33 kilometres which are heavily used between Donnacona and Tewkesbury.
River running using inflatable rafts is also increasingly popular. Several other activities which make use of the opportunities provided by the outstanding natural environment are pursued along the river.
These include rock climbing, bicycle touring, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, and nature observation.