International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Further upriver, Marie leads the way in a thrilling scramble though a maze of overground caverns. Colossal rocks were deposited here by a glacier 10,000 years ago, propped up against each other at unlikely angles. They form a series of grottoes: some bathed in sunlight, some pitch-black, and some still filled with ice in the simmering heat of a Québec summer. In the cracks between the stones, there is here and there an eerie, electric green glow. This is schistostega, known in the park as lightning moss. "We say that there are fairies living in the caverns, and they put the lightning moss here to lure thieves away from their treasure," says Marie. An orange tree frog hops ahead of us as we emerge from the rocks back into the forest.
While the French were trading with the Innu, the English made alliances with an indigenous American league of nations, the Iroquois. Keen to secure control over the fur trade and expand their territory, the Mohawks, an Iroquois tribe, attacked huron lands. The resulting Beaver Wars raged for several years in the middle of the 17th century. equipped with firearms they had bought from Dutch traders, the Mohawks surged westwards into Ontario, driving many hurons as far as Québec City itself. In around 1675, they settled here under the name huron-Wendat, and began to challenge the Innu for control of the beaver fur trade. The clear losers in all this, of course, were the beavers, which were virtually wiped out in the lands near Québec City. The coureurs des bois were obliged to go further and further into the wilderness to seek those valuable pelts.
Plenty of Huron-Wendat people still live in the area, and there is a growing enthusiasm for rediscovering their heritage. In a secluded glade outside the park is Tsonontwan, a collection of teepees, round tents and longhouses built by Régent Garihwa Sioui, an eccentric, hippyish and amiable chief of the Huron-Wendat. This is Régent's home, and he has built the dwellings so that locals and visitors can stay, experiencing something of what life would have been like in a First nations village. Though he has a modern house at the entrance to the site, Régent often sleeps in a teepee when nobody is visiting.
Régent leads me up a narrow track to a ridge, overlooking a stunning view of the Jacques-Cartier River. He speaks with great passion about the land, and about his Huron-Wendat heritage. "We Amerindians invented democracy," he says. Most historians credit the Greeks with that, but Régent is so enthusiastic about his theory that it seems churlish to argue. "The reason America is so powerful is because of the great strength of the native people. We have taught the Euro-Americans everything."
We wander back down to the glade past Régent's house, which is guarded by a pack of huskies. "She is the most beautiful," says Régent, indicating a fearsome-looking hound. "She looks like a wolf." Actually, I think she may be a wolf. She unleashes a throaty growl. It would be a brave visitor who offered one of Régent's dogs a belly rub.
Régent bustles into the kitchen tent, keen to introduce us to First Nations cuisine. Some of Québec's indigenous people, including the Huron-Wendat, did farm vegetables and corn, but in a climate with such severe winters many survived on a hunter-gatherer diet of berries, fish, deer, moose, bear and beaver. "I prefer to eat only meat, cooked rare, and some berries," Régent says. "I can't digest vegetables."
He pours steaming cups of a herbal infusion: "Labrador tea!" After so much talk of an all-meat diet, I can't resist asking if it is made from real labradors. "No, no!" he says. "These are the dried leaves and flowers of a shrub. It is a good drink for hunters. Very calming." The infusion has a pleasant flavour not unlike camomile.