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Plusieurs clubs de plongée s'unissent
pour promouvoir la plongée au Québec
chez la population anglophone

Au début de la présente saison de plongée, certains membres de clubs de plongée du Québec recevaient des appels de la journaliste Sara Germanotta du journal anglophone The Gazette. Celle-ci préparait un article sur la plongée au Québec et sur la pertinence de se joindre à un club de plongée pour perfectionner ses compétences.

Voici donc cet article paru le 15 juillet 2000, durant notre période la plus active pour pratiquer notre loisir favori.

Bonne lecture...

Exploring the world underwater

Sunken ships and barges to colourful plants and sheer cliffs
- there are great sites to go scuba diving not far from Montreal

The Gazette, Montreal, Saturday, July 15, 2000

Special to The Gazette

Photos by Pierre Obendrauf

If the thought of scuba diving conjures up images of blue Caribbean waters Australia's colourful Great Barrier Reef, or Lloyd Bridges' tanned physique in the popular 1960 show Sea Hunt - think again.

Quebec is home to some of the most pristine and vibrant dive sites in the world, and many are within driving distance of Montreal. From the Eastern Townships to the Saguenay local waters offer divers spectacular contrasts in ecology and geology. If you're a certified diver or someone who is interested in taking up the sport, one of the better ways to take full-advantage of Quebec diving is to join a dive club.

The Aquadyne Scuba Club and Les Diables des Mers are two of Montreal's oldest and better established dive clubs. The more recently founded Club de Plongée Immersion started in 1995 after a group of student divers at Collège Ahuntsic decided to form a club to make diving more affordable. Immersion is now open to both students and non-students. All of these clubs are bilingual and welcome all certified divers.

There are many advantages to join a dive club, including organised, affordable diving trips and increased safety since most members are experienced divers. Beginners are strongly advised to join a club because it will help them strengthen their diving skills and meet fellow divers.

Anyone taking up the sport of scuba diving must take and pass a training course given by a recognised agency, such as National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUl) or Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).

"I joined a club right after I got certified," said Cathy Bonneville, a member of Aquadyne since 1986. "The club makes trips more affordable, you trust the people you're with, and it's a great place to make friends."

Before taking the plunge into Quebec's watery wilderness, there are a few things you should be prepared for - mainly the cold. If it has to be at least 30 degrees Celsius before you poke a tentative toe into your backyard swimming pool, local diving is not for you. Even in mid to late summer, the water temperature does not usually go above 20 degrees Celsius. Although a dry suit, which prevents water from seeping through to your skin, is not required for most local diving in summer, experienced divers recommend one if you're planning to dive below 30 to 40 feet or at night.

Pollution no longer mars local diving since Canadian and U.S. anti-pollution measures have improved conditions for underwater flora and fauna. Zebra mussels also have helped to filter the water, increasing the visibility in some spots from nearly nil to 50 feet.

"At Kingston, before zebra mussels, the visibility at 90 feet was the length of the beam of your flashlight, " Aquadyner William Schleihauf said. "Now, it can be 50 to 70 feet."

So, if you're ready to brave the cold, there are plenty of excellent diving sites a short distance from the city.

Lake Memphremagog in the Eastern Townships, a 120-kilometre drive from Montreal, is a great spot for beginners. The visibility is considered good and there are shallow areas to dive. The lake is teeming with several species of fish, including bass, trout and pike.

Paul Crépeau, president of Les Diables des Mers, recommends diving at this site at night when there are fewer fishermen and less boat traffic. The fish also become friskier at night, he says, and often allow divers to pet and play with them.

"They probably think we're fish just like them," Crépeau said with a laugh.

If you do go night diving, you'll need a dive light to help you navigate your way through the dark waters.

Lake Massawippi, just east of Lake Memphremagog, is known for its marvellous underwater cliffs. The site is not recommended for beginners because of depth (250 feet) and visibility which rarely surpasses 20 feet. Many divers often overlook this lake because its dive sites are not easily accessible from shore - the only way to get there is by boat. Renting a boat or bringing your own is necessary if you want to dive this lake.

To explore Massawippi's vertical drop, start near the village of North Hatley. Heading about 3½ kilometres along the lake from North Hatley; you'll reach Black Point, where the lake's west bank begins to descend into a steep underwater slope. The cliff's intricate crevices and walls, as well as its elaborate rock formations, are a fascinating attraction for divers. There also are submerged dead trees but divers must be careful not to get tangled in the gnarled branches and abandoned fishing lines.

A popular pastime among local divers is diving among wrecks. Exploring the skeletons of sunken ships is like taking a trip back in time, and the cold water has helped preserve many of the ships. Wrecks are also a great place to see fish, which find the dark nooks and crannies to be ideal hideaways.

On the east side of the Richelieu River, 70 kilometres south of Montreal, is the town of Noyan. Shallow waters (30 feet) and good visibility (between 12 and 30 feet depending on time of year and recent rainfall) make the wrecks at Noyan ideal for beginners. At least three wrecks and a sunken railroad bridge are located around a small island.

According to Schleihauf, who is also a naval historian, the wrecks off Ash Island are probably 19th-century barges that carried cargoes of coal.

Hundreds of large fish, like trout and pike, lurk in the wreckage of the sunken railroad bridge. This site is quite busy with boat traffic duringweekends, so don't forget your dive flag if you go. (A dive flag, which is red with a white diagonal stripe, alerts boaters that there are divers in the water)

The best wreck diving near Montreal is located along the St. Lawrenoe River between Montreal and Kingston. Situated at the east end of Lake Ontano, Kingston was a major shipbuilding centre. Schleihauf recommends the wrecks of the Conestoga, a steamship that caught fire and sank in 1922 near Cardinal, and the Rothesay, a side-wheeler that sank near Prescott when the boat collided with a tugboat about 125 years ago. These two wrecks are suitable for all levels of divers because of the shallow depth and easy accessibility from shore.

While in Kingston, ship buffs can also visit the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, which showcases the history of the Great Lakes.

The most dramatic wreck in Quebec is located just off Pointe-au-Père near Rimouski. The Ernpress of Ireland, a luxury liner rivalling the Titanic, was travelling between Liverpool, England, and Quebec in May 1914 when it collided with another ship during a heavy fog. The liner sank in less than 15 minutes, killing 1,014 passengers and crew.

The depth of this wreck (100 to 140 feet), coupled with the extremely cold temperature of the water, strong current and variable visibility make this a very difficult dive. Schleihauf strongly cautions that only very experienced wreck divers try this site.

Saltwater diving is also a possibility for local divers. The plant and animal life in the ocean, even in the chilly North Allantic, is more abundant and colourful than in fresh water. And Les Escoumins is considered one of the best cold-water dive sites in the world.

Located one hour Northeast of the Saguenay River on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, Les Escoumins' remarkable ecosystem rivals the richness and vibrancy of southern dive sites. This spot is a must for all local divers, who can explore anemones, sea urchins, soft coral and sponges. During the summer months, the visibility at Les Escoumins varies between 30 and 70 feet. If you're lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a passing whale, which have been known to come within 70 feet of shore.

Although the marine life and vegetation at Les Escoumins is smaller in size than what you might find in tropical waters, the colours are much more vibrant and contrasting.

"The colours you get in cold waters are brilliant," said Roger Lacasse, a member of the Fédération Québécoise des Activités Subaquatiques (FQAS), a non-profit association that represents Quebec divers and diving organizations. "You'll see really bright oranges, purples and reds. The colours are a lot stronger than in tropical waters because there is less light. It makes for really great pictures."

Visitors to Les Escoumins are required to pay a registration fee ($1 for non-divers, $6 for divers), which gives them access to the Centre des Loisirs Marins des Escoumins. The centre offers divers a wide variety of accommodations including changing rooms, showers and a scuba shop.

At the end of the day; once you've peeled off your wetsuit and taken a nice, hot shower, you can dine at one of the local restaurants, many of which offer fresh seafood caught a few kilometres from shore.

Where to dive

  • Lake Massawippi: take Eastern Townships Autoroute 10: Exit 121, Autoroute 55 south, Exit 21 (Ayer's Cliff), Route 141 south.
  • Lake Memphremagog: Autoroute 10, take the Magog exit (115), turn right on Chemin-des-Pères, and then left at Cooledge road.
  • Wrecks at Noyan: Take Highway 15 south, Exit 6. FolIow the directions for Lacolle. At Lacolle you'll see signs directing you to Noyan.
  • The wreck of the Conestoga, 25 kilometres east of Kingston near Cardinal, Ont.: Highway 401, Exit 730. Head south on Route 22 past the intersection with Highway 2 and into the Legion building parking lot. A small, unpaved road west of the building will take you through a waterfront park. The ship's protruding smokestack is visible from shore.
  • The wreck of the Rothesay, 45 kilometres east of Kingston near Prescott, Ont.: Take Highway 401 west to the Prescott exit. Turn left toward the river and Highway 2. In Prescott, turn right on Highway 2 and head west about 3 kilometres. There is a small clearing with a historic marker on the riverside, and a restaurant on the left.
  • The Maritime Museum of the Great Lakes: 
  • The wreck of the Empress of lreland: Take Highway 40 east and then Highway 132 to Rimouski. The wreck of the Empress is about 15 to 20 minutes east of Rimouski, near Pointe-au-Père. For information, call Base de Plongée de l'Empress of lreland at (418) 739-5271.
  • Les Escoumins is 470 kilometres from Montreal, about an eight-hour drive. Take the 40 east and follow the signs toward Sainte-Anne-de Beaupré or Highwoy 138 east until you get to Baie Sainte-Catherine. Here, a ferry will take you across the river to Tadoussac. Les Escoumins village is about a 25-minute drive from Tadoussac.
  • Le Centre des Loisirs Marins des Escoumins, 41 des Pilotes St. in Les Escoumins. Call (418) 233-2860.

Tips for cold-water diving

Diving is an activity that doesn't demand tremendous physical fitness, but it does require a great deal of common sense. If you're a diver who is used to diving in warm tropical waters or you are a recently certified diver here are a few tips and safety precautions to keep in mind when diving in cold waters:

Having the proper equipment is essential. A dry suit, which prevents water from penetrating to your skin, is necessary if you're planning to dive below 30 to 40 feet or at night. A dry suit can cost about $1,000 but it is well worth the investment since it allows for year-round diving. Ice diving is one thing you can do in Quebec that you can't do in Florida !

When diving in cold waters in a wetsuit, a suit made of neoprene that allows some water to seep through, Immersion president Annick Reimann says that dousing your suit with hot water before plunging in will keep you worm while diving.

Don't dive beyond your ability. Most diving accidents happen because a diver has overstepped his or her boundaries.

Bring along an experienced buddy. If you're a beginner, diving with another beginner can be a recipe for trouble. If you dive with a more experienced person, you will improve your technique and be safer as well.


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Dernière mise à jour:  22 avril, 2007