The Vacancier, a loyal Friday visitor

On a nice Friday morning, you can see the CTMA Vacancier, the only cruise ship that sails to the Magdalen Islands, at Bickerdike Basin. There she is – and it feels like summer has really arrived.


For more than ten years, from June to late September, the CTMA Vacancier has been faithfully
keeping a weekly date at Bickerdike Pier.

 

Friday is a big day for Stéphane Gaudet. The first purser aboard the CTMA Vacancier has just said goodbye to a few hundred cruise passengers at Bickerdike Pier at the Port of Montreal, and his team has only a few hours to make the ship… shipshape before the next group heading to the Magdalen Islands arrives. On board, everyone is hard at work making up the cabins, putting things back in place or doing a massive cleaning job.

On the pier, a tanker is hooked up to the ship’s fuel tank, while a company is picking up the laundry– including bedding from more than 500 beds – that will be returned a few hours later. Other delivery trucks unload the supplies and provisions needed for the trip to the Islands. After all, 1,500 meals are served every day!

For more than 10 years, from June to late September, the CTMA Vacancier has been faithfully keeping a weekly date at Bickerdike Pier. She arrives at 7 a.m. and leaves at 3 p.m. She can accommodate up to 450 passengers, who will be brought to and from the Magdalen Islands with stopovers on the Gaspé Peninsula on the way down, and in Quebec City on the way back. During the three-day stay in the Islands, travellers continue to stay aboard ship.


"This cruise is a real therapy!", says Stéphane Gaudet, the first
purser aboard the CTMA Vacancier.

 

“This cruise is a real therapy!” said Stéphane Gaudet, his navy blue ‘Madelinot’ eyes crinkling in laughter. “Our guests come to us straight from the traffic and stress of the city. When we bring them back the following Friday, they’re not the same. They have a breeze in their eyes.”

Every year, the same comments surface: what passengers appreciate most is the quality of the food, the friendliness of the crew, the social activities and the gorgeous scenery. “After 18 years of sailing, ever I don’t get tired of admiring Quebec’s shorelines,” said the purser.

As soon as they set foot on deck, the cruise passengers feel like they’re already at the Islands. Life aboard ship is on Magdalen-Islands time (one hour later than on the mainland) and the hundred or so Islanders who form the crew address you with the accent of their country, starting with Captain Langford, a native of Havre-aux-Maisons. “Here on the ship, we’re not the ones with an accent, the passengers are,” joked Stéphane Gaudet. 

A ship of all trades

Cruise passengers occupy three decks of the ship, where in addition to the cabins there are two dining rooms, a movie theatre, a spa and beauty salon, a children’s playground, a boutique and two cocktail lounges, one of which hosts shows and conferences.


A tanker truck is hooked up to the vessel's fuel tank.
Other delivery trucks unload the supplies.

Way below deck, the hold can contain up to 20 long-haul trucks carrying goods to the Islands, as virtually all consumer and construction products must be imported from the mainland.

When cruise season ends, the CTMA Vacancier is hardly idle. From February 1 to March 30, this solid icebreaker with a powerful engine shuttles between Souris, Prince Edward Island, and the Magdalen Islands three times a week.

Moving people and goods is clearly a top priority for the roughly 14,230 Islanders isolated on their archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, halfway between Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The 450 employees of CTMA have their hands full. In addition to operating four ships – the CTMA Vacancier, the CTMA Traversier, the CTMA Voyageur and the Ivan Quinn – the Magdalen Islands cooperative owns a hundred trailers that travel the roads of eastern North America, providing supplies on the archipelago and exporting seafood products. CTMA handles cargo from its warehouses in Montreal, Quebec City, Moncton and the Islands. The cooperative’s mission is to ensure the transportation of people and goods that promote The Magdalen Islands' social, economic and tourist development. 

The cruise season is over now and Bickerdike Basin looks very empty on Friday mornings. The CTMA Vacancier will return our way in June to ensure the weekly link to Quebec’s most exotic offshore region.

CTMA Vacancier Facts

Tonnage: 12,000 tonnes
Length: 126 metres
Width: 22 metres
Number of cabins: 220
Capacity: 450 passengers
Number of decks: 8
Passenger decks: 3