Exploring Winter's Coldest Month in Quebec's Remote Magdalen Islands
Photographer Alex Strohl shares a dozen stunning images from the ice covered archipelago off Canada's eastern Atlantic coast
5D mark II w 35mm lens
Over ten years ago, I decided that I pretty much knew everyone in my home country of France, and, despite being midway through my graphic design studies, that it was time for a change of scenery. I only needed to figure out where to go.
It had to be a big country with diverse weather and completely different people and the US topped that list. I started applying to universities with decent design programs until my father told me that I couldn't afford to study in the US as a foreign student. With my sights already set on North America, I started looking into Canada, as the province of Québec has an agreement with France that allowed me to attend university for a heavily discounted tuition.
A few months later, I found myself in Québec City starting my first semester at Univesité Laval—I was thrilled. Then, winter hit. Freezing doesn't even begin to describe what December felt like. But my fellow classmates taught me how to properly dress for the seemingly eternal winter and, eventually, I actually found myself craving the cold.
"With a daily average of 17°F in February you would be hard-pressed to find volunteers to come vacation here."
It was around this time that I developed an interest in photography and capturing the changing seasons in the boreal forest was my favorite extracurricular activity. Every weekend, using nothing but maps, I'd hit the road in search of new features to photograph: forgotten towns, cliffs, beaches, fjords, lakes, and islands.
Although I spent three years in Québec wrapping my studies, I never got around to visiting the most fascinating chain of islands the province has to offer, the Magdalen Islands. It wasn't until 2014 when, having become a full-time photographer, I was sent on assignment from Vancouver, British Columbia to the small Atlantic archipelago—in the middle of winter. The crew was composed of fellow photographer Maurice Li and my now wife Andrea Dabene. The assignment: a story about the coldest month of the year in the remote islands for Tourism Quebec.
"The hour before and after sunset was like an all-you-can-shoot buffet."
Getting to the islands from the other side of the country is no small affair. It took three flights to get to Havre aux Maisons, our final destination. My colleagues were relieved to finally arrive, not least because it meant they wouldn't have to listen to me list all the random facts I had collected about the region any longer.
For example: The majority of visitors come in the summer to swim, see the red cliffs and eat lobster. The winter, however, isn't a very popular time. With a daily average of 17°F in February you would be hard-pressed to find volunteers to come vacation here. (During our entire stay, the temperature never got above 10°F.)
I loved everything about this place, and it exceeded every expectation I had. The quality of the light is probably what did it the most—the hour before and after sunset was like an all-you-can-shoot buffet.
I have a vivid memory of the three of us, hunkered down in our parkas, walking the narrow band of sand that is Pointe-aux-Loups, the smallest of the islands, in the cleanest evening light, the frozen sea on both sides. Pure magic.