The valley of La Matapédia in Québec is a must-see place for trail quad riding. Lookouts have even been built to enjoy the breathtaking views better. Behind these achievements, there is a club and a man who knew how to instill vision, energy, and organization to make the quad club of La Matapédia essential to the tourist development of this beautiful region. This man is André Blouin, founder and president of the Club, who gave countless times to achieve results that all club members can be proud of because they are part of the association’s success.
André Blouin was born in Amqui in 1952. He still lives in this city, the county town of La Matapédia, at the end of the Bas-Saint-Laurent region and the entry of the tourist region of Gaspésie.
André’s father was a doctor and born in Quebec City, and his mother a nurse from Thetford Mines. André likes to relate in a humorous tone that his parents had met in a psychiatric hospital, which is pure truth. Dr. Blouin was the founder of Amqui Hospital, and he accompanied the delivery of more than 6,000 children.
André Blouin got from his parents the taste for community work and the habit of not counting the hours to accomplish his tasks. During his youth, he shared the family home with his four sisters and two brothers.
His first experience with a motorized off-road machine took place at around ten on his father’s propeller-driven snowmobile. This invention by Joseph-Armand Bombardier (created at the age of 14) was put on skis and moved from the propeller propulsion. It was before the creation of the snowmobile with sprocket-track. The doctor used this vehicle to visit his patients, and was J-A Bombardier’s primary motivation for creating winter vehicles.
André was studying administration, with a specialization in Property and Life Insurance. He started working in this field; then, he became a restaurant owner for two and a half years. André worked in a real estate appraisal firm, which opened the doors to the MRC de la Matapédia in 1984. He started as an appraisal technician and then quickly became director of the municipal appraisal service, which he held until his retirement, which came in November 2020 at age 68.
At the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, his organizational fiber was developing. He created a 4 x 4 club which was, at the time, the biggest Club in North America. He participated in the provincial championship, which was held regularly in La Matapédia. He won 42 trophies during this period, and several in the region, as the regional finals were regularly there.
In 1993, at age 41, life gave him a severe warning. He suffered a major heart attack which brought him to the brink of death. His life could have ended there, but fate decided otherwise. André survived. To celebrate this boost in life, he decided to enjoy life with his friends a little more. He bought a quad to ride on this beautiful matapédien estate that he knew especially from the land plans of the MRC. During his rides, he quickly found himself obliged to cross private lands. So he had to negotiate rights of way, the primary work of a club, and the maintenance of the trails he also did with his friends and personal tools.
But the Club did not yet exist. André Blouin’s vision was being refined and put into place. He was also talking to a friend responsible for RCMP security, Georges D. Thériault, who shared his ideas with him. Among other things, they discussed the beauty of the Matapedia landscapes, which were not accessible by the traditional route, and the importance of counting on volunteer quad riders to organize searches in the woods when needed.
In 1999, the Club was officially created and affiliated with the FQCQ, with André Blouin as founding president and his two friends Marcel Pinard and Gervais Lacasse. The first objective was tourism. Four observation towers were erected, with rules of accessibility, safety, and tourist interests. These investments of $ 100,000 at the time were accessible to everyone, by trails or by road. Innovative ideas kept coming. In 2000, signs with a map of the surrounding trails and services were put up at each intersection of the 650 kilometers of trails. There are now 9,300 signs providing information to users along the routes.
In 2002, to ensure proper cell phone service in the trails, signs marked with a red cross indicated a connection with cellular networks. The panel also displays the telephone numbers of the various local emergency services.
In 2004, tables and benches were installed near the trails to provide a more enjoyable ride.
In 2012, the Club was once again a pioneer by creating a mobile application, even before the Federation. The application made it possible to download the trail maps, offered routes, points of interest, services, etc. Tourist points are linked to the application by a beacon. When you arrive nearby, the history of the place is explained by text or audio!
On the event side, the Quad Matapédien Festival has been a success for many years and brings together quad riders from all over Quebec, New Brunswick, and even across the US border. There are magnificent views to be seen, which the infrastructure made by the Club has enhanced.
Among the tourist places to discover by the trails, we can mention the salmon barriers, the Philomène waterfall, the Canyon, the four observation towers of Lake Alfred, Lac-au-Saumon, Amqui and Val-d’Irène regional park, the suspension bridge, and covered bridges, not to mention the canola fields, the historic site of the Spanish flu and the birch trail.
André Blouin has an anecdote on this subject. As he talked to tourists on the spectacular footbridge over the Philomena Falls, he realized they were Australians. They saw a YouTube video about the observation points developed by the Club. They enjoyed it so much that they flew 16 hours to see these majestic sceneries for themselves!
These are the times André can say: Mission accomplished!
In 2013, this commitment was officially recognized by Québec’s Ministry of Transport. He was one of about 30 volunteers selected to be honored at the Off-Road Vehicle Volunteer Recognition Award ceremony. And he received the award for excellence from the then Minister of Transport, Sylvain Gaudreault.
That reward is well deserved because André is on a mission in which he has invested up to 35 hours per week (in addition to his regular job). As president, he is happy to see that the volunteers are there. After the Festival, one of the most followed events is the major cleanup. It has been taking place on the last weekend of May for about twenty years. Approximately 100 volunteers answer the call to clean up the 720 kilometers of trails. Some come from Montreal to lend a hand. Trees that have fallen to the ground have to be cut down, cut up and put aside, a service appreciated by landowners.
The trails do not belong to the Club. Most of the time, they are owned by individuals. Rights of way must be negotiated every year. It’s a big job too, with 412 cases to deal with! André would like to say: ” Thank you to the landowners and all the contributors and sponsors without whom the Club would not exist. “
André Blouin wanted to give an additional dimension to his Club. The organization is part of the community and provides service. By carrying out research in the event of missing people in the woods, by constructing structures which will be helpful to everyone, like the various bridges or towers which are an additional attraction for tourism. They also organize lunches with senior associations.
” It’s not like in the city; everyone knows each other over here. We can leave the house to hit the trail; there is no need for a trailer. Our trails form a big circle, so we can leave in the morning and come home in the evening if we want. We have 600 club members for 17,500 inhabitants in the 18 municipalities of La Matapedia” explains André.
Running a club is very demanding. The president has less time to ride his quad if not to maintain the trails. He has nevertheless toured the Gaspé Peninsula 7 times. He currently owns a Polaris 1000 cc.
André Blouin also talks about Pierre Allard, an FQCQ board of directors and columnist in Planète Quad. Pierre said of André: ” He’s my guru! He was the one who made me go for it. A beautiful friendship was born from this adventure of more than twenty years. “
What does André do in his spare time, when he’s not negotiating rights or riding the trails? The answer is somewhat original: he practices line dancing several times a week. He couldn’t help but convince some of the quad club members to come with him. And you can see him at the entrance taking the registrations. Volunteering and serving the community is part of his life, and he can’t help it.
This Builder article gives pride of place to the Club Quad de La Matapédia. But for André Blouin, it is a part of his life, more than 25 years of volunteer work, a full-fledged business to be run with volunteers who must be motivated without a paycheck. But anything is possible when the passion is there.
And let’s leave the last word to him: ” The region of La Matapedia valley is the quad riding paradise on Earth! No need to wait until you are dead to enjoy paradise! “