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TELUS Social Impact
TELUS Social Impact
The remote Quebec community of Bonne Esperance

Connecting Canadians

New business, new hope in Quebec’s Lower North Shore

Feb 15, 2021

The remote community of Bonne Esperance is now home to two side-by-side, 170-metre cell towers. Built on the highest hill in the St. Paul’s River region, the towers relay high-speed and cell signals as far as 70 kilometers away. Photography by Maygan Wellman.

It happened on a particularly cold October evening. Normand Bellefleur was navigating the challenging waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the darkness between Kegaska and Unamen Shipu (La Romaine) when his boat struck a shoal at low tide.  Suddenly, he found himself in the icy water, his strength fast depleting with the shock of the cold. 

In any other year, an accident of this magnitude in the vast, isolated territory of Quebec’s Lower North Shore would no doubt have ended in tragedy.

But not this time. Bellefleur, director of the Unamen Shipu Band Council and experienced boatsman, found hope in the glow of a cell phone in the pocket of his crew member. It gave him the courage he needed to fight for his life, and that of a boatsman with him on the journey.

“Without connectivity, it would have taken many hours for our community to realize that we needed help and search for us. Hypothermia could have had serious consequences,” Bellefleur says today. 

“I will be forever grateful to have been able to call for help,” he says.

Network connectivity came to the remote region in 2019 thanks to a collaboration between TELUS and the federal and provincial governments. The arrival of the 4G LTE wireless service means rescue personnel are now just a phone call away.

It makes boat travel much safer, and, for the first time, enables network connection along portions of the iconic White Trail, a 400-kilometre snowmobile trail that links the region’s 14 villages and 5,000 inhabitants together during the winter. 

Without the new TELUS network, Normand Bellefleur, director of the Unamen Shipu Band Council, might not have been able to tell his story. He found himself in the icy water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence last November as he was navigating in the darkness. He found hope in the glow of a cell phone and called for help.

Economic ventures

Wireless connectivity has also brought high-speed internet to family homes and businesses through a TELUS Smart Hub. The Smart Hub works like a router connecting computers and devices through the LTE network.

Bonne Esperance, for instance, is now home to two side-by-side, 170-metre cell towers. Built on the highest hill in the St. Paul’s River region, the towers relay high-speed and cell signals as far as 70 kilometers away.

Bonne-Espérance is also the location for much of the operations for the Coasters Association, an organization that develops the plants and natural resources that can be used in research and the production of various consumer goods -- everything from healing products to skin care.

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An important economic venture for the region, the arrival of high-speed internet, in particular, has made way for promising changes to how business gets done. Prior to the arrival of the new network, Kimberley Buffitt, Director of Operations and Innovation, Coasters Association,  recalls how she frequently had to use her ingenuity to accommodate the requests of international clients, relying at the time on satellite service to the region.

“When I asked our partners outside the region to fax me information or explained that our internet was down because of a snowstorm, they seemed to think I was from another planet,” says Buffitt.

The promise of high-speed connectivity has propelled Kimberly Buffitt, Director of Operations and Innovation, Coasters Association, to establish a business relationship with the International Blue Cooperative. With its headquarters on the Lower North Shore, the cooperative helps fishing communities maximize the use of resources to create pharmaceutical goods, and bioplastics. Photography by Maygan Wellman.

 Thanks to recent upgrades, however, the association can now do business like urban entrepreneurs elsewhere in the country. Buffitt’s team can participate in meetings by videoconferencing and work on projects for websites that will move them further toward their goals of building the business. 

The promise of high-speed connectivity in the region has also propelled Buffitt to develop the International Blue Cooperative, which helps fishing communities maximize the use of fish and other marine resources to create consumer, pharmaceutical goods, and bioplastics. Her goal is to promote sustainable maritime practices and create quality jobs in the region, making it as self-sufficient as possible.

Her achievements also mean she doesn’t have to leave home to follow through on professional dreams.

“I love the Lower North Shore. I’ve travelled around the world, and there’s no place like here,” she says.  “Even though I had big ambitions, I knew that leaving meant abandoning a close connection with nature, and authentic human relationships. Now, with high-speed internet, I can help our businesses grow further, and enhance the wealth of our resources and our communities’ unique expertise.”

Hope and safety

For Roderick Fequet, connectivity is good for economic health and also promises greater safety. With the new connectivity, the Bonne Esperance mayor could help ensure the health of residents by staying in constant communication with authorities when the community was grappling with its first case of COVID-19 last November. Photography by Maygan Wellman.  

Of course, with the ever-present threat of COVID-19, fast and reliable connectivity also promises greater safety for communities that would otherwise be cut off from immediate help in the event of a virus outbreak. 

At the end of November, the Lower North Shore was grappling with its first case of COVID-19. During the contact-tracing phase, which is so critical to stopping the virus spread, high-speed internet and wireless technology meant community leaders like Roderick Fequet, mayor of Bonne Esperance, could help ensure the health of residents by staying in constant communication with authorities and others managing a fast-evolving situation, whether he was at home, at work or travelling in the region.

“Connectivity can make the difference between stopping the virus’s spread, and an outbreak,” he says. “Unfortunately, we've had some tragic accidents in the past, but when I get home at night, and I see the lights on the towers blinking, I know they promise hope and safety.”

More importantly, Fequet adds, “connectivity strengthens our society’s social fabric and mental well being by connecting us to each other more directly and efficiently.”

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