Any good road trip brings the opportunity of discovery: what will you see, taste and experience? Who will you meet? Will your travelling companions love it, or drive you up the wall? To which I add: Can an electric vehicle get you where you need to go? These were the questions I hoped to answer in the Lanaudière and Mauricie region of Quebec, piloting an electric vehicle for the first time, with my two kids punching each other in the back seat. An opportunity for discovery, and a challenge too.
As a first time EV-er, the Ford Mach-E Mustang waiting for us in Montreal intimidated the hell out of me. With a huge touch screen, no gear shift, endless settings, and fighter jet acceleration, it felt less like a vehicle, and more like a super computer on wheels. The dashboard tells me our range is 445km, which is more than enough to rocket us to our first roadside attraction in Lanaudière. This region between Montreal and Quebec City – marketed as Authentic Quebec – has lush, rolling farmland with a big sky pierced by silver steeples towering over every village. I tell my nine and six-year-old that the scenery is bucolic and pastorally pure. They mishear me offering them broccoli and pasta, when all they want is poutine.
We stop for the first of many poutines at a joint in Rawdon called Benny and Co, which offers one-hour free EV charging for clients. I don’t need the miles, but plug in all the same. Like many drivers new to electric vehicles, I’m operating under the assumption of scarcity. What happens if we run out of juice? I needn’t worry: Quebec has over 7000 public and 500 fast chargers, the most of any province, with more being installed every week.
Fuelled up on cheese curds, the kids need a run, so we gallop along to Le Grand Labyrinthe de Lanaudière, a six-hectare corn maze with eight kilometres of trails to navigate. Fortunately, we find an emergency exit among the tall bushels when the kids run themselves out, although I’m told it’s common to call for rescue from one of the numbered posts throughout the maze.
A half dozen chargers await us at Auberge du Lac Taureau, one of those action-packed log cabin lake resorts you wish you visited every year as a kid. I make the rookie mistake of not resetting the Tesla charger before plugging it in, finding our car less than 50 per cent charged the following morning. It’s still plenty to get us to La Terre des Bisons for a stroll through elk and bison paddocks, and back to Rawdon for fast Level three boost, hitting 100 per cent in the time it took us to grab an excellent local pizza. The fast charge cost just $20, and it was the only time I paid for power throughout the week. Chargers were usually free and available for visitors and guests at resorts, campgrounds, parks, hotels and attractions.
Onwards into the woods, we spend a night glamping at the Chalets Lanaudiere, an all-season lakeside campground, where we play board games in our cozy, lumberjack-hued cabin. It’s a good introduction to the wilderness of the 536 square-kilometre La Mauricie National Park. Judging by the sheer volume of motorbikes, trikes, and vehicles in the park, this is prime Quebec road trip country. After stopping for the fantastic view at Bèlvédere du Passage, we find a half dozen available Parks Canada chargers when we brake for a summer swim in the tea-coloured waters of Lac Èdouard. Scarcity of power is clearly not going to be an issue, nor is the quality of the juice for our Mustang to slurp.
94 per cent of Quebec is powered by hydro-electricity, which means that charging your EV here is not just a case of burning fossil fuels somewhere else. Busting another EV myth, I also discover that EV batteries are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle, and you can charge them whenever you wish. When I meet fellow EV drivers, we discuss these misconceptions, along with the features of our respective vehicles. We also wonder what’s going to happen when there are more EVs on the road than chargers available, a situation bound to occur as gas models increasingly retire in the wake of climate action. Our fetching Mustang Mach-E solicits plenty of curiosity and questions from other drivers, especially when I demonstrate how the vehicle can essentially drive and park itself. It really feels like we’re on the cusp of a brave new road tripping world.
Overnighting in a cabin at Le 2800 du Parc just outside the national park (free charging stations for guests, fast paid charging stations for visitors) we zip through a series of small towns and curvy countryside roads to Pourvoirie du Lac Blanc, another gorgeous lakeside property with a renowned restaurant, sandy beach, excellent fishing and family-friendly activities. We kayak to some nearby lake islands, go bear watching, and get our summer jollies out. Naturally we charge up too, although the guest charge stations weren’t mentioned anywhere on the hotel’s website. Most of the places we visit have free charging stations without recognizing the value it offers for veteran and newbie EV drivers. I expect that will change soon enough, both for the amount of people driving EV’s, and the volume of new visitors discovering what a beautiful part of Canada this is.
Back home, I used an online carbon-calculator from South Pole, the world’s largest carbon project developer, to punch in our logistical emissions. With our EV powered by Quebec’s clean energy, the grand total of our offsets worked out to just $95, which I contributed towards a gold standard solar project in India that meets seven of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. While it’s not always possible to rent an EV, and Mach-E Mustangs do not come cheap, I proudly told my kids that we just took our first carbon-neutral vacation. They quit punching each other for 30 seconds to voice their approval. Together we’ve discovered a little more about what’s possible, and a little more about the beautiful country we live in too.