The Marguerite-D’Youville Wildlife Refuge is located on Saint-Bernard island, at the outskirts of Kahnawake Indian Territories. The reserve is inhabited by the Mohawk First Nations (“the people of the lighter stone”), with a resident population of about 8,000 people. However, St. Bernard Island is a protected natural environment, offering eight kilometres of trails for hiking as well as observation and photography.
One of the most fascinating things of St. Bernard Island is its historical and natural heritage. The Kahnawake territories are South of Montreal, close to the United States border. In fact, the Kanien’kehá: ka were historically the easternmost nation of the Haudenosaunee (the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and are known as the “Gatekeepers of the East Gate”. They controlled the territory on both sides of the Mohawk River and west of the Hudson in present-day New York, where they protected other parts of the confederacy in the West against the invasion of the tribes of the current New England and coastal regions.
The name is derived from the word mohawk kahnawà: ke, which means “place of the rapids”, in reference to their major village Caughnawaganear – the rapids of the Mohawk River. This area is beautiful and, in winter, the snowy trails of the island become a favorite spot for winter hikers. The entry permit is just over $ 4 for the day and parking is free at the Visitor Center. A little trick for photographers: if you bring grain for the birds, they will take it from your hands and it would be very easy to photograph!
The trail is well signposted and, shortly after entering the forest, you will come across a children’s theme village next to the river bank. Here, the wind was blowing strongly from the completely frozen river but we ventured there to see the tepee and the ship. In the center, there is also a shelter open to hikers.
If you decide to cross the frozen lake, the view from the trail is fantastic, almost unreal. At mid-path there is a covered wooden bridge with openings on the sides that allows to better observe the birds and small animals that inhabit the lake.
It won’t be difficult to see wildlife in the reservation: during our walk we have encountered deer and birds.
As the path ventures in between the woods, we made an interesting encounter: a gentleman was feeding the birds to photograph them, and he pointed us in the right direction to spot a rare red-headed woodpecker. He explained to us that this woodpecker was lost and alone in this region. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to see one.
Our walk back to the chalet was particularly difficult due to the amount of snow covering the trail. Back at the chalet we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate. The best experience ever!