Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean can be divided into two regions:
The main population centres in the Saguenay region (Chicoutimi-Jonquière, La Baie, Arvida, Bagotville) were merged at various points, with the last merger leaving a single municipality (in 2002) named "Saguenay", the name of the river. Downriver of Chicoutimi-Jonquière, the river shores become a fjord and there are no settlements, services, fuel or cellular/mobile communications for many miles.
Towns (there are no major cities) in the Lac-Saint-Jean region include:
- Alma — largest town in the region, point of entry from the Saguenay valley
- Dolbeau-Mistassini — home of the annual Blueberry Festival and a confectionery operated by Trappist monks
- Roberval — the closest modern settlement to Val-Jalbert, a preserved 1920s tourist ghost town
- St-Félicien — zoo and nature preserve
- St-Honoré-de-Chicoutimi, a small town north of Saguenay, has the largest Niobium (Nb) mine in North America.
The main economic forces in the region are the forest, paper, aluminium, tourism and hydro-electricity.
The Saguenay Fjord, the estuary of the Saguenay River, stretches through much of the region. The region is also known as Sagamie in French, from the first part of "Saguenay" and the last part of "Piekouagami", the Innu name (meaning "flat lake") for Lac Saint-Jean. With a land area larger than Portugal, it is the third-largest of Quebec regions in the area.
This region is bathed by two major watercourses, Lac Saint-Jean and the Saguenay River, both of which mark its landscape deeply and have been the main drives of its development in history. It is also irrigated by several other large watercourses. Bordered by forests and mountainous massifs, the southern portion of the region constitutes a fertile enclave in the Canadian Shield called the Saguenay Graben. The scenery and the cultural sites and activities of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean attract tourists every year. Lac Saint-Jean is a popular vacation destination in the summer for residents of the more urban regions of Quebec.
The beauty of the region can be seen in the 1991 film Black Robe, directed by Bruce Beresford. The region is considered the heartland of the Quebec sovereignty movement.
French is the primary language of instruction for university (université) and community college (collège, cégep) programmes in the region. There is an established immersion programme in Jonquière to teach French as a second language.
Many people in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean speak only French; it is the region with the smallest proportion English speakers in Quebec. They speak French with an accent that might sound strange, even for other people from Québec. If you speak only English, you might encounter problems as you visit this area. Otherwise, most of this is true: Quebec#Talk
It's well known around Québec that people from the area use expressions you might not have heard before. Here is a few of them (in French, naturally.)
- Cotteur - Possibly a simplification of the French word "accotement", equivalent in English to "curb", a concrete demarcation between asphalted and non-asphalted land.
- Faire simple - Being silly. Arrête de faire simple de-même, Stop being silly.
- Froque - Jacket.
- Plaisant - Fun, nice. C'est bien plaisant, It's really nice. (In Metropolitan French, plaisanter means to joke)
- À cause used instead of pourquoi - Why. À cause tu parles de-même?, Why do you talk like this?
- Durex- Scotchtape
- Robeur- From the English "rubber," but meaning tyres. M'a faire poser mes robeurs d'hiver bientot
- Panel- Designates a mini van, or van in general. Viens-tu dans mon panel?
- Colon- Having no style
- Top- Cigarettes. Faut que j'm'achète un paquet de tops
You're most likely to arrive to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean by land. If you're coming from Quebec City, you will cross the Parc des Laurentides on provincial road 175. This road is about 200 km long between Québec City and Chicoutimi and there is but one gas station (known as l'Étape) in the middle so plan ahead. It is also a great paronamic view of the deep Quebec Forest.
If you come from Chibougamau-Chapais or Abitibi-Témiscamingue, you will arrive by road.
The closest international airport is in Quebec City. There are also a few small airports in the area. The main one is Aéroport de Bagotville (in Ville de La Baie (now part of Ville Saguenay)). It has scheduled service to Montréal. There is also a general aviation airport in St-Honoré-de-Chicoutimi.
A car will be required to drive around the area. Some cities in the area have bus systems, but most of them don't.
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean has a big territory so be ready to drive long distances.
- Les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi — The local hockey team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They play at Centre George-Vézina.
- Jardin Zoologique de St-Félicien, St-Félicien, 2230, boulevard du Jardin, Saint-Félicien, toll-free: . A zoo dedicated to wildlife conservation of the boreal climate and is managed by the Centre for Conservation of Boreal Biodiversity Inc. 1000 animals of 80 species. Single $135, couple/single-adult family $160, two-adult family $190.
- Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, St-Fulgence
- Parc national du Saguenay
- Vieille Pulperie, Chicoutimi
- Village historique de Val-Jalbert, Chambord
- Beach — Lac-Saint-Jean offers many beautiful beaches.
- Camping — There are many beautiful camping sites on the Lac-Saint-Jean.
- Fishing — There are many lakes in the region and fishing is allowed on most of them during the appropriate season. Make sure you get the proper license and equipment.
- Fishing on ice — During winter, you can fish on ice on the Saguenay river. The main site is at St-Fulgence.
- Hunting — There are many ZEC (Zone d'Exploitation Contrôlée or, in English, Controlled Exploitation Area) on which hunting is allowed if you get the proper licence.
- Skiing — There are many ski hills in the Saguenay region. Look for Le Valinouet, Mont Édouard, Mont Lac-Vert, Mont Fortin, Mont Bélu and many more.
- Snowmobile — There are miles and miles of path across the region. Most of them will require a special membership card to use.
If you visit the area, try to find a place where you can eat some Tourtière (a sort of meat pie). The tourtière in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is a different meal that in other regions of Québec.
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is known for its blueberries. Make sure you try a blueberry pie or some chocolate covered blueberries (available in August only) from Les pères trappistes.
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is renowned for its party-loving population. They take great pride in drinking "grosse bière" (literally "big beer", meaning most of them drink bottles of beer of around 700 mL in bars), arrive early and leave late. The title of main street of drinking is usually given to rue Saint-Dominique, in Jonquière, where you will find 6 or 7 bars on a less than a kilometre stretch.