From time to time, as we explored the only fortified city in Canada, my husband would exclaim, “I hate museums!” Of course, in Quebec City one does not have to go to any museums to see ancient monuments and relics dating back hundreds of years.
Quebec City is one of only a few places in Canada designated by UNESCO as part of the world’s heritage sites considered to be of outstanding universal value according to criteria drawn up by the World Heritage Committee. A distinction is made in selecting sites: most Canadian UNESCO sites are natural sites, rather than cultural sites.
UNESCO states: “[Quebec City] is the only North American city to have its ramparts together with the numerous bastions, gates, and defensive works which still surround Old Quebec. The Upper Town, built on the cliff, has remained the religious and administrative centre, with its churches, convents and other monuments like the Dauphine Redoubt, the Citadel, and Chateau Frontenac. Together with the Lower Town and the ancient districts, it forms an urban ensemble which is one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city.”
Quebec City has all the atmosphere of an ancient French town, with small houses huddled together and caleches, or horse-drawn carriages, to take you on romantic tours through the narrow streets. If you venture, as we did, into the city’s vielle ville, the old town, you will definitely get a taste of what life was like in the early days of Canada’s history. You will also sense the joie de vivre the city exudes.
The Historic District of Old Quebec represents approximately five percent of the total area of the city, which is the capital of the Province of Quebec and second in importance in the province after Montreal.
Dominating the northeast end of the city from the height of its natural promontory, the Historic District measures 135 hectares, including the ramparts and fortifications, military and civil installations, religious institutions, and, below, the harbour sector.
The grand Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, built on the ruins of the Chateau Saint-Louis (the governor’s residence), is home to both a popular café serving Quebecois specialties and Champlain Restaurant, where you can savour the finest cuisine of what was once New France. Another fine restaurant is Le Saint-Amour on rue Sainte-Ursule. And for typical Quebecois fare try Aux Anciens Canadiens, housed in the historic Maison Jacquet, the oldest house in the city, built in 1675-76.
Heritage sites in the city include the Basilica of Notre-Dame, the church of Canada’s oldest parish, where the remains of former governor general Louis de Buade de Frontenac are believed to be buried in a crypt; the Ursuline Convent, Canada’s oldest nunnery (used as a shelter during the British siege of 1690); and the Musée du Fort, where the siege of 1690 is re-enacted with a sound and light show (as are the battles of the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy).
There’s also the Place Royale, where more than 30 buildings have been restored or rebuilt, and the 235-acre National Battlefields Park.
Traditionally, Canada’s governor general spends a month during the summer at the Citadel, the official residence in Quebec City, and a number of diplomats travel there to present credentials in historic surroundings.
Interesting side excursions include day trips to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, which has a world-famous shrine that attracts over a million visitors a year; Montmorency Falls, whose falls are one-and-a-half times as high as Niagara Falls; and the Ile d’Orleans, which French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) called “Island of Bacchus” due to the wild grapes that covered the island.
Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: email@example.com