"Quebec - La Ville des Bonjours!" Quebec by johngayton
Quebec Travel Guide: 1,562 reviews and 3,447 photos
So here I am sitting in my hotel room on a sunny Sunday morning (waiting for the bars to open!) putting together this introduction to Quebec City and trying to decide which photo to use to attempt to encapsulate my impressions. Going through my several hundred pics it is this one that immediately jumps out at me and pretty much sums up what impressed me most about the place.
The city is situated in a visually stunning geographic location, overlooking the St Lawrence River and ringed to the north by the Laurentian Mountains. Architecturally Quebec is a feast for afficiandos of both the modern and the traditional and as one of Canada's oldest settlements (according to some viewpoints "the oldest") has a rich and diverse history and culture.
Setting aside the physical attributes though, it is, as always, the people who make places and no more so than here. Everywhere I went during my three day stay I was unanimously met with the greeting: "Bonjour!" Of course, one expects to be greeted in shops, bars and restaurants etc. by those whose employment is to divest you of your tourist dollars but here even the art gallery custodians greeted me on entering the exhibition rooms. The shivering security guard outside the "Plaines d'Abraham" smiled with his eyes (the rest of his face being wrapped against the 20 KpH wind and the minus 25 temperature) as he bade me "Good Day" - in fact pretty much everyone who I encountered in every interaction had the same greeting.
Yep, so hence Benjo's frog as my introductory pic - BTW "Benjo's" is a world-famous Quebec children's shop known for its user-friendliness.
My personal favoured mode of transport has always been by train and to my mind there is no better introduction to a city (or any other place for that matter) than to arrive well-rested after a comfortable journey exactly where you want to be location-wise. To be able to just step off the train and be able to go straight to your hotel (in this case on foot) definitely sets me in the mood to enjoy my visit and here in Quebec we have the double-plus bonus of the railway station being a minor delight in its own right.
Quebec's main railway station is the Gare du Palais which is connected to the main bus station and is located down by the Old Port within easy walking distance of both the modern city centre and the old town. The station was built in the early 1900's by Canadian Pacific to complement its munificent Chateau Frontenac Hotel in the days when the railroads were the way to go.
See transportation tips for more info.
Quebec is arguably Canada's oldest city, having been officially founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 and thus pre-dating the modern-day capital Ottawa by well over 200 years. Whilst other Canadian towns, such as Tadoussac (founded 1604), may dispute Quebec's ageist claim there is no doubt that a settlement existed in the Quebec location for many years prior to its official "founding". Casting aside the minor disputes regarding provenance, there is no argument that Quebec definitely has the most interesting history of any of the Canadian towns and a history which is still-in-the-making.
Much of the older city sits atop the heights of Cap Diamant which overlook the stretch of the St Lawrence River at a point where it narrows considerably (and indeed the name "Quebec" is purported to come from the Algonquin term "Kebec", meaning: "where the river narrows") and thus has always had a major strategic importance, militarily and tradewise.
De Champlain's original settlement began with 28 menfolk (women didn't arrive until 1617!) and was sponsored by King Henry IV of France with the intention of founding a capital for the region as part of the colony known as New France. New France at the time was very much a tenuous colony with no fixed boundaries and a very low population which eventually became the territories of Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia and Louisiana, each becoming independently governed. Quebec became the capital of the Canada region.
Whilst Quebec was growing along with the French interests in North America, so too were the British interests in the areas around Hudson Bay and to the west. In the middle of the 18th century the British and French were antagonists during the so-called "Seven Years War" which spread throughout Europe and the various colonies of all of Europe's major powers.
Inevitably British and French came head-to-head here in Canada and the siege of Quebec in 1759 and subsequent battle on the Plaines d'Abraham became one of the defining points of the conflict.
Following the French defeat and surrender of Quebec in late 1759 and the ensuing surrender of Montreal the following year the British gained total control of the whole of Canada and then the politics really began!!
First there was the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which was intended to appease the native population and incidentally cemented the formation of the Province of Quebec. Then there was the Quebec Act of 1774 which returned the freedom to practice the Catholic faith and the use of French Civil Law in the province. This was another piece of political appeasement as a pre-emptory move to secure the French Canadian allegiance as the stirrings of American independence became manifold.
A couple more acts of parliament from the British over the next 100 or so years churned things around a little - for instance with the designation of Upper and Lower Canada whereby Quebec became the capital of Lower Canada. The Union Act of 1840 began the evolution of Canada as an independent country and the British North America Act of 1867 pretty much confirmed the present-day state of the nation and its individual provinces.
In 1857 Ottawa was chosen by Queen Victoria to be the capital city of the now united Canada (more politics!) whilst Quebec City remained the capital of the Province of Quebec.
But of course the city's history (nor that of its province) didn't finish there and contemporary Quebec still plays a colourful (for want of a less-neutral word) role in present-day Canadian affairs.
- Pros:A Very Welcoming City
- Cons:Can Get A Bit Chilly On Top Of the Hill
- In a nutshell:Even though it's Francophone - a pint is still une pinte!!
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