Back to Eastern Canada Index Page
<< Canyon Ste-Anne | Eastern Townships >>
Quebec City is known for its beauty, with stone architecture, fortress walls, and narrow winding streets. With the French language swirling all around, we could easily imagine that we had been magically transported across the Atlantic Ocean.
The city’s skyline:
We stayed several nights in the historic district called Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Entering Old Quebec via a gate in the fortress wall:
Our home base was a charming 1-bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor of a renovated 1840’s building. The location was ideal—steps away from all the great historic sights, yet tucked away on a quiet residential street where the masses of August tourists rarely ventured.
Genevieve and Sebastian at the front door:
The living room still had some of the old stone walls, and the sofa transformed into a comfy bed for the kids at night:
One of the key benefits to an apartment over a hotel room, beside a huge savings, was that Ben and I got our own separate bedroom:
There was even a kitchen primed for cooking:
Although we chose not to cook, the fridge allowed us to stock up on picnic supplies. We even had a “picnic dinner” one evening to side-step the high restaurant costs in town.
We loved being able to step outside our door and be immersed in the historical architecture.
One of the most eye-catching buildings was the Chateau Frontenac, a hotel that opened in 1893 as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s plan to entice wealthy travelers to ride the rails.
This year the copper roof on the main tower was being replaced, and the scaffolding was cleverly hidden by safety netting with a printed image of the rooftop.
A 2-block walk from our apartment brought us to the fortress walls, and cannons, that once protected upper Quebec.
From this vantage point, we could see the row of Bunge grain silos down in the harbor:
The curved shape of the silos was echoed in the turrets of the train station peeking above the trees, and the copper-topped government building next door.
In front of the train station was a park fountain in which water ricocheted vigorously off bended sheets of steel.
The park also contained an engaging sculpture by the artist Michel Goulet, whose work we had first seen in Montreal. The artwork here was called “Rȇver le Nouveau Monde” and was created in 2008 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. In this piece, the artist once again used the symbol of a chair, placing 44 stainless steel chairs along a wide pathway:
Forty of the chairs had bits of text from poets, mostly in French:
A few chairs were in different languages:
One chair was in English:
On each end of the path was a separate pair of chairs. The two chairs at one end represented the cities of Montreal and Quebec City connected by the St. Lawrence River:
The opposite end had a set of chairs resting above a globe of the world and a Quebec-style house, respectively symbolizing the polar extremes of public and private space:
The kids and I enjoyed this artwork in our own ways. I wandered among the chairs, reading the text, marveling at the imagery, and contemplating the meaning. The kids ran around in between the chairs, played tag, took a seat now and then, and called out to show me details that grabbed their attention.
Other notable public art in Quebec City included Jules Lasalle’s sculpture “L’Envol” (the Flight), which was a monument to the community of religious brothers that once ran a school nearby:
The whimsical sculpture “Bienvenue” (Welcome) by artist Nicole Taillon was set back in a small alley:
Even the planter boxes were artistic creations:
Old Quebec has both an upper area, the part surrounded by fortress walls, and a lower area, where the city was initially founded in 1608. A fun way to get from the one section to another is via the funicular, originally built in 1879:
The top entrance to the funicular provided a view across the St. Lawrence River:
Down at the bottom were a number of shops, museums, and historical sites—all quite popular with tourists.
The main square in the lower section is Place Royal, a small plaza that is considered the birthplace of French America. On one side of the plaza was the church Notre-Dame-des-Victoires:
The adjacent interpretive center, Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal, had exhibits that helped illuminate the historical significance of this spot.
One display case held a small-scale model of the original Quebec settlement:
For perspective, the original settlement was overlaid onto a photo of the modern city:
One of the most interesting features at the center was a 3-D movie called “Facing Champlain,” which presented a creative look at the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain, whose face remains a mystery because there are no known portraits. Despite the excellence of the production, we were the only ones in the theater during our viewing:
The center’s basement had been transformed into a cooper’s house, where we tried our hand at making a barrel using traditional tools—not an easy task, as the wooden slats kept falling out of alignment, but we were persistent:
Sebastian pretended to fetch water and played with traditional toys:
For me, the best part was the dress-up room, which held a wide range of clothes for adults and children:
Genevieve chose to be our photographer, as the old-fashioned clothes had buttons (no zippers), and she still has the same repulsion for buttons that she first articulated as a toddler. Since the old-time photos generally do not have smiling faces, we tried to take a “somber” family portrait, but Sebastian couldn’t help himself:
We ended our visit to the interpretive center with a free guided tour by Philippe, an English major in college:
In the photo above, he’s holding a barrel tap similar to the 13 that were found during an excavation of some of the ruins at Place Royal:
Archeologists also found about 2000 tobacco pipes here. Tobacco was popular because it diminished a person’s hunger or thirst. The army found it cheaper to give soldiers tobacco than to provide them with adequate supplies of food.
Near the ruins was a magnificent, street-scene mural that covered the entire side of a building:
The Place Royal district has not always looked so charming. During the 1900’s, the area had slid into disrepair and had a seedy character. Recognizing the historical and commercial value in revitalizing the area, the government had invested funds to rebuild or refurbish many of the buildings over the last 50 years. The mission to make Place Royal a major tourist attraction was successful.
Here is a photo showing how the Barbel House (located kitty-corner to the interpretive center) looked in 1970 and in 2009 after being rebuilt:
(Photo Credit: www.ameriquefrancaise.org.)
The kids discovered a nearby playground, complete with an old-fashioned ship’s mast:
While in the lower town, we also watched an artisan make a drinking glass:
Genevieve was feeling the love from this city:
As with any tourist town, there were street performers with impressive talents, such as this man balancing on a ladder and getting ready to juggle fiery batons:
One acrobatic performer landed a somersault over the bodies of four volunteers plus his buddy:
And this woman could toss a diabolo far into the air and catch it:
(A diabolo is an hourglass object that is juggled on a string between two sticks.)
We were in Old Quebec during peak tourist season, and there were crowds of people. We were, after all, tourists ourselves. While the historic district was beautiful, we longed for a neighborhood that had a local flavor—one that was designed to serve the needs of its residents, not to impress or even attract visitors.
We had had such a great experience bicycling through the neighborhoods in Montreal that we decided to rent bicycles here and explore beyond the fortress walls of Quebec City. Luckily, there was a terrific bike shop not too far from our apartment.
Twenty minutes later, we were pedaling away, giddy with the sense of freedom. At first, we stuck to the bike path along the St. Lawrence River, taking a detour to cross a drawbridge and get up close to the grain silos:
At the harbor, we also stopped to check out artist Raoul Hunter’s monument to the merchant seamen from Quebec who lost their lives at sea during WWII:
From here, we had a fantastic view of Chateau Frontenac:
The bike path led us out of the old town, tracking the river next to a busy street:
A long stretch of grass held artist Joe Fafard’s sculpture “Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do” to honor the horse’s contribution to the building of Canada—helping to turn prairies into farmland and forests into timber:
After a couple of miles, we reached a train yard and decided to find a route up to the top of the cliff above us:
A steep road took us upwards, where we found a large park called the Plains of Abraham, with open meadows that were the site of many battles between the French and British for control of this region. Some defensive structures still remained, such as this Martello tower:
Ready for lunch, we scoped out the park’s only concession stand—to find it closed. The kindness of strangers came to the rescue, as often happens during our travels. An older woman who must have noticed our disappointed faces approached and asked if we were looking for a place to eat. She spoke only French and told us about a market nearby with all types of food and some nice places to sit. I didn’t understand everything she said, but we communicated well, with lots of smiles, head nods, and hand gestures.
She had directed us to a wonderful place called Le Petit Quartier, which offered a variety of lunch choices. It was perfect.
And the surrounding area was exactly what we had been looking for—a “real” neighborhood, with not an obvious tourist in sight (other than us!).
Ben spied some people walking by with ice cream cones, so we set off down the street on foot searching for an ice cream shop. Near the corner of Cartier and Aberdeen, we found Le Glacier Aberdeen, which served THE BEST DIPPED CONES EVER.
Luscious ice cream, swirled high, and coated in real chocolate that was so thick it felt like we were eating ice cream covered with a milk chocolate bar. Surely this must have been what dipped cones first tasted like before someone decided they could increase their profits if they just started making the coating a bit thinner . . . and then a bit more thinner . . . and then just a tad more . . . .
On our last night in Quebec City, we attended the free Cirque de Soleil show that takes place every summer, Tuesday through Sunday evenings, at 9pm, under a highway overpass on the edge of Old Quebec.
While walking to the show, we met two characters from another street theater performance, Les Promenades Fantomes:
Even though we arrived an hour early, there were still a few hundred people in line ahead of us:
While waiting, we checked out the amazing murals painted on the overpass support beams:
The detail in this painting of church windows was incredible:
And so was this painting of a stone building with wooden doors:
Although we were concerned about whether we would all get in to see the Cirque de Soleil show, the arena was big enough to hold all of us. Genevieve and I stood near the stage; our view:
We were fortunate enough to have a silent greeting, with raised hand presses, from one of the cube-headed men wandering through the audience before the show started. I snapped a photo of the back of his head when he turned to leave:
Ben and Sebastian had a view from the bleachers off to the side:
The performance was spectacular.
And as a fitting end to our time in Quebec City, we were treated to a dazzling fireworks show on our walk back to the apartment.
Back to Eastern Canada Index Page
<< Canyon Ste-Anne | Eastern Townships >>