With its strong cultural ties to France and its stunning setting atop a bluff on the St. Lawrence River, Québec City is a unique place in the Americas. The Monkey enjoyed a brief excursion to Québec City during his visit to Canada in September 2004.
The Monkey takes in the impressive vista from the Cap Diamant in Québec City, the Québec province’s capital and one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The city’s history is intrinsically linked to the expansive St. Lawrence River, which cuts inland hundreds of kilometers from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, beyond that, the open Atlantic. Originally an Iroquois settlement, the future site of Québec City was visited by the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. Seven decades later, French colonizers returned, lured by the plentitude of fur-bearing animals (but not monkeys!) and the desire to establish a trade center deep inside the American landmass. The colonists first settled on the banks of the St. Lawrence before opting to take the Iroquois’ clifftop position. With Québec City as a base, Catholic missionaries fanned out to convert the indigenous population to Christian subjects.
By the mid 17th Century, Québec City was fast growing into an important colonial holding for France. With France’s arch-rival England busy colonizing other areas of North America, the French authorities undertook the construction of massive walls around Québec City’s Haute-Ville (upper town) around 1670. Impressive though they are, the huge stone walls were eventually unable to defend the city from the English, who captured it in 1759 by advancing across the hilltop Plains of Abraham under cover of night. The capture of Québec City spelled the downfall of the French Empire in North America, but not the death of French culture in the region. With their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights protected by the 1775 treaty between France and England (not to mention subsequent Canadian legislation), Québec City remains a proud bastion of francophone culture in the Americas. Indeed, the city’s motto—Je me souviens (I remember)—has become a slogan for Québécois nationalism and francophone pride across Canada, emblazoned on Québec’s provincial automobile plates wherever Quebecers go.
Québec City is not only the capital of the Québec province, it’s also the most strictly francophone city in North America (given Montréalers’ propensity to speak whichever language gets things done fastest).
Here, le Singe climbs up on a Québec stop sign. Behind him, the blue and white provincial flag of Québec flutters in the wind. The flag’s fleur-de-lis insignia harkens back to the Québécois’ French roots.
Québec City’s Haute- and Basse-Villes are a true treasure trove of traditional French architecture. Many of the stone homes date from as long ago as the 17th and 18th Centuries, although the stone and brick houses behind le Singe in this shot are most probably later 19th Century constructions. Aside from Québec City’s plethora of beautiful buildings, the Monkey was also fascinated by the old cannons aimed out over the St. Lawrence from atop city ramparts.
The Monkey sits on a refurbished section of Québec City’s walls, looking out over the Basse-Ville (low town). Several of the stone, steep-roofed French colonial houses are visible. Well-preserved —and sometimes carefully restored—neighborhoods such as this helped put Québec City on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1985.
The Monkey examines some of the old Haute-Ville’s defensive ramparts. The only North American walled city north of Mexico, Québec City offers a fascinating glimpse into a period when France and England contested each other for imperial pre-eminence in North America.
Le Singe peeps a cool balcony in a back alley in Québec City’s Haute Ville.
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