Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 8, 2009

Québec City: Cradle of the French Régime in North America

Why Québec City?

Québec is a destination that is all things to all people; this is part of its historic legacy. The word that is used most often by visitors to Québec (especially Americans I encounter when I am in Québec) is “spectacular.”

It is indeed a city of spectacle both natural and historic. Its location on the north shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River and in the St. Lawrence Valley is nothing less than stunning. Whether you see it from Lévis on the south shore (be sure to take the ferry across for a panoramic view), from one of the cruise ships that regularly visit the city, or from within, by doing what everyone does (walking the old streets of the city) all your senses will be amplified

Although the city can pose some mobility difficulties, in general this is one of the most walkable cities in Canada. Many facilities and services also make visiting the city easier; the funicular from the Upper Town to the Lower Town is one example, and of course the popular and personalized calèche ride (horse and carriage). And it is a city you will want to walk because you are always in the heart of Québec wherever you go. This is a city on a human scale, and a seamless travel experience.

It is also a city that is accessible on other levels: emotional, aesthetic, and historic. Québec evolved historically in such a way that for centuries visitors have always been up close and personal with day-to-day life in the city. This is the very nature of Québec. And the proximity of inviting and well-planned sites (and their abundance of sights, and sounds), restaurants, boutiques, and many other amenities, is one of the reasons why the Québécois in this capital city are so welcoming and friendly. What you will not encounter here is urban sprawl nor a city that has surrendered to the internal combustion engine.

Québec is also an all-seasons destination, close by some of the best protected wilderness areas in Canada. It is of course one of the premier ski destinations in North America where skiing is more than mountains; it is a comprehensive cultural experience. Major ski resorts are withing easy driving distance of Québec City and you can choose to either stay in the city and travel to the hills or vice versa. Some ski aficionados arrange to do both. Excellent facilities, accommodations, and transportation make this very possible.

Gastronomie!

When you think Québec, think also a gastronomic destination. As many non-Canadian visitors I meet when I am there have told me, “It’s like being in Paris.” And like Paris and other world-class cities, you can choose the cuisine that suits your fancy, although traditional Québécois cuisine served in restaurants in historic buildings never fails to please.

My favourite and personal recommendation is Aux Anciens Canadiens just down the street from the city’s landmark Château Frontenac.)

And although Québécois cuisine still emphasizes the traditional elements, it too has evolved. The city is known around the world as a place where creative young chefs can make a name for themselves because it is a city in which dining well is fundamental to the culture. By the way — I hate to tell you this but — there is a MacDonald’s in Québec City, but you will have to really search to find it. As for “fast food,” there are lots of inexpensive and takeout facilities but they are as distinctive and diverse as the city itself.

The Québec City and Area CVB also publishes a regional resturant guide that is very useful. In addition, there is an excellent Gourmet Route map available for the whole region (). If you wish, you can plan your visit to Québec City and region around a gastronomic theme.

Québec and the Business Traveller

One of the reasons that Québec is also known as a prime North American destination is its ability to serve the convention and incentive travel business. Many of the city’s 12,000 accommodation units are located in or near Old Québec, including 2000 international class rooms. It is a city that has managed to maintain its old world authenticity and yet integrate facilities for the modern corporate marketplace. Its abundance of cultural and leisure activities are a “value-added” feature to the convention or corporate clients.

Declaring my bias

As you may well have guessed, I am a particular fan of Québec and have travelled to it in all seasons, more times than I can remember. But each time I visit Québec, there is always something new to discover.

Like Paris, Québec too is a “moveable feast.”

Fast facts about Québec

The St. Lawrence at Québec is only about one kilometre wide. The islands in the river at this point (making navigation difficult) and the Cap-Diamant promontory on which the Upper Town and its fortifications were built make for a defence system.

Jacques Cartier was the first European to arrive in Québec City in 1535. He met there native people whose ancestors had been in the area for thousands of years. The native village at the time was called Stadacona. The word Québec probably comes from an Algonquin word meaning “narrowing of the river.”

In 1608 Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post and the first Habitation in what today is the Lower Town of Québec City. Québec’s strategic location on the St. Lawrence was of course crucial to this industry (the main reason the European powers were interested in North America), and for centuries thereafter Québec remained a key transfer point for domestic and foreign trade.

At the time of what is known as “The Conquest” (La Conquête) in 1759, the population of Québec was only about 8000 people. Some French-Canadians would argue that Britain did not “conquer” them but that they were in fact “abandoned” by many from the bourgeoisie who returned to France. In any case, it was the very short Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 that decided the fate of North America. The battle is said to have lasted less than a half an hour and both the French General Montcalm and the English General Wolfe were wounded on the field of battle and later died. If it weren’t for this battle and the Louisiana Purchase in the United States, the North American continent might today be predominantly a French-speaking civilization.

Some perrenial favourites in Québec City

(a) Place Royale in the Lower Town

(b) The panoramic view from Lévis (Take the ferry from the Old Port.)

(c) People-watching anywhere. If you take a photograph of locals, don’t be surprised if they come up and talk to you; they are just being friendly or we say in French, chaleureux. Eye contact in Québec, by the way, is a good thing.

(d) Walking the back alleys in the Old Town

(e) Having a picnic on the Île d’Orléans at Sainte-Pétronille on the tip of the island and looking back dreamily at the skyline of the city

The Québec Winter Carnival. Québec is always en fête (celebrating) but no more so than in winter. Winters can be glorious in Québec; the season is part of the soul of the people.

(f) Browsing the art galleries, antique stores, and book shops almost anywhere in Québec.

(g) Watching street performers — and the crowds that gather to applaud them. All of Québec city is a theatre. And everyone, inlcuing the visitor, plays a role in it.

(h) Taking a tour of the magnificent Château Frontenac and realizing why Canada’s great railroad hotels were so important to the devleopment of this country.

(i) Experiencing first-hand the passion of Québec City and the Québécois people.

L’Île d’Orléans

A half-hour from downtown Québec City is a destination-within-a-destination that is not be missed. The Île d’Orléans is the true cradle of French civilization in North America. This small fertile island in the middle of the St. Lawrence just down river from Québec city itself is a pastoral setting of great charm and historic value.

Here more than 300 of the first families came from north-west France to establish permanent homes in La Nouvelle France in the 17th century. And many Québécois today can trace their roots to this bucolic piece of Québec. It is a lush, poetic landscape in which forests, meadows, and peaceful shorelines embody much of what the Québécois consider their essential heritage.

A tour of the island, whether by car, hiking, or by bicycle will take you through some of the most beautiful and historic villages in North America. Traditional Québécois houses and architecture blend with the natural beauty of the island.

The Troubadour of L’Île d’Orléans

Québec’s cultural industries – music especially – are the heartbeat of this Canadian province. And Félix Leclerc is a name you will hear often in Québec and especially on the Île d’Orléans where he and his ancestors made their home. Perhaps more than any other artist, he represents the soul of Québec.

This singer, songwriter, and social conscience of Québec is still remembered and honoured for his role in preserving through his music the distinct culture of Québec. When you visit the Île d’Orléans, be sure to spend some time at the Espace Félix-Leclerc (See www.felixleclerc.com) where you will discover not only a great artist but the spirit of Québec.

Of his many ballads that communicate Québécois culture and universal, humanistic messages, my favourite still his a song Moi mes souliers (Me and my shoes). In his deep, resonating voice and accompanying himself on a simple acoustic guitar, Leclerc sings about the human voyage. Like all his poetry, this song imbues the simplest (and perhaps most personal) object with profound meaning. It is a song about the human experience, from birth to death. But it is also a song about the eternal nature of a commitment to humanistic social values and to learning through direct experience. Leclerc is a traveller’s poet.

Here is a brief excerpt from that song accompanied by an English translation.

Moi, Mes Souliers

Moi, mes souliers ont beaucoup voyagé

Ils m’ont porté de l’école à la guerre

J’ai traversé sur mes souliers ferrés

Le monde et sa misère….

Au paradis, paraît-il, mes amis

C’est pas la place pour les souliers vernis

Dépêchez-vous de salir vos souliers

Si vous voulez être pardonnés.

Me and my shoes have travelled afar

They have taken me from school to war

In my rough-shod shoes I have made my way

Through the world and its unhappiness….

Paradise it would seem, dear friends

Is no place for brand new shoes

So hurry now and muddy your shoes

If you wish to find redemption.

A Québec musical archive

Before his death, Félix Leclerc appeared at a now historic concert accompanied by his equally legendary comrades in song Gilles Vigneault and Robert Charlebois. To the great delight of his audience, he sang Moi Mes Souliers.

You can listen to this song by clicking here.

In this audio archive, you will also hear Gilles Vigneault sing his classic Québécois song Mon Pays, which became the unofficial “national” anthem of Québec.

Following this, Leclerc, Vigneault, and Charlebois also sing in unison another classic Québécois song by Raymond Lévesque, Quand Les Hommes Vivront d’Amour (When Men Live for Love). The latter is song that, in my view, embodies the idealism that is at the heart of the culture of Québec.

These three artists all represent a cultural-political movement in Québec that throughout time has assured that a distinct Québecois culture has survived and continues to flourish.

To Québec by train

If you are coming to Québec from some other Canadian city or from New York (combined VIA-Amtrack service), you might want to consider travelling by VIA, Canada’s passenger rail service. I especially recommend the VIA 1 First Class service which is fully inclusive, comfortable, and relaxing. For more information, visit VIA’s website at www.viarail.ca.

POSTCRIPT

Press Release For immediate distribution

Top Event in Canada

Québec City

The American Bus Association (ABA) just remarkably underlined the strong tourist attraction that Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition (www.quebecfireworks.com) represents as well as the exceptional quality of its pyromusical shows by awarding them the coveted distinction of «Top Event in Canada for 2005».

« It is with great joy that we have welcomed this news. For us, being in the list of the 100 most appreciated events in North America was already wonderful in itself, however being selected by the ABA in first place of all Canadian events, is quite an honor. It is 10 years of hard work and success which are crowned », has declared Mr. Marcel Dallaire, producer of Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition.

The list of the 100 best events in North America according to the American Bus Association is unveiled each year after a committee, composed of professionals from the tourist industry, examines hundreds of events throughout United States and Canada.

Selected among different celebrations, festivals, or commemorative events, the winners share the top spot in this list, which is an important tool for tour operators in the tourist industry. Furthermore, it is during the unveiling of the 100 best events, that the American Bus Association designates the #1 events for United States and Canada.

«By crowning Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition the #1 event in Canada, the ABA offers international visibility for the entire Quebec Region. Indeed, the North-American tourist industry uses the ABA list to elaborate its group packages and to improve the quality of product they offer to their clients. It is therefore a unique opportunity for the entire region. Clearly, this first place obtained by Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition will have enviable repercussions», to conclude Mr. Dallaire.

-30-

Source : Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition

Information : Serge Martel Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition (418) 692-3736

NEWS BULLETIN…

From CBC News Thursday, November 13, 2008

A map of Eastern Canada drawn by French explorer Samuel de Champlain has sold at auction for $286,570 Cdn, three times its estimated price.

Sotheby’s auction house in London said the work sold to a private collector, but did not give the home country of the new owner.

The rare map of the St. Lawrence River and Eastern Canada, including what is now Newfoundland, was originally estimated to sell for $75,000.

Drawn in 1612, it includes four figures of First Nations people, illustrations of fish, seals and vegetation the French explorer encountered on his voyage to the new world.

Sotheby’s called the map “the most important single map in the history of Canada” adding that Champlain had used it in a political struggle to get resources for further voyages and eventual settlement.

“Champlain is more than a cartographer,” said a Sotheby’s expert. “He is also Canada’s first exploration artist. The great map of 1612 shows for the first time the diversity of Canada ‘s wealth.”

By the time Champlain drew this map and wrote his Les voyages du Sieur de Champlain, he had explored the Fundy Coast, Cape Cod and the St. Lawrence region and established Quebec as the site of a settlement.

The London auction house said several bidders, calling in from different continents, bid up the price of the rare document.

Library and Archives Canada has a copy of the Champlain map, one of several copies that survived from a 1613 print run of his map and travel accounts.

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