In Quebec City, history is not far away
In Quebec City, history is never far away! Be it the Chateau Frontenac, the luxury hotel that towers unmistakably on the Cap Diamant above the St. Lawrence River. Be it the plains of Abraham at the gates of the city, on which the decisive battle between the French and British for the continent of America took place. Or be it the streets in the Petit Champlain district below the city hill, where Samuel de Champlain built his wooden palisade fort - everything bears witness to the past of the capital of the province of Quebec.
This is where the first schools and universities emerged. From here the explorers set out to explore the areas west of the known settlement area. The representatives of the colonial administration also came here to enforce the ideas of the home government about life in the colonies. Witnesses of these events are the churches, school buildings and universities that still look out from the Upper Town onto the St. Lawrence River. The lower town in Old Quebec gives the impression of a city that has grown historically. You can still find traces of the founders, even if most of them have long since disappeared in the fog of time.
In the footsteps of the first settlers in Quebec City
In the quarter below Cap Diamant you can feel the closeness of the founding fathers of Quebec most intensely. At this point, Samuel de Champlain built a wooden palisade fort in 1608. There's nothing left of that today except a few names. But the cannons are still aiming at St. Lawrence. The stone houses are grouped around the Church of Notre-Dame-des Victoires as in earlier times. The church itself is said to provide support against attackers. All of this creates an attitude towards life like in France. This can be felt everywhere in the city.
The Rue Petit Champlain was already a beaten path in the time of Samuel de Champlains, which led to "Champlain's fountain". Soon there were the first houses along this path. The beaten path became a street. During the French rule, craftsmen and their families lived along the street. Working families from Ireland moved here in the 19th century. They made their living in the docks. Today dealers and shop owners have settled here.
The Ursuline Convent is located on Rue du Parloir, a street not far from Place d'Armes in Old Quebec. It is just one of the schools in the city that can be traced back to the colonial days of the French. The nuns came from France to teach the daughters of the colonists. They soon expanded their activities to include Indian tribal girls. They wanted to teach them skills that were considered necessary for the women from France. They learned to weave, sew and cook. The nuns tried to teach their protégés the culture of the colonists.
Not far away is the Séminaire du Québec near the city hall. This building is also reminiscent of the French educational policy. This was the first time that higher education was offered in Quebec. Above all, priests were trained on site. On the one hand, they should be responsible for the spiritual well-being of the colonists. On the other hand, they imparted Christianity to the natives.
The plains of Abraham were the fate of Quebec
The plains of Abraham extend in front of the gates of the city wall in the upper area of the old town. Where today a park extends to the edge of the cliff above St. Lawrence, the decisive battle between the French and British armies over the fate of New France took place on September 12, 1759. The commander of the British, General James Wolfe, met with his troops on the French army under the direction of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm. There were more than 10.000 soldiers involved in this battle. Their outcome influences the fortunes of the province of Quebec to this day.
The spot where the British, led by William Howe, climbed the cliffs is now an industrial site. The Plains of Abraham is one of Canada's National City Parks. However, the events of the battle still provide fuel for quarrels in Quebec politics: in 2009 it was planned to re-enact the battle on the Plains of Abraham. Due to protests by the separatists, these plans had to be abandoned. Violent rioting was feared. Instead, 140 texts from the history of Quebec were read. This included the FLQ Manifesto, a key document of the terrorist Front de Liberation du Québec. Federal politicians from Canada then refused to participate in the commemoration. Government funds that had already been approved for their financing were cut again. This, too, is history in Quebec that is still alive today.
Cathedral Ste. Trinité as a symbol of British rule
Not far from the Convent of the Ursuline Sisters and the Séminaire du Québec, the Anglican Cathedral stands in the center of the old town. The simplicity of its furnishings stands out clearly from the splendor of the Notre Dame Basilica. The Catholic Church is just a few meters away on Rathausplatz. Here it becomes clear what a turning point the British takeover represented for the French Canadians. In many churches in the province such as Ste. Anne-de-Beaupré, the Catholics of Quebec seem to want to emphasize their religious heritage with imposing church buildings as a symbol of their identity as French Canadians.
The most conspicuous building in Quebec is more of a symbol of compromise. The Chateau Frontenac is located in the city center on the Place d'Armes. Horse-drawn carriages wait for customers under their deciduous trees. In addition, the statue of Samuel de Champlain on the square in front of the hotel watches over the place of St. Lawrence, where it opens into a funnel up to its confluence with the Atlantic. From the Dufferin terrace you can look out at the point where the St. Lawrence River widens and flows around the island of Ile d'Orléans.
One of the railway hotels of the Canadian Pacific Railway
Even if you have never been to Quebec City, pretty much everyone knows the sight of the Chateau Frontenac in the center of the old town. No wonder, the Chateau Hotel towers over the lower town from Cap Diamant over the St. Lorenz Strom. It is such a popular photo opportunity for tourists from all over the world. It is also part of every sightseeing tour of Quebec City.
The Chateau Frontenac stands on the site of the "Vieux Chateau" (the old castle). This was the name given to the Château Haldimand, which housed the administration and reception rooms of the colonial government. In 1880 the idea of building a luxury hotel in its place came up. It was William Van Horne, the executive director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who hired New York architect Bruce Price to do the job. He was supposed to design a hotel for the passengers of his railway line.
Price was inspired by the architecture of France at the time. This initially developed into a hallmark of castle hotels in Canada. After all, the country's government buildings were even built in this style.
Opened in 1893, the hotel was an immediate success. It was expanded several times into the 20th century. The last extension was completed in June 1993 with the Claude-Pratte grand piano. There, hotel guests can enjoy the swimming pool, fitness center and terrace.
Guest list that impresses
This hotel boasts a guest list that includes Hollywood stars as well as royalty and world politicians. King George VI. from England and Queen Elizabeth, the parents of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grazia Patricia of Monaco, Chiang-Kai-Shek, Charles de Gaulle, Ronald Reagan, Francois Mitterand, Prince Andrew and Lady Sarah Ferguson, but also Charles Lindberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Montgomery Clift were already staying here.
The Chateau Frontenac even played a role in world history. This is where the Quebec Conferences took place during World War II. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and William Lyon Mackenzie King from Canada met there.
Location on the Cap Diamant
Today the luxury hotel is enthroned on the Cap Diamant. From his “forecourt”, the Dufferin terrace, one has a view of the St. Lorenz Strom, the lower town, the Petit Champlain district, the town of Lévis and the Ile d'Orleans. This seems to lie like a plug in the stream in front of the narrowing of the St. Lawrence near Quebec City. The hotel develops its charm especially in autumn, when the foliage of the Indian Summer bathes the city in warm colors, or in winter, when the snow covers the battlements and towers of the castle hotel like powdered sugar, as if it wanted to give its guests a warm welcome mean.
400 years of history in Canada's oldest city
There are few places in North America older than Quebec City. There is none among them in which history is still as present as in the capital of the province of Quebec. The city wall still encloses the old town today. It is both a symbol of the identity of the French Canadians and a sign that they are still trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of Canada. At the same time, Quebec is also a city that still looks very European. This is probably also one of the reasons why it makes an inviting impression on visitors from the Old World. It enchants visitors with its charm, the - despite all the quarrels - the harmonious cityscape and, above all, its flair, which is so reminiscent of France.
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Text: Copyright Monika Fuchs
Photos: Copyright Monika Fuchs
Note: This article first appeared in the travel magazine 360 ° Canada