Despite all of its leanings in favour of its French heritage, Quebec City owes as much to its British forebears as it does our historic rivals. Oddly enough it’s because of the British defeat over the French in 1759 that so much French culture, including language, has survived: allowing the most recent British citizens to keep their old ways made it much less likely they would side with America in the event of further hostilities south of the border. Because of this there is such a blend of influences from the two once competing nations, although unfortunately in my case this also included he weather; sweltering 30+ degree heat followed by it absolutely pissing it down.
Not that battling the elements was my first challenge, that being finding a way out of Quebec coach station at 4 in the morning. Thanks to an open gate in an underground car park I managed it eventually, and (after a decent night’s sleep) found the city to be more than worth anything it wanted to throw at me.
Within the fortified city walls, the only ones north of Mexico still standing, Vieux-Quebec is just a small part of the city overall (not that I bothered which much of the rest of it), and walking its streets it very much feels like a quaint European town. It’s no wonder the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’ was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985.
Despite its protected history however, it’s still very modern and the past and present are often combined. The citadelle overlooking the St Lawrence river is an official residence of the monarch of Canada (ie, Queen Elizabeth II) and also hosted conferences between leaders of the allied powers during WWII in which many of the details for the D-Day landings were discussed. More than this though, it is still an active military base and home to the Royal 22nd Regiment, often referred to as the ‘Van Doos’ due to the fact that they are the only French-speaking regiment within the Canadian Army.
Despite this your can still tour the historic fortifications, although only by following a guide at all times. Obviously much is off-limits (including on of the oldest brick buildings in North America, although that’s kept off the tour because it’s empty and boring), but there is also a museum which tells of he foundation and history of the 22nd Regiment, from WWI, through Korea and Afghanistan.
Standing on a citadelle lookout also gives one of the best views of perhaps its most recognisable feature, the Château Frontenac. Despite celebrating its own 125th anniversary, it was in fact itself built as a hotel, catering to those who wished to explore the city’s history even back in the 1890s and is considered to be he most photographed hotel in the world. Purpose built for tourists, obviously its link to the present means there is now a Starbucks located just behind the lobby.
Despite a few failed attempts at conversing in French (it’s appreciated that you try, but can often lead to being asked questions you can’t knowingly answer), he most confusing thing during my stay however, was an art installation called “Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant…?”, which translates to “where are you going when you’re sleepwalking?” A series of tableaus which seemed to bear no resemblance to each other, one a depiction of a protest turned riot in which most mannequins were wearing animal masks, another a long corrider decorated with shoes and wheeled objects (a pram, a skateboards, an office chair) all painted pure white which represented the stages of life, and another which I can only describe as “very performance studies” which took place in an elaborate garden.
Obviously these had deeper meanings which I failed to completely comprehend, but are much like Quebec itself. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything or just pieces here and there, the beauty is in just walking around and taking it all in.