Quebec City’s ‘old world’ charm makes it a popular destination for RV travelers. Canadians are fortunate to have such a perfectly preserved slice of the country’s history. With its forts, battlefield parks, magnificent stone buildings, and tantalizing shops along narrow streets, Quebec City is ready to welcome you.
Some 400 years ago France began sending explorers to North America with the intent of creating the Country of New France. In 1608 Samuel de Champlain landed on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, just where the river passes a large island and then narrows abruptly. Stadacona, a small Iroquois settlement, was nearby and it was there that Champlain proceeded to build the base camp for what he predicted would be a prosperous, and wealthy nation.
His l’Habitation was protected with a palisade of stakes, which surrounded a crude fort with several floors. It was rushed to completion and took up much time that should have been used to hunt and store away food for the winter. The winter devastated them, leaving only a handful of the 25 men who wintered there alive. It was a poor start for the fulfillment of Champlain’s dreams.
The camp persevered and the present day city of Quebec is the net result of the tumultuous centuries that have passed. The British never ceased in their efforts to displace the French and for a short period they were successful but were then driven off, though they continued attacks over the years. Meanwhile, the French built their ramparts, and their gates, and the stone buildings, and their churches.
Religion played a large part in creating the beautiful structures you will see in the city. Huge churches are open for visitations. The early settlement became more active as fur trading took hold, and shiploads of furs headed back to Europe. The settlement exported forestry products. Everything seemed to be going well.
In 1759, the British were back and laid a three-month siege. Quebec City was well placed for defence, located on high cliffs overlooking the river but it fell to the British by a strange twist of fate. All attacks onto the land had been met with disaster because of the well-established safe fighting positions of the French, who even used the fortified stone homes along the riverfront. Something, perhaps money and strong drink, gave General James Wolfe some information that led him into a secret attack on a least likely place,
a high sheer cliff with a battery of guns on top. His informer told him about a narrow track that led to the top of the cliff. A small group of British cleared out the sentries and left the cliff free for General Wolfe to lead his troops to the top. The morning brought an unhappy surprise to the unsuspecting French General Montcalm who ordered an attack without waiting to gather up his outspread troops and guns. The battle was short. The British overwhelmed the enemy. Sadly, both brave generals died in the battle.
It’s this history that makes Old Quebec City such a great tourist destination. A visit to the Citadel is a good way to start your trip. The Citadel is the largest fortress on the continent. The changing of the guard ceremony at 10 am should not be missed. The huge star-shaped fortress was built in the 1770’s after attacks on Canada from the country to the south.
Nearby, to the west, is the huge park featuring the Plains of Abraham where General Wolfe fought the battle that turned the ownership from France to England. A short visit to the Plains of Abraham Museum is an excellent way to see the history and learn about what to see as you stroll on the battlefield.
Stroll easterly past the Citadel on the Promenade des Gouverneurs. This path is on the edge of the cliff, high above the river. Views to Old Quebec’s Lower Town and across the river are definitely outstanding. It’s a perfect place to see how the French made use of a great place for defence.
Head east to the Chateau Frontenac, to see what is possibly the most photographed building in North America. There is no doubt as to why. This hotel is an immense stone landmark, of excellent old-world design, sitting high above the river near the cliff edge. It was designed, and built for the Canadian Pacific Railway, to encourage travel across Canada by the well-todo. It played host to two Quebec Conferences where the WWII allies met to plan strategy. The hotel is designated as a National Historic Site. At the front, there is a long boardwalk with good views of lower town and across the river, which provides access to the funicular. Rows of historic cannon still remain placed strategically to protect the town.
Visit the lower town by taking the rather steep set of stairs, or if you don’t need the exercise, ride the funicular. The historic Lower Town is like a visit to a medieval town in Europe. The cobblestone streets are narrow, and lined with gaily painted shops. The mixture of colours, red roofs, and white buildings, or tan buildings next to white, makes it feel like you are entering a warm, welcoming part of town. The shops are filled with souvenirs, or antiques, and refreshments are available at cosy bistros. Artists putting on a variety of shows may occupy the streets. Here and there you may find a square with a fountain, and benches on which to rest and view the street. The tall belfries looming above the smaller buildings add to the European ambiance.
There are several examples of religious heritage, in fact, there are over one hundred churches, two cathedrals, and two basilicas. The Basilica Notre-Dame de Quebec dates to 1647 and is a National Historic Site. If the outside design attracts you, wait until you enter this huge building with its great vaulted ceiling, paintings, and statues.
I don’t suggest you attempt driving in the historic part of the city. The narrow streets, horse-drawn carriages, local drivers, and crowds of people don’t make it easy. Searching for parking may keep you behind the wheel as you
look and look. A better idea would be to leave the vehicle at your lodgings and take one of the many tours that are available. The tour guide will keep you informed with interesting commentary along the route. There are even open-topped tour buses that let you on and off at fixed stops. Make sure you visit Montmorency Falls, an impressive waterfall of white water and spray, marking the location where many local residents go for rest and relaxation.
Quebec City has several campgrounds around the perimeter. One of the most convenient is Quebec City KOA on the south side of the river. They work with a tour company and you can select from several city tours, and for an extra fee, be picked up at the campground.
If a visit to Quebec City is not yet on your agenda this winter, give it another thought. For a city with European charm, it’s a lot closer than Europe, and its Canadian history, and great architecture will draw you back again and again.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION For an overview of tours: https://www.toursvieuxquebec.com/en/home
For a PDF guide of tours: https://www.toursvieuxquebec.com/assets/files/ guide-tours-vieux-quebec-2017.pdf
Clockwise: The Old Walls, the harvest, Montmorency Falls, Old Town Shop and mural of Old Town.