Luke’s trip to Quebec City
14th August 2017
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Quebec City while on holiday in Canada. I must admit I was taken aback by how different it is from what I was expecting. While I was prepared to speak French to the locals in shops and cafés (albeit with a rather different French accent to the one I was used to after living in France for a year) I was definitely surprised by how ‘French’ the actual city itself appeared too. It showed obvious signs of European influences, especially compared with other cities in the surrounding area, which prompted me to look into the history of the city upon my return to the UK.
Quebec City, or Québec as it is officially recognised, is the capital of the Canadian province of the same name – the only province in Canada with French as its official language. It is also Canada’s second largest province in both area and population (preceded by Nunavut and Ontario respectively), with most of its inhabitants living along the Saint Lawrence river, between Montreal and Quebec City.
In 1534, Jacques Cartier, a French explorer from Brittany, first claimed the land in the name of King Francis I as the first province of New France. Gradually, more expeditions were led from France to the St. Lawrence river and in 1663, King Louis XIV decreed New France as a Royal Province.
Despite the Seven Years War and the American Revolution taking place at the same time in the area, the population grew naturally as opposed to increasing due to sudden spikes in the number of immigrants arriving. This meant that both the French language and culture were preserved despite the geographical remoteness, and remain visible in the area even today.
The name Québec originates from the Algonquin word Kébec which literally means ‘where the river narrows’. The indigenous North American language is still spoken to a very minor degree in the area, though French remains the official language of the province, with almost 95% of inhabitants in the city speaking it as their first language. The English-speaking community reached its peak in the 1860s, when roughly 40% of residents knew the language, however nowadays Anglophones only account for 1.5% of the population. An estimated third of the city’s residents can speak both French and English, with the latter being as a second language, not their mother tongue.
Culture in Quebec City is largely dominated by its winter carnival, summer-music festival, and celebrations on Saint-Jean-Baptiste day. There are also tourist attractions nearby which include the Ice Hotel, Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort, and Montmorency Falls. I was lucky enough to visit the waterfall at Montmorency myself, where I was dazzled by spectacular views of the city from afar and the landscape of the province. The highlight though has to be taking a 300 metre-long zipwire across the waterfall. I can’t pretend I wasn’t terrified, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to do it again!
Within the city itself there are various features that make Québec a delightful and picturesque place to visit. The architecture throughout the Old Town is something to marvel at, being reminiscent of buildings characteristic to Europe and in definite contrast with the skyscrapers typical of classic North American skylines. Also worth mentioning are the citadelle, cathedral, parliament building, and ramparts which run around the city, not forgetting the walk along the St. Lawrence river waterfront – a definite favourite of mine.
While Québec is much smaller than and not at all similar to its neighbour Montreal, it is without a doubt worth a visit and brings a charming taste of Europe to the continent of North America. I would advise anyone who is considering a trip to the area to prioritise a few days in Quebec City, and I’m positive you won’t be disappointed!