Arriving in Quebec City in the middle of the afternoon, my second stop on my way to Fredericton, I was immersed in the city’s history before I even saw its skyline, with a radio station dedicated to promoting the city’s heritage playing in the car — Quebec’s Tourism Radio, FM 89.7. After a long drive, I just wanted to roll out of the car and onto a patio to grab a glass of wine, but having never been to the Quebec City, I decided not to pass up the opportunity to see one of the oldest European settlements in Canada (only St. John’s, NF, Tadoussac, PQ, and Port Royal, NS, are older), founded 400 years ago this year by Samuel de Champlain.
Parking underneath the Hotel de Ville in Vieux-Quebec, I started my walk by wandering up to the Chateau Frontenac, where I grabbed a map that pointed out the sights of interest nearby. Behind the Chateau, after taking in the expansive view of the St. Lawrence River, I walked up the Governor’s Walk (so named because of its proximity to former and current residences of the Governor General, including the still-in-use summer residence of the Governor General in la Citadelle), which was opened to celebrate the city’s 350th birthday in 1958 (for the 400th year la Promenade Samuel-De Champlain, as well as a few other major projects, are in progress but were not yet open during my visit). The Governor’s Walk was interesting because it links Vieux-Quebec, via the Chateau, to la Citadelle and the Plains of Abraham (originally designated as a park to celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary). Running along a cliff, the walk is fairly steep, but offers rewarding views and plenty of rest areas with benches to sit down.
At the top of the walk, looking over the plains from the grass topped ramparts of la Citadelle, I was really impressed by how the park has both maintained its history yet serves a vital role in the ongoing life of the city. Walking trails traverse the rolling hills of the plains, between architectural artifacts and monuments, but it doesn’t feel feel stifled in its obligations to preserve the past, instead it feels well used, by tourists (of which there were more than lots in Vieux-Quebec) as well as by people who live in the city.
In the park I found a Martello Tower, much like the ones I saw in Kingston, only built three decades earlier after the Anglo-American crisis of 1807. Three of the original four still remain in Quebec City, one of which I saw later in a nearby street, surrounded by large homes.
I walked back into the old city past the Quebec Parliament building, a rare North American example of the ornate Second Empire style, admiring not only the architecture but the generous yet comfortable plaza in front of it. Entering the old city again, I took a moment and walked along the top of the surrounding old rampart, covered in grass and well enjoyed by people playing guitars, taking in the sunshine, or spending time with friends and loved ones (somewhat ironically between the canons that still sit within the top of the wall).
It was an interesting experience and a great example of how artifacts such as the wall, though no longer needed for their original function, contribute immeasurably to the overall appearance and experience of a city as long as people put a little imagination to how they can be re-used.