The February Escape to Montreal, Part 7: Quebec City

Quebec City, QC (Map)

Winter 2013-14


Leaving Chicoutimi around 1:30, I found the narrow, winding roads of downtown Quebec City around 4pm. Parking the car and walking towards the $79/night room, I couldn't believe the location and the view that I was getting in exchange for this reasonable sum of money. The aged hotel building and time of year were paying off.

(And here I've paid almost double $79/night to stay in sprawling wastelands elsewhere (Sacramento, Gander).)

Entering the narrow townhouse turned hotel, I walked up tight stairs to the third floor, a young man happy to take a room up here, where it might be a hard sell in a tourist city to seniors with mobility issues.

Quebec City was the first city on this trip which didn't have an indoor skatepark. This afforded me with night hours to go out and shoot pictures instead, although I don't know if I would have did the same in blustery Chicoutimi or rowdy Montreal.

The opportunity to take night shots of Chateau Frontenac might have also added some extra motivation.

For years now, ever since I started writing about cities & travel on BRN, people have insisted that I need to see Quebec City since it's the closest thing to a European city that we have in North America. A city which I'd surely love.

After a place is recommended about 20 times, you go into it with high expectations and excitement towards finally reaching this acclaimed capital (although as a geography nerd, I was equally excited about Chicoutimi, ha ha).

I have to admit that I had some reservations since Quebec City came so heralded because of its European feel, but my favourite cities aren't all that European. Detroit, Slovakia? St. Louis, Moldova? Cincinnati, Andorra?

Although on the other hand, there is a special place in my heart for that tiny, old, downtown portion of Trois-Rivières that looks like it belongs to a small city along the French countryside. If you multiplied that historic district's size by 10, would it make a city that I love and long for?

Anyway, it was time to go out tonight, the last free night of this trip.

Nowadays with pubs being all the rage, I figure that most of the ones I happen to come across have only been there for a few years. The first Quebec City pub was Pub St. Patrick, surprisingly operating there since 1993, but amazingly the building dates from 1749, where the Livernois family originally ran a pharmacy and later a photography business.

The Pub St Patrick wasn't anything special to me in the first area - your standard bar/live music venue - but after opening into a beer garden room, we were then through narrow doors to these quiet backrooms with exposed stone and multiple fireplaces. I'm so skeptical and accustomed to newer buildings that I thought the stone might have come from the famous McMansion Quarries of the 21st century, but boy was I apparently wrong (1749, eh!).

Eventually tiring of their lackluster draft selection, it was off to a second place, where I was sure that this pub of high ceilings couldn't be that old - but then yeah, the Pub St-Alexandre building was built in 1887 as a hat store, converted into the Colonial Tavern in 1947, before becoming the current pub in 1987.

It was time to take my uncultured self back to the 1876 hotel. Thankfully I can't seem to figure out the age of the late night poutine building.

The next morning brought plenty of time before the afternoon hockey game, so after nearing Pub St Patrick again to examine and pass up a breakfast place, an eastward turn led to new European streets, although the Quebec Seminary would get in the way soon enough.

The seminary was fine from the back and truly shined out front.

There are buildings on this campus that date from the late 17th century, although I believe the building in my picture was rebuilt in 1855 following a fire.

I grew a bit annoyed with where the seminary pushed me off course since I wanted to go east, then round back and cover a big swath of the city. The seminary had other plans as I came to the front of the building, where there were impassable cliffs dropping into woods on the other side of Rue des Remparts.

So I rounded back towards Chateau Frontenac, appreciating its beauty and the sereneness of this calm day of sunny skies, before hooking a left down Côte de la Montagne, a street so steep that there were handrails along the building side of the sidewalk.

It was here that I found the Breakneck Stairs leading down to Petit Champlain as they have since 1635 (obviously the stairs have been restored a few times).

Petit Champlain was my favourite part of downtown Quebec, a narrow street of well maintained old homes and staircases parallel to the St. Lawrence. It was a good lesson in sometimes rolling with the punches and seeing where a city takes you.

While I didn't have much interest in parting with my money at any of the stores in this commercial district, I loved the discovery of this wonderful picturesque neighbourhood tucked away under an adjacent hill. Some of my money would be left in Petit Champlain after all, as it was time to have breakfast.

One nice bonus of Petit Champlain was that there was a funicular that goes up the hill - forget walking back up!

The funicular put us right in front of Chateau Frontenac, near the gazebo where I was taking pictures the night before. Walking past additional decorated gazebos, a double set of stairs led up to the Promenade des Gouverneurs, where suddenly the walls of the Quebec Citadelle stood to the right.

I'd walk on the outer walls of the Citadelle, eventually finding myself in front of the fort, where I then walked inside and looked around inside the next fortification wall. Unfortunately, the price, lack of time and the need for a guide meant that I'll have to come back if I ever want to see the actual fort buildings inside the inner sanctum of the active installation.

Wandering west from the citadel, I happened upon the Quebec Armoury, something which I had marked and marked again in my GPS as a building I wanted to see, since it suffered a devastating fire in 2008. You really should look at how amazing it was beforehand. (I wanted to see the armoury because I never believe ruined buildings are going to stay around.)

Of course in any other place - especially Windsor - I'd expect politicians to throw up their hands, bulldoze the ruins and cut ribbons with oversized scissors in front of a new Wal-Mart; but here in Quebec City, local politicians have instead harped on the feds to allot money to reconstruct their historic armoury.

There's a smidgen more hope for damaged buildings here.

Walking towards the busy Grande Allée E, the Quebec Parliament Building stood kitty-corner from us.

Up the street was the Porte St. Louis.

I knew going into Quebec City that the old town was one of only two fortified cities left in North America, but I never knew about the elaborate gates which led you through the remparts (walls) surrounding the Old Town. I had obviously driven through one of these to reach the hotel, but it was neat to be on foot and able to examine the structure more closely.

Continuing to walk around, I finally found an abandoned building, where I helped myself up to the third floor of the exterior staircase - attaining maybe the worse view of any of these pictures, where every street spots had more picturesque views, buildings and scenes.

Quebec City ended up being worth my time, so I have to tip my chapeau to those who recommended a visit over the years. Having never been to Europe, I can't say if it's the closest thing to a European city in North America, but it's certainly more European than anywhere else that I've been on this continent.

Even in having a few hours last night, all morning and part of an afternoon to explore, I realize that I only scratched the surface as I retrace my steps and look at maps of the Quebec capital. I certainly wouldn't argue against returning and seeing more.

The visit to Old Quebec City would end right now though, as it was time to drive through those gates, past the remparts and onward to see another type of Rempart.

More to come.


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Backcountry Snowshoeing to Bakers Brook Pond

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The February Escape to Montreal, Part 6:

Newer Update: The February Escape
to Montreal, Part 8: The Colisée

1 - History Pub St-Alexandre - Saint Alexandre Pub
2 - Livernois -
3 - Historical - ULaval, School of Architecture
4 - Montreal & Quebec City, Emma McKay, 2005

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