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A Trip to Quebec City

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More from Our Three-Day Trip to Quebec City:
Fortifications and Citadel | Two Views of Quebec | The Château Frontenac | Old Quebec
The Montmorency Falls | The Plains of Abraham | Two Great QC Hotels | Final Images

Montreal might be Quebec’s largest and most important city, but it’s not the capital of the province. That would be Quebec City, three hours to the north along the St. Lawrence River. The only city in Canada or the USA which has retained its original fortifications, Quebec City makes for a perfect getaway from Montreal.

Quebec City

The name of the city is officially “Quebec,” and this is how most natives refer to it. “City” is often appended to the name to help differentiate it from the province, but for locals, it’s just “Quebec.” At first, it confused us when people in Montreal would ask if we’d be “going to Quebec.” Weren’t we already there?

Quebec City was “discovered” by French explorer Jacques Cartier, who built a fort on the site in 1535 during his second voyage to the New World. But it wasn’t until 1608 that Samuel de Champlain founded a permanent settlement here. The town would grow slowly, and although it never experienced the kind of population boom that hit Montreal, it’s remained an administrative capital since its inception.

The British claimed Quebec in 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War, but the city’s heart has remained steadfastly French. In comparison with Montreal, where a significant proportion of the population speaks English, 95% of Quebec City’s population is francophone. And there are far fewer ethnic minorities here; in fact, this is the least diverse major city in all of Canada. Immigrants and industry were drawn to the booming port city of Montreal, and as a result, Quebec City has maintained a small-town feel, despite a healthy population of 700,000.

Quebec City is located where the St. Lawrence River begins to widen, on its approach the Atlantic Ocean. With Cape Diamond, its large natural promontory overlooking the river, the location is of utmost strategic importance, and was a natural spot for Champlain’s settlement. Most of the city’s historic sights are found in the walled confines of Old Quebec, which has both a “High Town” atop the promontory, and a narrow “Low Town” squished between Cape Diamond and the river.

Old Quebec doesn’t seem to have changed much in its 400 years of existence. We arrived on the morning bus from Montreal and, by the end of the ten-minute walk to our hotel, Le St-Pierre Auberge we’d already fallen in love. With its ramparts, gates, stone buildings, cobblestone streets and European architecture, Quebec City is beyond picturesque. And the locals know it. One lady we encountered during our initial explorations told us that Quebec is “la plus belle ville d’Amérique du Nord.” We found it hard to disagree.

Cheap Flights to Quebec City

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May 31, 2016 at 5:48 pm Comment (1)

The Parc des Rapides

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As the St. Lawrence River winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, most of its journey is smooth sailing. However, just before it reaches Montreal, the river hits a rough patch. Jürgen and I hiked to the neighborhood of LaSalle to check out the Lachine Rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

We started our day at the Parc Arthur-Therrien, across from the Île des Souers (or, Nuns’ Island), so-named because of the Sisters of Notre-Dame who owned it for 250 years. From this park, it would be a five-kilometer trek south to the Parc des Rapides. There’s a popular bike path running along the the St. Lawrence, but we stayed on a smaller dirt trail closer to the water, and enjoyed the riverside walk.

The path stretches along the base of a tall embankment, behind which Montreal’s buildings were hidden from view, and we found it hard to believe that we were still in the city. The weather was beautiful, and our only companions during the journey were birds, reeds, trees, and the occasional jogger. The five kilometers went by in a flash, and soon enough we could hear the rumbling of the rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

These white water rapids have long been a source of adventure for Montrealers. As far back as the nineteenth century, thrill-seekers would pack onto steamboats to navigate them. Even the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, wasn’t able to resist a ride during his visit to Canada in 1860. While in the park, we saw a few rafts full of modern-day adrenaline junkies trying their luck. These rapids aren’t the world’s most treacherous, but they look like a lot of fun.

Less adventuresome are the hoards of people who visit the Parc des Rapides for birdwatching. This is a sanctuary for migratory birds, most importantly the great blue heron. There were dozens of birders in the park, equipped with cameras and gigantic zoom lenses. While they were watching and identifying new species, Jürgen was watching them, jealously identifying their expensive photography equipment. If they’re “birders”, I guess that makes Jürgen a birderer (a word which, incidentally, seems to be impossible for Germans to pronounce).

The Parc des Rapides isn’t large; it’s about 800 meters in length, on a narrow strip of land which lays between the rapids and a tranquil inlet. You can walk up and down the entire thing in about twenty minutes, and we recommend you do so. The further south you go, the less crowded the park becomes, since not many of the birders bother to carry their heavy camera bags all the way to the park’s end.

Location on our Map

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May 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)

A Concise History of Montreal

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Five hundred years ago, Western civilization didn’t even know about the existence of Montreal Island. The Renaissance was just winding down in Europe, as the first wooden houses were being erected in a settlement called Ville-Marie. So, in order to evolve into a modern-day metropolis, Montreal has had to cram a lot into its short history. Here’s a brief rundown of the highlights.

History Montreal
2000 BC The first traces of human activity on the island of Montreal, including stone tools and evidence of campfires, date from about four thousand years ago. Before that, the island had been under the water level of the St. Lawrence River.
1142 The Iroquois form a powerful confederation. They and the Algonquin are the earliest settlers of Montreal, and each has a different name for it. The Iroquois call it Tiohtià:ke, while in the language of the Algonquin, the island is known as Moniang.
1535 The Island of Montreal is discovered for France by explorer Jacques Cartier, during his trip down the St. Lawrence River. He reports the presence of a large Iroquois settlement called Hochelaga at the base of Mont Royal.
1642 The first families arrive from France and establish a settlement called Ville-Marie (it’s uncertain when the name changed to Montreal). Although the Iroquois had abandoned the island by this time, the settlers are under constant attack from the Mohawk, who had been using it for hunting.
1701 Over 1300 Native Americans representing 40 tribes descend upon Montreal to sign a treaty known as the Great Peace and bring the Fur Wars to a close. The treaty is unique in relations with Native Americans, and most Canadian tribes consider it still active.
1760 As a result of the Seven Years War, France loses its North American territory. Montreal, along with Quebec, is ceded to the British. The island sees an upswing in immigration from Britain; by 1830, Anglophones outnumber French-speakers in Montreal.
1849 Tensions between the Crown and the independence movement finally boil over, as an angry band of rioters burns down parliament. Montreal’s short five-year period as the capital of Canada are over, and the government is moved to Ottawa. Alarmed English-speakers begin an exodus, and Montreal again becomes a majority Francophone city.
1920s Prohibition in the USA turns Montreal into a hot party-town. Nightclubs, casinos, bars, cabaret shows and strip joints gain prominence, as Montreal cuts loose to enjoy the roaring Twenties.
1960s Liberal leadership of Montreal brings about what has been called the city’s Quiet Revolution, transferring power to the people and secularizing society. The metro is introduced, utilities are nationalized, the welfare system is expanded, and the French-speaking population of the city begins to exert its influence.
1967 Montreal introduces itself to the world with the wildly successful Expo 67, which is timed to coincide with Canada’s centennial. Just nine years later, Montreal hosts the ’76 Summer Olympics, perhaps best remembered for the perfection of Romanian gymnast Nadia Com?neci.
1970 The Front de Libération du Québec sparks the October Crisis by assassinating Pierre Laporte, a member of Parliament, and kidnapping James Cross, a British diplomat. Canada sends special forces into Montreal, in its only domestic deployment of troops during peacetime, and order is soon restored.
1995 Quebec holds a nail-biting referendum on secession, which fails to pass by the slimmest of margins: just 50.58% of the province chooses to stick with Canada. The first referendum, in 1980, had been defeated by a more comfortable margin.
2016 and beyond… In December, Montreal celebrates its 375 birthday. The city has become a recognized leader in the arts, with a summer program full of events, including the world’s biggest jazz and comedy festivals. With its multilingual and cosmopolitan residents leading the way, Montreal seems certain to continue building on its status as one of North America’s most vibrant cities.
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April 23, 2016 at 9:34 pm Comments (0)
A Trip to Quebec City Montreal might be Quebec's largest and most important city, but it's not the capital of the province. That would be Quebec City, three hours to the north along the St. Lawrence River. The only city in Canada or the USA which has retained its original fortifications, Quebec City makes for a perfect getaway from Montreal.
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