Canada’s most beautifully built city
Quebec's Rue de Petit Champlain is one of the oldest and narrowest streets in North America. (Denis Corriveau/LPI)
When Samuel de Champlain founded a remote fur trading settlement on the icy shores of the St Lawrence River in 1608, he could not have guessed what Québec City would become. Today, that remote outpost is the capital of French-speaking Canada, full of European architecture that remains untouched by time. In 1985, the Americas’ only remaining fortified colonial city north of Mexico was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. There is no other North American metropolis that has such a diversity of architecture, so proudly preserved.
Here is a guide – not just for architecture lovers, but for anyone who loves to journey through history – to the architectural highlights of Canada’s most beautifully built city.
Rue de Petit Champlain
Named for the city’s founder, the much-photographed Rue de Petit Champlain is one of the oldest and narrowest streets in North America. It is also a perfect place to breathe in the earliest architecture of Nouvelle France -- a style that adapted the 17th- and 18th-century architecture of Normandy and northern France to Québec’s colder climate. After a catastrophic fire razed many of the settlement’s early wooden structures in 1682, new regulations dictated that all buildings be made of stone, have two stories, be semi detached and have metal roofs with an incline of precisely 52 degrees, steep enough to aid in the removal of snow. Today this pedestrian thoroughfare, lined by an orderly procession of former fur trader and merchant houses, is the heart of Québec City’s Lower Town, a shopping and restaurant district close to the banks of the St Lawrence River.
Crowning the escarpment of Cap Diamant and towering above the city’s Upper Town, the spectacular Fairmont Le Château Frontenac dates back to 1893. Built in Neo-Chateau style, the hotel incorporates Scottish baronial elements such as myriad towers and turrets, while retaining the steep metal roofs of Nouvelle France. The building, which looks like a fairytale castle, is at its most breathtaking when lit up at night. A visit to take tea here is recommended.
This cosy dwelling is the oldest surviving private residence in Québec City, dating from 1675, on Rue Saint Louis in the Upper Town. It has stout stone walls that are roughly plastered and whitewashed, and a steeply sloping cherry red roof punctuated by dormer windows. The residence has survived its fair share of battles, as evidenced by the cannonball lodged in a tree opposite, and now houses a commendable restaurant, Aux Anciens Canadiens
The city walls
The massive stone ramparts that surround the Upper Town of Old Québec were developed between 1608 and 1871, mostly by the British after they took Québec City from the French in 1759. There are 4.6km of walls, punctuated by four impressive stone gates. Visitors can stroll along much of their length to get a bird’s eye view of the old town. Inside the walls is also La Citadelle, a fort whose star-shaped fortifications served as a British army vice-regal residence in the 1800s. Tours of the walls and the Citadelle are essential for learning about Québec’s history and military architecture.
Basilica Notre Dame de Québec
Set in the Latin Quarter of the Upper Town, the Basilica Notre Dame de Québec was established in 1633 and is the oldest parish church in the New World north of Mexico. The church has twice been destroyed by fire and ruined by military bombardment. Its latest iteration was constructed in 1925, staying true to the Neoclassical original. Inside it glitters with ornate gold statuary, tromp l’oeil clouds and kaleidoscopic stained glass.
L’Hôtel du Parlement
Just outside the walls of Old Québec’s Upper Town, Québec’s fleur-de-lis flag proudly flies atop the 52m-tall clock tower of the National Assembly building. Built by Eugène-Étienne Taché in the Second Empire style that was popular between 1877 and 1886, the Parliament Building emulates prestigious edifices in Europe and the United States from the late 19th Century. Stroll along the facade to view 24 statues of historical figures, including Québec City’s French discoverer Jacques Cartier and the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain.
Quebec City with Lonely Planet
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