Quebec City Once Again!

There is no such thing as a “senior citizen” in Quebec City. Instead, there is the “third generation.” The first generation is from birth to age 35; the second generation is from 36 to 65, and the third generation is from 66 and up. This nomenclature erases images in mind of a senior citizen being white-haired and clutching a wobbly cane. But being in the third generation is more value-neutral.

While in Paris, if one attempts to speak French, he is instantly corrected and told to speak English, please. In Quebec, if you wish to speak French, go ahead and speak it. The people of Quebec City are fully adept in both languages, and they will gladly fill in the word you are searching for such as “bedding,” and after they hear you say “les choses pour le lit,” they will say “la couverture” and allow you to continue with your French. But if you’re really stuck, switch to English as will they.

In Quebec City, the architecture remains for the most part in Norman style. You don’t see a modern, pseudo-Italian Renaissance home in the midst of a row of old stone homes with quaint flower-boxes in the windows. Even modern hotels are built in keeping with the surroundings.

One thing I love about Quebec City and the entire province of Quebec is that all traffic signs are in French only as opposed to being bilingual in all the other Canadian provinces. It provides a quick way of learning simple French while walking the streets of ancient Quebec. They have a saying, “Si on veut aller à l’Europe, Pourquoi pas conduire une auto a Quebec?” (If one wants to go to Europe, why not drive a car to Quebec?) And true enough, once you see the Chateau Frontenac in the distance, you know you’re in for a treat, a treat of winding streets lined with flower-boxed homes, or bakeries with delicious French bread, or even Irish pubs with “la biere Mooshead en fut” (Mooshead beer on tap).

And one marvelous thing about the shops is that they include, here and there, Native Canadian art stores (such as La Boutique Sachem) where you can find wooden face masks from the Pacific Northwest or ivory and soapstone carvings from arctic Canada as well as colorful native jackets and sweaters from northern Quebec and Labrador.

But what is most remarkable about the beautiful city of Quebec is that it consists of two cities, upper and lower with a funiculaire connecting the two. The upper city rests on the high slopes of Cape Diamond while the lower city fronts the mighty Saint Lawrence River and the Ile d’Orleans just offshore.  Many visitors take the ferry boat, churning the waters between Quebec City and Levis, just to get a magnificent view of Quebec City on the way back.

From the Chateau Frontenac you can stroll along the promenade of the upper city that overlooks the Saint Lawrence River flowing through the “Narrows” (Kebecin Algonquin) on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is fun to ride the funiculaire down to the lower city with its winding streets and beautiful frescoed walls that depict the history of the settlement of this great city back through the centuries to 1607 and earlier, and stop at a café (like Le Cochon Dingue) to sample some utterly delicious French Onion Soup.

Did I mention that Quebec City is the only walled city in North America? These gray-stoned walls were constructed over a period of time between 1690 and 1745. Today’s modern streets like Rue St. Jean and Rue St. Louis pass through the ancient gates of these walls that defended the city from attack, at least until 1747 when British General Wolfe and his brigade made a sneak attack on the city on the Plains of Abraham to defeat French forces even though General Wolfe died of gunshot wounds shortly after the battle. French speaking Quebec became part of England until the Dominion of Canada was founded in 1867 with ten distinct provinces, each one having unique laws and services to accommodate the local population.

La Belle Province de Quebec remains part of the dominion despite separatist movements back in the 1960’s and 70’s.  It is well worth visiting the majestic Quebec Parliament building if only for its historic paintings of French leaders of the past and present including the French sixteenth-century explorer Jacques Cartier. You get the sense that each province has a bit more autonomy than the 50 states of U.S.A.

Laws passed by this parliament relate specifically to French speaking Quebec by preserving and maintaining French customs and language as does the very flag of Quebec with its five fleurs de lys.

I love Quebec City as does my Irish-born wife, Maura. She felt as though she were back in Europe as we strolled along the winding streets of old Quebec, just as I had explored them over sixty years ago when I was a French major visiting from Rutgers University. Maura greatly appreciated the people of Quebec who greeted Irish immigrants escaping the famine with open arms in 1847. In fact, one of the four fleur de lys symbols lining the sides of Quebec’s flag honors Irish settlers. (The grand fleur in the middle is for Quebec itself, and the smaller ones for the Irish, the Scottish, the British, and the French). That revelation touched Maura’s heart. Later in the day, we ambled along the promenade as the skies grew darker and the Chateau Frontenac became a giant beacon of light atop Cape Diamond high above the rest of the city.

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