Today we took a ten hour city tour, so this post may be long, but I must start with the most compelling thing we learned from our guide today. Quebec is a city of about 750,000 and last year had one gun murder. Coming from an area where over 1,000 people have been shot thus far this year, I have to conclude that Canadian gun policies work better than ours, second amendment be damned. Thank you NRA.
On to lighter hearted topics. Quebec is an old city, founded by the Frenchman Champlain in 1608. While it is a thriving city manufacturing everything from oil derricks to military ships to the paper the Chicago Tribune is printed on, it has done a good job of retaining buildings and neighborhoods of historical interest and maintaining the appearance they had back in the day. There are many neighborhoods where you feel like you are in Europe, mostly in France but also in England, Scotland and Ireland, depending on who first settled there. Tall buildings have been prohibited and in the 1960's, all the buildings in the lower town along the St. Lawrence river were reconstructed and appear to be much as they were in the 1600's, with lots of extra flower pots thrown in. You can take a funicular from there to the upper town where the rich folks lived and it, too is now a UNESCO site and quaint no matter where you look. A major landmark in the upper city is the Chateau de Frontenac built in 1893, currently a hotel with 650 rooms.
The guide pointed out the different style roofs each nationality brought with them from home. Since the city gets at least ten feet of snow a year, it is important that the roofs can be cleared off regularly. Many had ladders fastened to them, which makes climbing up with a broom in hand a bit less challenging. Many traditional Quebecois homes have roofs which extend over the porches that flip down at the end, meaning that the snow will not fall on you even when you slam the door.
The city has many parks, the largest being the military park on the Plains of Abraham, site of the Battle of Quebec, where France lost to Britain in 1759. This site on what were thought to be impregnable cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence still has military barracks and remains of old fortifications. It is part of the 2-1/2 mile wall that surrounds the old city.
We saw no garbage, litter, or trash the entire day. A special section under some of the expressways has been designated for the local graffiti artists, who had covered the supporting pillars and walls with an amazing array of images. Les it sound like I am an unabashed member of the Quebec fan club, I should also mention that until the last two years, the St. Lawrence was so polluted it was illegal to swim there. Recent clean up efforts have improved the situation and native fish have begun to return.
The St. Lawrence has a strong tide of 17 - 21 feet as it flows past the city. The water here is 300 feet lower than it is in the Great Lakes and ice breakers work hard to control what would be 25 feet of ice that would form in the bitter cold winters to keep the traffic flowing to the locks in Montreal. Cruise ships can dock right downtown in the warmer months, making this a favorite stop for travelers.
Our tour included a lunch stop at Montmorency Falls, which are 35 feet higher than the ones at Niagra, but not nearly as impressive to look at. In the winter a 75 foot tall sugar loaf of ice forms beneath the falls in the bitter cold. Quebec has many rivers and is a world leader in hydroelectric power. These days most heating is done with electricity, since it only costs six cents a kilowatt.
Final stops on our tour began at the Shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, a huge church favored by pilgrims. The decor and massive copper doors were impressive and we stopped at the copper works where the doors had been made. Art pieces and jewelry made of copper were for sale, but we resisted temptation. On the Isle of Orleans, a strip of land with a more temperate climate in the middle of the river, we passed well tended farms and farm houses. We stopped at a farmer's market to stock up on the produce we had been afraid to bring across the border and enjoyed chocolate dipped cones made from ice cream produced from the local dairies.
All in all an impressive day. Quebec City was quaint and clean. If only it weren't so far north...