Quebec City: Steps, Stones And Historic Stories
(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)
One of the most beautiful cities in Canada has to be Ville de Québec. While I’ve only seen it in spring, I imagine it would be most stunning in fall, when autumn’s fiery colours dominate the bi-level landscape.
Even though I aced geography in school, I had no idea that Québec City is situated on a rocky bluff high above the St. Lawrence. Or maybe I did, but long since forgot. Regardless, I quickly ‘discovered’ this important fact on my first walk.
Throughout the city you’ll find strategically placed public stairways that allow you to traverse up-and-down the bluff. Over the course of seven days, I estimate ascending and descending “l’escaliers” (the stairs) at least 16 times.
The smallest set was a piece of cake, with only 96 stairs to conquer. But the biggest set had 391 steps, and was the chosen spot for active residents to get their daily workout. Being an active tourist, I also did a few sessions on those stairs – making me truly appreciate living on the prairie!
One of the oldest cities in Canada, Samuel de Champlain established a permanent settlement here in July 1608. The only completely garrison-walled city north of Mexico, Vieux-Québec – or Old Québec – is an historic neighbourhood and UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than five million tourists visit every year, and it’s easy to see why.
Walking through any one of the four gates is like stepping back in time. The majority of buildings are from the 19th Century. Horse-drawn carriages carry passengers along cobble-stone streets. Stone-covered cathedrals rise above narrow alleys now lined with gift shops, restaurants and bakeries.
Just outside the walled-city, the Plains of Abraham was home to a battle in 1759 that set the course of Canada. On September 13, British soldiers approached by night, surprised and defeated the French, and took control of Canada the following year. Today, an expansive urban park houses historic monuments, stages seasonal festivals, and hosts major concerts like Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Roger Waters: The Wall.
Besides tourists, and those who get a thrill from running up staircases, Québec City also attracts people who want to learn French – like moi. Growing up with a fluently French mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, my siblings and I should all be bilingual. But we are not. Hence, the strong urge to learn French now.
After researching various destinations to study French, I chose an immersion program at Ecole Québec Monde. While they allow you to learn at your own pace, they make you sign an agreement to speak only French inside and outside of class. This was pretty nerve-wracking at first, while building enough courage to engage Quebecers in my broken questionable French.
Fortunately, the people I met were patient and helpful when speaking to them. Luckily, I managed to have some restaurant meals, do a little shopping, and find my way around town – all while honouring my agreement.
Heck, next time, I might even try sans pocket-sized French-English dictionary.