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Quebec City Alive With Art, Music and Snow.
The true French part of Canada, the Quebec region, with its capital city Montreal, is very much America without the Americans – it has become a unique area encapsulating the 17th-century spirit of frontier life, with contemporary respect for the environment and freedom of spirit. 2% of the world’s forest is located in Quebec – 20% of Canada’s total forest – and it could be that the dominance of the surrounding nature has created greater respect for it. This and the fact that the extremes of the weather control life to a much greater extent than most Europeans are used to, might be the reason for the unique joie de vivre of the Quebecois and their indomitable community spirit.
Quebec City was at one point vying with Montreal and Toronto to become the capital of Canada and as such has several government offices. It means it has a deep sense of society, culture and of history – from the strict preservation of the buildings in the Vieux Quartier (Old Quebec) to the year-round Farmers Market within the Marché du Vieux-Port, there is a feeling that ‘chain stores’ would not fit in and ‘local’ is strongly encouraged. It is, therefore, a great place to enjoy as a local without spending much money.
A confluence of French and English traditions, the city’s artistic and cultural heart is very active, with art spaces, galleries, and museums. Gallery browsing is welcome, with many shop owners more than happy to explain the history behind the pieces they are selling. I found this out by doing a whistle-stop tour of the art galleries and antique shops close to the Auberge Saint Antoine and did not once feel my meanderings were unwelcome.
Don’t be afraid of the language issue. Even for those whose native tongue is French, the version spoken in Quebec is often difficult to understand. Isolated from France for centuries, and unaffected by the strict control of the language that started in the 19th century in Europe, Quebec has developed its own accent with many words and constructs similar to those used in the 16th century. Aware of this, most shop owners speak English.
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Festivals in Quebec:
Winter and Summer – Le Festival d’été de Québec or FEQ (our Irish colleague had fun with that acronym!) takes place in July. This massive Canadian festival boasts over 250 performances at 10 indoor and outdoor venues, with this year’s line-up including Lorde, The Weeknd, The Foo Fighters, The Chainsmokers, Shawn Mendes and Neil Young as well as many other well-known acts. Attracting over a million people over the 11 days there are art events as well as the headline music.
In winter there are two big events. The Quebec Winter Carnival, with parades and the infamous Bonhomme, and the Jamboree which celebrates snowboarding and free ski. There are also Christmas markets and a New Years Eve event. It seems Quebec City never stops partying during the winter.
Contemporary and Inuit Art in Quebec:
Influences from Bruegel and the Dutch golden age to Andy Warhol can be seen in work produced by local artists, and even if you don’t venture out to the Musee National des Beaux-Arts or one of the many galleries in the area, you will see the work in shops and hotels in the city. My particular favourite gallery was Gallerie La Croix – tucked away, it brought Canadian and European artists together and had everything from Steam Punk influenced work to old Dutch masters.
A visit to Rue de Tresor, Quebec City’s equivalent of Montmartre in Paris, is a must, though there are more artists in the summer than the winter. There are some talented artists and a unique piece is always a great keepsake.
Marché du Vieux-Port, Quebec Farmers Market:
The farmers market that looks like it’s in a blue tin shed at the edge of a car park is actually a true hidden gem, being tardis like inside. If you like Old Spitalfields in London then you will love this place.
Throughout the market produce is local and in winter the speciality is fish. However, as a visitor, you cannot leave here without something containing Maple syrup. The Quebec region produces 77% of the worlds maple syrup (it’s the local oil and there are quite a few Dallas style news stories!) so it is also used widely in local recipes. The province also grows blueberries, a fruit that accounts for a third of all fruit production in Canada, with lots of signs along the highway in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean for ‘bleuets’ or wild blueberries. With the effect of climate change being seen in the number of spring frosts in the last 20 years, this area is now vying with Maine for blueberry production.
If you are a keen cook I’d definitely recommend the blog of the Marche as there are some unique recipes to try – Emu burger with Rhubarb ‘ketchup’ anyone?
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency (Montmorency Falls Park):
This park is a short drive outside of the city. In the winter it’s a playground for ice climbers and in the summer it can be reached by train, enjoying the view along the river. Taking the cable car up to the bridge across the falls we were able to sense the immense power of the water under the ice, still flowing despite the frozen top layer. You can then warm-up with a quick visit to the museum, or you might catch a glimpse of a dog pulling its owner in the snow.
La Citadelle, Quebec:
La Citadelle is sited at the highest point of the rock outcrop, straddled by that Quebec City. The largest British-built fortress in North America La Citadelle took 30 years to complete between 1820 and 1850. The Citadelle was recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1980 and is part of the Historic District of Old Québec, placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985.
It is still a working military site which has housed both British troops and the Canadian artillery. Today, the Citadel is occupied by the only Francophone infantry contingent of the Regular Canadian Armed Forces – the Royal 22e Régiment – who have called the site home since 1920. The views are stunning from this lofty vantage point and you can sense why so many battles were fought at this rock outcrop along the Saint Lawrence River, during the 17th century.
Quebec City is Canada’s ‘great wall’ – a UNESCO heritage site, a prestigious award for the only remaining fortified city in North America, north of Mexico. A site of several battles and sieges, the British began strengthening the existing walls, after they took Quebec City from the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, thus creating the gateways now seen. Whatever season you visit you will find that there is something to see, do, and be part of, within these walls.
Check my previous feature for more about Quebec Winter Carnival which runs from Friday 8th to Sunday 17th February 2019
For more information about how to dress for the Canadian Winter do read my packing advice for cold weather travel.
I travelled as a guest of the Québec Tourist Board