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Recognizing a compelling combination of history and aesthetic appeal, the United Nations named Québec City a World Heritage City in 1985. Unfortunately, only one day of the week I spent there, eleven years later in early September, wasn’t rainy or heavily overcast. Québec City is charming even when soggy and gray, but pictures in somber tones under a leaden sky don’t convey that charm very well. I did manage to get seven fine pictures on that one nice day in Old Québec.
Jacques Cartier saw even more dreary weather than I did when he spent the winter of 1536 in the Iroquois village of Stadacona during his expedition to map the St. Lawrence River. When his compatriot Samuel de Champlain made a follow-up visit in 1608, the Algonquin people he encountered there had no idea why the Iroquois had abandoned the village. As Stadacona was at a strategic narrowing of the river, Champlain built a fort there, which he called L’habitation. But the inhabitants of the town that quickly grew up around the fort preferred the Algonquin name Kaybek, meaning “strait.”
Cartier had given the St. Lawrence River region the Iroquois name for what today might be called Metropolitan Stadacona. They called it Kanata, which meant “village,” “land,” or “settlement.” That’s how one of the first European settlements in North America provided names not only for Québec City and the Province of Quebec, but for the entire country of Canada.
Vieux Québec, the historic “Old Town,” is divided into the “Upper Town” and “Lower Town.” Enclosed within the only city wall in North America, the Upper Town is on a cliff overlooking the Lower Town and the St. Lawrence River. The boardwalk of terrasse Dufferin is at the edge of this cliff.
Terasse Dufferin fronts the Château Frontenac, the dominant landmark of Old Québec and practically a symbol of the city. Château means “castle,” but the Château Frontenac is not actually a castle. It’s one of the “château style” luxury hotels the Canadian Pacific Railway built throughout the country at the end of the nineteenth century. (Two other well-known examples are in Banff and Lake Louise, in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta.) You can easily spend several hours strolling along terrasse Dufferin, looking at views of the Château and the Lower Town.
The Château Frontenac was named after Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, the 17th-century governor general of colonial New France. New France became the British province of Quebec in 1763, after the British defeat of France and Spain in the French and Indian War.
You can walk between the Upper Town and Lower Town on any of several rather steep stairways. If you get tired you can ride the funicular, sort of a cross between an elevator and a train. The Lower Town has its own jumble of French atmosphere along the river.
Some day I’ll have to go back to Québec City and take more pictures that do it justice. But that will have to wait until I figure out how to propitiate whichever supernatural force is responsible for Canadian weather. You can read more about my experiences with the vagaries of the Great White North and its weather on the Lessons from Alberta page.