12 Quebec City’s Top Places Visitors from Boston can Relate To

1. Upper Town and Lower Town Quebec City, a World Heritage Site since 1985!
The historic
Historic District of Old Quebec – Lower Town and Upper Town (Photo credit: Pierre Lahoud).

Like Boston, Quebec City has been a major tourist destination for years. In fact, only in the past 4 years (2016-2019), Travel & Leisure magazine readers voted for Quebec City as Canada’s “Best destination”, after being ranked within the top 3 Canadian destinations for years. With its European feel, Quebec City, the only French-speaking capital of Canada, is unique in North America.

Like Boston and its Freedom Trail, Quebec City features several historic buildings and history-related attractions. The trail that links major historic sites in Boston is replaced in Quebec City by a full ensemble of fortifications that contains the most significant sites. As long as you stay within the walls in Upper Town – an area of 1.4 acre – or you visit the Old Port in Lower Town, you stay within the UNESCO World Heritage zone, that comprises near 1000 historic buildings showcasing some French and, surprising for first time visitors, a lot of British architecture.

Historic District of Old Quebec, the UNESCO zone
UNESCO World Heritage Old Quebec protected zone.
(Source: quebec1608tours.com/our-itinerary)
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Discover here the reasons why the historic district of Old Quebec was listed by the UNESCO in 1985: whc.unesco.org/en/list/300/

2. Place Royale, continuously inhabited since 1608!
Place-Royale in Lower Town and Chateau Frontenac Hotel atop Cap Diamant.

Like Boston, Quebec City is one of the most interesting historic cities in North America. Quebec is 22 years older, but Boston has developed way faster from the beginning of the colonial era. Founded by French explorer Champlain 1 year after Jamestowne on the site of Place Royale in Lower Town, Quebec City was still a mere fur trade post with a few dozen inhabitants when Harvard was created in 1636! Fleeing religious persecutions in Europe, Bostonians did not only come to the New World to create business opportunities, the main reason that brought the French to the St. Lawrence valley, but also to settle and create new life opportunities.

Place Royale is the first permanent settlement and birthplace of Canada, being more or less Canada’s Jamestowne! In the 1970s, the houses around Place Royale were all restored as French Colonial buildings, on original foundations dating from the French rule of Canada (that is, before the French and Indian War). The original plan – that was never realized – was to create a Museum District, project that ignited the reconstruction of Place Royale. “Royale” refers to the King Louis XIV whose bust, a bronze replica of Le Bernin’s marble statue in Versailles, stands right in the middle of this square that will blow your mind!

Place Royale and nearby Petit-Champlain districts have a lot to offer, namely quality artisan shops and restaurants. There is 2 ways to reach Upper Town from Petit-Champlain: the “funiculaire”, an inclined elevator to Chateau Frontenac area, or the nearby Breakneck stairs that will take you to the top with a bit more effort and time.

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3. Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church and Château Frontenac.
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church on top of 1608 Champlain’sAbitationwhose original footprint is marked on the ground.

1690 – Boston and Quebec at war, Part I: Zero to Hero?

The end of the 1600s was one of high tension between not only the French in Quebec and the British of the Massachusetts Bay colony, but also between France and England during the Glorious Revolution, leading to the King William’s War on both continents. One of the most famous quotes taught in Canadian history classes, is Governor Frontenac’s replying to Bostonian William Phipps’s messenger: “I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouth of my cannons and muskets …”. Phipps besieged Quebec City in 1690 to retaliate the Schenectady massacre months before, a French escalation of violence for the Lachine (Montreal) massacre the year before. Phipps and his troops were defeated and returned to Boston.

Canadians know Phipps as a vanquished general, and Frontenac is clearly a Quebec City’s local hero. But what happened to William Phipps? In 1692 he became the 1st Governor of the Province of Massachusetts and eventually released dozens of women in prison on witchcraft charges. Putting an end to the Salem witch trials, and Bostonians being unaware of his disastrous defeat in Quebec City, he could have become a local hero, but he was rather recalled to England where he died in 1695. A plaque on the church facade, as well as historical information panels at nearby Batterie royale, remind the visitors the 1690 Phipps-Frontenac confrontation, from a Canadian perspective!

N.-D.-des-Victoires built in 1688, thus named after the siege of Phipps and the disaster of Walker’s fleet. It is the oldest stone church of the Province of Quebec.

Château Frontenac has been an hotel from the 1890s. It was named after Governor Frontenac whose actual “castle” – where Phipps’s messenger and Frontenac met – was on the same site during the French rule of Canada.  Frontenac’s residence – known as Chateau St-Louis – is now a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada, the Canadian National Park Service. The historic site is located under the Dufferin boardwalk along Chateau Frontenac and Parks Canada booth is located behind Champlain’s statue a few steps away.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church on Place Royale was originally named the Church of the Christ Child. After Frontenac’s victory over Phips, the name was changed to Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire (Notre-Dame-of-the-Victory) and changed a last time, to reflect a second French victory over the British during the Queen Ann’s War!

French victories over the British – during the King William’s and Queen Ann’s Wars – are commemorated in Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church on Place Royale.
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4. Quebec City Harbor, expensive naval battlefield of the French and Indian War.
The St. Lawrence River narrows down to only 1 km at Quebec City, about 700 miles away from the Atlantic coast.

1759 – Boston and Quebec at war, Part II: Who took the bill?

The 1763 Treaty of Paris that concluded the French and Indian War divided the continent in British and Spanish territories, separated by the Mississippi River. French were defeated and ceded all their territories, so French and Catholic Canadians became new British subjects, living in a new colony named “Province of Quebec”. This small 14th colony comprised mainly the St. Lawrence valley and the Great Lakes area.

French and Catholic living in a British colony? Very likely to end up with problems and dissatisfaction! Speaking of dissatisfaction, the 1773 Boston Tea Party took place only 10 years after Quebec City became a British city. Why? Any ties?

Quebec City harbor view is so impressive from the Citadel, the highest location within the walls of Old Quebec! But during the 1759 city siege, the harbor was the theater of the last and very expensive naval battle of the “British Conquest” – name given by Canadians to the French and Indian War – deploying about 35 000 professional marine and foot troops, 175 barges and ships carrying about 1900 cannons. In fact, England doubled its debt during this war, Quebec City being the theater of expensive naval and also ground operations. After the War, London decided to share the bill. The American colonies were quickly imposed taxes – on sugar, commercial stamps… and finally on tea from a British Indian company – that led to growing dissatisfaction among the American colonies.

Canadians and Bostonians were both unhappy. How could London avoid the 14 colonies to work together and drive them out of America?

Boston Tea party broke out in December 1773 and see what happened six months later: the most “intolerable act” of 5 acts – the Quebec Act – was voted in London in June 1774! Not only the taking of Quebec was expensive for Puritan Boston but, through this act, French and Catholic Canadians were given privileges and territories that the 13 colonies had claimed for years. Boston was outraged but thanks to the Quebec Act, Canadians remained loyal to the Crown of England, and said “NO” twice to American offers, even though Canadians had been conquered by those same British only a few years before! The “smart” Quebec Act was meant to preserve Canadians’ loyalty while the 4 other acts were meant to punish Bostonians! Yes, the taking of Quebec City and Boston Tea Party are related “cause and consequence” events that ignited the American Revolution.

Take a harbor cruise and immerse yourself in history that shaped the continent! And stroll the streets of the Old Port district, also known as the Art district, where you’ll find a lot of art galleries, antique shops and many top restaurants.

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The Best Quebec City Walking Tour for American Visitors!

We tell you the culture and heritage of French Canada and we connect the dots between Canadian and US History!

5. Barricade Street, memorial to the Canadians defeating Arnold, the American rebel.
Two American rebels, Arnold and Montgomery, and their troops, were defeated in Lower Town on present-day Barricade St. and Champlain Blvd where historical plaques are still visible.

1775 – Boston and Quebec at war, Part III:  Hero to Zero?

The 1774 Quebec Act is not the conclusion of that story, but rather the beginning of a new one! The commander in chief of the American army, George Washington, was so convinced that Canadians were oppressed by the British – explaining then why Canadians said “NO” twice to the Americans – that he sent troops to convince the Canadians, with arms that time! Two leaders – Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold – left Boston area in September 1775, walked through the present-day states of Maine and New York, to finally meet in Quebec at the beginning of December. Too late, too cold, too exhausted, the short siege of Quebec City was a total failure. Quebec City, the “last bastion”, was never taken – unlike Montreal in November 1775 – and a majority of Canadians remained loyal to the British! The last American invaders left the province of Quebec only 2 weeks before July 4th 1776!

In 1776, both Quebec and Massachusetts were neighbor “Provinces” – name given to some British colonies – until 1820 when the states of Maine and Missouri were created through the Missouri Compromise. Now, as we know, it is Maine and Quebec that are neighbors! But when THOMAS JEFFERSON wrote the 27 grievances of the Declaration of Independence in June 1776, he was still  upset by the rights granted to the Province of Quebec by the 1774 Quebec Act. See how he worded the 20th grievance:

“For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries…”.

Hmmm, the word “Quebec” is definitely missing here but undoubtedly Jefferson referred to that neighbor province up north, that the 13 other British colonies never convinced to join the American Revolution! Curiously, the French Canadians, new British subjects, did not officially help the Americans – even though some individuals did – but European French later took perverse pleasure in supporting the American rebels against London, until the decisive battle in Yorktown. The French, namely Lafayette, were very happy to annoy the British to whom they had ceded all their North American territories less than 20 years before.

The author at the Boston Tea Party Museum in Boston.
6. Wolfe-Montcalm Monument, the time for reconciliation had come.
Wolfe-Montcalm Monument in Parc des Gouverneurs. Montcalm’s name is placed on the opposite (hidden) side.

Like the Bunker Hill Monument, Quebec City has also an obelisk memorial. 3.3 times smaller than the Boston obelisk, the Wolfe-Montcalm monument symbolizes a major event that defined North America, the French and Indian War. Unlike Boston monument, Quebec City obelisk is located in the heart the historic district and was built as a reconciliation monument, unlike most obelisks usually symbolizing iconic victories. Both French and British commanders, the victorious Wolfe and vanquished Montcalm, are commemorated here, both names being engraved on opposite faces of the structure. A neutral message in Latin is located on the front face and indicates the reasons why both heroes share a common monument. In short, Wolfe and Montcalm were both mortally wounded during the most iconic battle of the French and Indian War, on the Plains of Abraham on September 13th, 1759, only 16 years before the first battle of the American Revolutionary War near Bunker Hill.

When the Wolfe-Montcalm memorial was built in 1828, it was a time of high tension between British and French Canadians, the latter being defeated – but never assimilated – 59 years earlier during the French and Indian War.  In the spirit of reconciliation, Governor Dalhousie offered most respected French and British heroes a common memorial: in fact, it would have been a very bad idea to only commemorate the victorious Wolfe in a context of such tension between the 2 national communities. Despite this good deed, a Civil War broke out 10 years later, triggering further discussions that finally led the creation of the Confederation of Canada in 1867. As far as casualties, this 1838 Civil War – known by Canadians as the Patriots Rebellion – has nothing to compare with the horrible American Civil War, but is symbolically as significant. From then on, British rulers accepted the fact that French Canadians would never be assimilated and that both community leaders should undertake discussions and build a strong bicultural country together. The American Civil War definitely put pressure on Canadians to create a country in a timely manner, being conscious of the American expansionism threat and the imminent availability of several armed and trained soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

Take some time to sit on the monument and enjoy the spectacular view of Quebec City harbor, the river and surrounding mountains. See the green roof church across the river in Lévis, where the British cannon batteries were settled during the French and Indian War, bombarding non-stop Quebec City for 2 months with 20 to 30 000 cannonballs and different pieces of artillery.

Useful link:

https://www.quebec-cite.com/en/quebec-city/monuments-statues (9 Monuments and Statues in Old Québec)

The Most Complete Overview of French-speaking North America!

Discover how the French Canadians spread across the continent, from Quebec City to Acadia, Louisiana and the Pacific Northwest.

7. Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, the Church of England in Old Quebec.
Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Quebec City’s first Palladian-style building.

Like Boston’s King’s Chapel, Quebec City’s Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral symbolizes the arrival of the Church of England in our Province. Boston’s original Chapel was a wooden structure built over a Puritan cemetery at the time of the English Glorious Revolution. The London message to the Bostonians was clear: Puritan Massachusetts is first and foremost an English colony!

French Canada became the British Province of Quebec as a result of the French and Indian War: French inhabitants were then ruled from London by local Governors! Only 20 years later, the USA got independent and the British inevitably were forced to leave the 13 new American colonies… Where did they go?

After the American Independence in 1783, Quebec City quickly became the new capital of British North America: featuring an impressive stronghold, along an important seaway leading to the center of the continent, being already British for 2 decades, Quebec City was a natural choice. Until the end of the 1700s, the local English community used a Catholic church for Anglican worship. Finally, less than 20 years after the American Independence, George III paid for the construction of the 1st Anglican Cathedral outside the British Isles, the 1st Neo Palladian building in Quebec City. Welcome England! Welcome Anglicanism! Welcome British architecture!

Situated near Place d’Armes, the political and military center of the city, the message from London was also clear: former French and Catholic Canada is now first and foremost an English colony called Quebec. In fact, modern Canada was created only after a century of British rule, that lasted until the end of the American Civil War.

Holy Trinity Cathedral – left – around Monument of Faith on Places d’Armes and nearby
Notre-Dame-de-Québec, the Catholic Cathedral-Basilica.
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8. Ursulines Monastery, the first school for girls in Canada.

Like Harvard University founded in the 1636, the oldest University in the USA, Quebec City is from 1639 the site of the oldest school for girls in Canada. The Ursuline’s Monastery – one of the top French heritage sites in Canada and a major cultural attraction – was built in Upper Town from 1642 and still is in operation, now as a private co-ed school. The first Ursulines coming from Tours in the Loire Valley, France, are known as the first female missionaries sent to North America. Male missionaries, the Recollects – a French Franciscan suborder – and the Jesuits, had settled in Canada from 1615 and 1625 respectively.

A few blocks away from the Ursuline’s Monastery, you find what used to be the largest religious complex of the historic district, the Seminary of Quebec, present-day school of architecture and co-ed private high school. This institution, founded at the time Louis XIV would rule France in the early 1660s, was created to host and train Catholic missionaries from France, in order to spread the Catholic faith over New France, a claimed territory covering about 80% of present-day North America.

Unlike Boston’s first university, superior education has been available in Canada only from the mid-1800s  when the Seminary created a sister institution, Université Laval, the oldest French-speaking – or francophone – University in North America. Its modern  campus is the home of more than 50 000 students, coming from Canada, France and its foreign departments and territories, as well as North and West African countries. Quebec City, a French-speaking capital? Definitely! A minimum of 95% of Quebec City’s population is educated and live in French.

The Augustinians and Ursulines arrived on the same ship in August 1639. Both religious orders still exist in Quebec City, the former having taken care of souls and bodies at Hôtel-Dieu hospital and the latter having educated girls, for up to 12 generations. Both museums are must-do Quebec City cultural and heritage attractions.

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Home | Pôle Culturel du Monastère des Ursulines

9. Plains of Abraham, The Battlefield Park.
Interpretation signs about the iconic 1759 battle that changed the fate of North America.

Like the Boston Common, the Plains of Abraham is a major green space (99 acres) in the heart of the city. Originally, both city parks were cow pastures. Later, in the 1920s, both city parks welcomed Charles Lindbergh and his plane. Earlier in the 1750s and 1760s, both city parks served as encampments for British military operations. But Quebec City’s Battlefield Park is very special: the last battles of the French and Indian War took place here. French were defeated in Quebec City in 1759 and surrendered in Montreal the following year. During the most iconic battle of this war, a turning point in North America’s history, British James Wolfe and French Louis-Joseph de Montcalm were both mortally wounded.

The park was created in 1908 to celebrate the founding of Quebec City in 1608. The park was mainly completed in the 1930s as a public project to put people at work during the Great Depression, like many American WPA Projects! Today, the park is the perfect place for family picnics, joggers, bikers and the famous Summer Music Festival in July, where large stages are surrounded by up to 100 000 people enjoying Rock stars from all over the world! Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is possible in winter.

The Battlefield Park – left – during the Summer Festival, just outside the walls of Old Quebec.
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10. Parliament Hill and Old Quebec Architecture
L’Assemblée nationale du Québec, the Province of Quebec’s Legislature House.

Like the State House atop Beacon Hill in Boston, the Parliament of the Province of Quebec is situated on the Parliament Hill in Upper Town Quebec City, just outside the fortifications of the historic district. In fact, the “Parlement de Québec” is one of the nicest buildings in town, a French Renaissance style architecture, inspired by the Louvre Museum and symbolizing the return of French architecture in the brand new Province of Quebec created – as we know it now – at the beginning of modern Canada. The British parliamentary system is furthermore symbolized by the central tower with a clock, like Big Ben!  French and British heritage in a single building, after all this is what Quebec and Canada are all about!

At the end of the 1960s, the Mayor of Quebec City brought modernity to his town: new buildings were added around the 1870’s Parlement de Quebec using an architectural style that had spread across North America, brutalism! Near the Parlement, just across Grande-Allée, the “J” Edifice looks like a bunker, or a toaster, as locals nicknamed it! We like to hate it, but unlike Boston City Hall, our bunker was never voted the ugliest building in the country!

Brutalism architecture could never have been used within the historic district, where strict heritage bylaws are enforced. In fact, Old Quebec became a protected historic district by Provincial laws only from 1963. We have to wait 1979 before the City administration created a Heritage Department. Finally, Quebec City qualified to be listed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.

Visiting Old Quebec is also discovering different architectural styles, but be advised that you’re likely to see more London-style townhouses than old French buildings, because Quebec City was quite devastated during the French and Indian War. And because British turned the city into their North American capital after the US independence! Just near Place d’Armes, you will observe these different styles: French Norman , Neo-Palladian, Chateaux, French Renaissance, Neo-classical, Neo-Baroque and Art Deco.

Brutalist architecture on the Parliament Hill
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11. St. Lawrence River and Port of Quebec City
Quebec City’s promontory – the Gibraltar of America – as seen from the Ile d’Orléans.

Like Boston, Quebec City is an Atlantic port city, even though it is located about 700 miles from the ocean. Large ships sailing the wide St. Lawrence River’s estuary can easily dock at Quebec City deep-water port. In fact, the salt water front, originating from the East coast of Canada, gets as close as 20 miles from the city during flooding tides! Also, the 100-km-wide estuary narrows to only 1 km at Quebec City, generating 10 to 15-foot tides and causing the water flow to reverse every 6 hours! Even the word “Quebec”, an Algonquian name meaning “where the river narrows”, depicts perfectly the local geography!

For years, many cruise ships have traveled up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway as far as Montreal, that is located up river and closer to the Great Lakes. For instance, the Holland America Line offers weekly cruises from Boston to Montreal from May to October. Other ships – like the Queen Mary II – cannot reach Montreal because they are too high for the 2 bridges in Quebec City.

Toronto, at a 8-hour-up-river-drive from Quebec City (5 hours from Montreal), is now the metropolis of Canada, replacing Quebec City and Montreal over time. After the fur trading business declined in the early 1800s, the St. Lawrence River was dredged, enabling large ships to sail as far as Montreal, that became, until the 1970s, the new Canadian metropolis and economic center. Building locks between Montreal and Toronto in the 1950s led to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. From then on, large ships were able to sail further up river, up to Toronto, Detroit, Chicago… and Duluth at the western end of the Great Lakes.

Clearly, the St. Lawrence River has always been instrumental in the development of our country and the USA. Enabling large ships to sail further and further up river to the center of the continent, Quebec City has lost its predominant economic position but has remained an important port and administration center up to present-day, being the Capital of the Province of Quebec.  Like Boston, Atlantic port and Capital of the State of Massachusetts.

Quebec, “where the St. Lawrence River narrows”, when sailing up river to the
Great Lakes area.
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12. Saint-Charles River Linear Park –The Big Clean-Up

Like Boston, Quebec City went through major infrastructure works in the 1970s. The historic district was preserved but nearby roads, parks and river banks were modernized. Concrete was used everywhere. Highways and overpasses were built to connect the suburbs and the Parliament Hill to reduce traffic jams. An outdoor shopping mall was built in Lower Town and the Saint-Charles River was embedded within concrete walls, like La Seine in Paris! Except for the highways, “errors” of the past were later demolished, revitalized or naturalized.

The Big Dig project in Boston led to the creation of a linear park on top of a buried highway. Quebec City’s most successful clean-up project was the renaturalization of the Saint-Charles River banks through 3 Lower Town districts, St-Roch, St-Sauveur and Limoilou. The linear park thus created features significant amounts of green spaces, a 5-mile bike and roller skate trail that connects to a further 15-mile hiking trail up to the river source, Saint-Charles Lake.

By the way, who is Charles? He was not a French king, nor a British King, but he was Saint-Charles, the Patron Saint of the Recollects, a French Franciscan suborder and first catholic missionaries settling in Canada in 1615, along the Sainte-Croix River, renamed Saint-Charles River. See in the center of Place d’Armes, the 1915 Monument of Faith commemorating 300 years since the arrival of the Recollects in Canada. Their Order no longer exists.

During your stay in Quebec City, do not hesitate to rent bikes and ride the Saint-Charles River linear park and the most recent trail along the St. Lawrence River, la Promenade Samuel-de-Champlain!

Useful links:

https://societerivierestcharles.qc.ca/expertises/le-parc-lineaire/ (French only)

https://societerivierestcharles.qc.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/depliant_carte_plrsc-f.pdf (PDF Map)


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Michel Sirois

Author, Quebec City Tour Guide , Owner of QUEBEC 1608 TOURS

Born and raised in Quebec City, Michel studied engineering in Montreal for 3 years before settling in the countryside for a first job in technology. Living on the land of his ancestors, Michel got interested to local and Canada’s history through genealogy. As a Quebec City guide specializing in French-speaking America and how US history has shaped Canadian history, Michel continuously connects the dots between North America’s major historic events and makes you discover the French Heritage of your own part of the continent.