Monday, 1 August 2016

Time to dust off my French


While we were in New Brunswick, all the road signs had been in English and French. Now that we were in Québec. Oo, la la. It’s all in French. It’s like you’ve jumped countries but didn’t have to present your passport. Lindsay was saying that they should have bilingual signs, it’s not like everyone can speak French. Yes, but it’s their country, if you don’t like it, don’t come. Yes but it’s Canada. I must admit there were a few times that we had no idea what the signs were saying. After a long drive it was exciting to be somewhere “new”, so different.

Our first stop in Québec is a transit stop, it’s another two hours to the city and we had been driving for five, which was enough, so we decided to stop at Walmart. It’s not like we are on a time schedule that we have to kill ourselves to get somewhere in a specific time frame. It’s only 23°C which is a lovely temperature, but Québec is 30°C so we need to be hooked up so we can run our air conditioning, so we book a campground. 

We could not believe the amount of people camping here, there must have been nearly 50, they were sitting outside in their chairs and barbecuing.

“Parlez-vous anglais” I asked when I rang the RV park in Québec City. I had put what I wanted to say into a translator just in case. They will all speak English at RV parks Lindsay assured me but I wanted to be prepared just in case. Yes, she said, phew. We had just been to the supermarket and I was a bit dubious when Lindsay headed for the self-check-out even though we only had three items. Everything seemed alright but at the end of the transaction the screen had all this writing that was not “have a nice day” at the end, then a staff member came up to us. We had put in our credit card in, chip end as is normal these days, but it wanted a signature.

There are some noticeable differences, decimal points are replaced with a comma, adjectives (usually) go after the noun, not before eg: Parcs Canada instead of Canada Parks, the $ sign is after the amount 23,50$. Dashes replace periods when shortening such as N.B. to N-B. Times are written as 1800h instead of 6pm. And of course they are in metric, but so is the rest of Canada, well sort of. When you see things in imperial, they say it’s because they trade with the US a lot but that’s just stupid. Prices are still displayed in pounds in the vegetable section of the supermarket, yes there is a tiny kg amount at the bottom but you practically need glasses to see it and of course it’s the pound amount that you remember when you get to the register; which of course prints in kilograms on your receipt. Bulk goods and delicatessen goods are sold by the 100g and even though you mentally move the decimal point, it can be annoying. We bought some Lindor balls which said $5/100g; which doesn’t sound too bad but of course the receipt said $50/kg, ouch!

Québec City

Québec is derived from an Amerindian word that means the sharp narrowing of the St Lawrence River at Cap Diamond.

One of the gates into the walled city

Québec City is a walled city with an old town sector, upper and lower town. It has some very steep hills. There is a lot of history here that luckily has survived. We joined a walking tour by Parcs Canada giving us a history of the town with an emphasis on the fortifications. The guide was excellent and we had no trouble in understanding her.

Chateau Frontenac hotel in the background

The city was founded by a French explorer, Samuel de Champlain in 1608. He wanted to set up a suitable settlement to buy fur – beaver fur was used to make hats in Europe at the time. He chose Québec City because it had two natural fortifications with the high cliffs and the waterway had a natural narrowing so that only one vessel could go through at a time and it was where the natives came to trade furs.

the historic part of the city
A side street

There is a monument in his honor, but because there is no picture of him they have used the face of someone else. Not much is known about the man’s face that was used except that he was in finance.

A wall mural

After the fall of Louisbourg on 26 July 1758, the French in Québec were very worried that they would be next. The British had already taken Port Royal in Nova Scotia. So they built a palisade (wooden fence) around the city which wasn’t completed by the time the British assaulted and wouldn’t have really kept them out with cannons anyway.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759)

The British landed 3km upstream from the city below 53mt cliffs. The main French army was waiting at the wrong place as they thought the British would have come in the easiest way, not the hardest way. The army that was left in Québec city attacked the British without waiting for their reinforcements (big mistake), and within 15 minutes of fighting the British had won. It was a pivotal moment in the Seven Years' War and in the history of Canada. There were a few more battles that clearly didn’t go well and in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, New France was officially ceded to Britain

Some of the town walls still exist

Two of the earlier Governors were not British, they were Irish and Scottish. They knew what it was like to live under the British, so they were sympathetic to the French wanting to keep their identity. They also wanted to make sure that the French Canadians were on their side as the Americans and Italians wanted Canada too. So the French Canadians were allowed to keep their language and their catholic religion.

In the 80’s they found 50 skeletons of British soldiers who were taken as prisoners under the walls. As they were protestant they were not allowed to be buried inside the city walls. There was a journal kept by one of the soldiers that detailed all the names of those killed. About half of them have been returned to their families either here in Canada or in England. They are still working on the identification of the others.

Many people wanted to pull down the fortification walls, but luckily one of the leaders stopped this from happening. He had the gates widened, because of course this is a major weakness in a fortified wall and they were only one carriage wide, which is not suitable for cars. Some of the walls were lowered, so that views were not so restricted.

A bit of modern art in an old city

The Cannons have insignias on them. The English ones have RG3. Meaning King George the third, R must mean royal. The Russian ones have eagle wings. An arrow pointing up was a symbol of the Broad Arrow. If this was on a fence on the street, people knew that it was a military area and that they should keep away.

Down near the boardwalk

Fighting with America

In December 1775, the Americans attacked the British stronghold in Québec and the Canadians fought back. This affirmed that Canada wanted to be independent of the United States and to forge a new identity as British North America.

In 1812, the Canadians had to fight off America again. Then after the Treaty of Ghent, America recognised the existence of British North America.

Saint-Louis Forts and Château National Historic Site

Chateau St. Louis
Courtesy of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

It was the official residence and seat of power of the French and British governors. It lay untouched for 200 years.

There were two chateau built on this site, the first was made out of wood which fell into disrepair and the second was made of stone, which also had some extensions made over the years. Four years after it was destroyed in a fire in 1834, it was raised to build a series of terraces for the people of Québec, the main one being the Dufferin Terrace. But the chateau obviously wasn’t completely destroyed. In the 1980’s they started excavating at the end of the the Dufferin Terrace, which is the boardwalk. In 2006 they excavated the Chateau St Louis. There are footings and partial walls. Even the kitchen fireplace/oven is still standing.

The stove (L) and bread oven (R)

We did a tour with Parcs Canada and our guide had a very thick French accent which he apologized for, but we could only understand a third of what he said. He kept asking us if we had understood him, but really what are we going to say, no please repeat the whole thing? He shouldn’t be doing the English speaking tours.

We are underground, the paving is genuine, it's a mixture of French and British

We started outside where the greenhouse and icehouse were. The greenhouse had a fireplace beside it so that the greenhouse could be heated in the winter so that plants could be grown all year round. The Icehouse was built by the British. Must have been for their G&T’s! Ice was collected from the river in winter and stored in this icehouse. Insulation of straw was put on top and another structure was built on top of that which housed all the food. When the ice melted, it ran back into the river. The ice lasted until the end of summer. There was an outside and inside kitchen and a pantry behind the kitchen.

the bottom of the ice house, where the ice was kept

There are a number of artefacts there, they count each piece as a separate item, so if they put a glass bottle back together and it has 400 pieces that counts as 400 artefacts. Some of the things they found: water spout from a watering can, a letter stamp, the insignia of one of the governors for his bottles of wine, cutlery, sniffing salts bottles, crockery, smoking pipe and a gold pin, which is tiny but is the most significant find. Many of the items were found in the latrines as this is where things were thrown away. When one was full, it wasn’t emptied, they just built a new one, so they held lots of items. There were layers of brown and yellow. The yellow being lime that was added to reduce the smell. The brown one was left to our imagination.


  1. My immediate memories of Quebec City: Where I learned what a "real" loophole was (hint the Citadel). Even in the grocery stores the quality of food compared to the rest of Canada went up a number of notches. If you are still there do try and get to the Le Buffet de L’Antiquaire (!

    1. We didn't go to the Citadel in Québec as we had been to the one in Halifax, they also had loopholes for the muskets to fire through as well as bigger ones for the canons to fire through too.

  2. Hi Jane
    We love reading your blog
    Will take notes as we will be in that part of Canada & USA this time next year.

    1. Thank you. Let me know if you have any questions, I may be able to help

  3. Quick note just to say what heady stuff your posts are for a history buff like me. You guys have got me all fired up to go on a proper trip away and look at something I haven't see before. I'm leaning in the direction of Ireland, where I've got some family roots I'd like to chase down. Brexit has done rather nice things for the exchange rate. Tough on them, but makes it a good time to think about foreign travel. Do my bit for their economy with a few tourist dollars.

    Hope I can figure out how to use my camera by then!

    1. so glad I've inspired you. I've never been to Ireland, so you better get snapping