From Ottawa I went on to Quebec City, via Montréal bus station. I stayed with another Servas host family in an area called the Sillery, a little way out from the city centre, or downtown. It’s a quiet, quaint area, with pleasant walks, but unfortunately at risk from the “developers”.
There’s an old, walled part of the city, which comprises many attractive buildings and La Citadelle, a huge fortress built by the British.
As you would expect, there are plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants and art galleries. The floral displays are as remarkable as they are elsewhere in Quebec. There was a good public transport system to get me around the various attractions. But. . .
On my first visit to the old city I was surprised to see a huge, block-like Hilton hotel very close to the old walls and the Parliament building. Across the river there is an oil refinery and in the opposite direction you can see smoking factory chimneys. Beside the old port there are rows of silos.
Of course I realise that this is a working city that needs to exist in the modern world. There are many places around the world that have been preserved as tourist attractions and this is no exception. I just wish there had been a little more discretion as to how they organised the juxtaposition of the old and the new or functional.
Perhaps the site of greatest historical significance is The Plains of Abraham/Les Plaines d’Abraham. This is now a large green park on the cliffs along the foreshore, but in 1759 it was the location of a battle between the French and the British. Though the British won on that occasion, the victory was not decisive, but eventually the French ceded New France. The conflict soon diverted to repelling the forces of the United States.
The importance of these events should not be underestimated. The motto of Quebec Province, displayed on all vehicle registration plates, is “Je me souviens”. There is some controversy as to the true implications of these words, but I believe that to all French speaking citizens the meaning is clear. I leave it to you to draw your own inference.
During my thoroughly enjoyable week spent in Quebec City, there were two experiences that particularly stood out for me.
One was an exhibition at the Musée de la Civilisation by a female artist, Karine Giboulo. Called “Cités Bidon” and inspired by a visit to a shantytown outside Port-au-Prince in Haiti, it consisted of several extensive models of daily life there. The figures are tiny but modelled in exquisite detail. The world of the slum-dwellers is contrasted with that of the wealthy, in this case fat marmots, not cats.
The other thing was a free open-air circus, “Crépuscule”, recommended to me by Martine, my host. With a minimum of costumes and props, but loads of enthusiasm, this small team combined drollery with skill and artistry. As well as the troupe of trampoline artists who bounced off and onto the side wall, I especially admired a young woman who whirled around in an enormous hoop.
Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my ecco sandals. These had served me through jungles and markets, mud, sand and streams. I’d been up mountains and was drenched by thunderstorms. They never came undone and they were super comfortable. While crossing a road, the back strap of the left foot snapped. Martine told me they could probably be repaired, (they still repair shoes in Quebec!), but there was a sale on in the city, so I’m now sporting a pair of cherry red replacements. Not suitable for “hiking”, but who cares?
Before heading off to the USA again, I returned to Montréal for a few days. I was welcomed back by Madeleine, (a long-term friend of Chris Golden), with whom I had been staying. She is totally charming, good fun and a has a wealth of information about the city.
I took the opportunity to visit the botanical gardens. I had already experienced their amazing flower displays around the city. They are particularly noted for their three-dimensional designs. This one is on a traffic island.
and the specialist gardens, a feast for the eyes as they displayed vegetables, aromatic and medicinal herbs, poisonous plants and crop varieties, all artistically laid out in enclosed spaces. The herbaceous borders had audacious colour combinations which worked perfectly.
On my penultimate day in Canada, Madeleine took some time off her arduous work schedule to take me for a drive around and to show me the Oratoire St-Joseph, which stands on heights overlooking the city. It is more ornate on the outside than inside.