Archive | February 2020

Vieux-Québec

I’ve written before about my summer in Quebec City — and how six weeks is a nice chunk of time to get to know a place. Even so, I was surprised last year during my visit to Vieux-Québec at how familiar the place was.

Still. After all these years.

I arrived from Montreal by train around midday, and the funny little man at my budget hotel offered to outline a nice walking tour for me on his map.

“Non, merci!” I said, smiling. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

He looked up from his map, a little surprised and, I think, a little insulted. But he shrugged, handed me the map, and off I went.

Encircled by its original ramparts, Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec) is divided into an Upper Town and a Lower Town. I chose to stay in the Lower Town, just a few steps from the train station to make my arrival more convenient for me, but it turned out to be a serendipitous choice.

I was close enough to the action, so to speak, but far enough away that I had some enjoyable late evening walks back to my hotel through quiet streets.

The name “Quebec” comes from an Indigenous word meaning “where the river narrows.” That narrowing river is the mighty Saint Lawrence.

The first permanent European settlement at Quebec City was established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. Le Petit Champlain, the oldest quarter of Vieux-Québec, is named for him, and Rue du Petit-Champlain (shown in this next photo) is its main drag.

Vieux-Québec is filled with stone buildings dating back to the seventeen century, with their characteristic French-style roofs.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, in Place-Royale, is the oldest stone church in North America. It was built in 1688.

At the edge of the Upper Town, Dufferin Terrace lets you walk from the foot of the Citadelle to Chateau Frontenac, and provides a magnificent view over the Saint Lawrence River, the Lower Town, and, on a good day, the Laurentian Mountains.

A sign of the not insignificant role of the Catholic Church in Quebec’s history are the many church spires scattered throughout Vieux-Québec.

And then there’s this grand building, the Séminaire de Québec, which takes you by surprise when you round the corner. The seminary was founded in 1663, and this building declared a national historic site in 1929.

Vieux-Québec is the only walled city in Canada or the United States.

I wrote above about how familiar Vieux-Québec was for me, even after all these years. For my mother, not so much. I happened to be with her on her first time back in Quebec City, some 40 years after her arrival by immigrant ship. I remember watching her as she leaned over the railing that lines Dufferin Terrace, intently scanning the waterfront below us. I could see how much she wanted to recognize something anything.

Finally she stepped back and shook her head. It was no good; nothing about the port looked familiar to her.

I doubt it was because she was too young to remember — a child’s memories can be quite vivid, and I suspect that her first impressions of a new country were imprinted on her mind. What it does speak to is that there are parts of Vieux-Québec that have changed over the years, after all, and a port that greeted new Canadians for more than 200 years looks quite different from the port that now greets tourists arriving by cruise ship.

Vieux-Québec was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. It is indeed a special place and should really be visited by every Canadian.

Six weeks, if you can. But if that’s not possible, then a couple of days will do nicely.

Welcome World

Whoosh.

And there goes another decade.

Ten years ago today, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics got underway. It’s difficult to explain to people who weren’t here the feelings of anticipation we all had going into the Games, and the euphoria we experienced throughout.

We were nervous at the beginning, to be sure. The weather did not seem to be cooperating. A mild, rainy winter meant there was very little snow on the local mountains and the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom weeks earlier than usual. A key moment of the opening ceremonies, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, was goofed up by technical difficulties. And earlier that same day, a Georgian athlete died while on a luge training run. It really felt like everything that could go wrong would.

I believe that many of the nerves we were feeling were simply related to the insecurities we Canadians tend to have about holding our own on the world stage.

But then things started going right. The events got underway, a small army of volunteers in blue jackets (affectionately known as the Smurfs) made sure everyone got to where they needed to be, and Canadian athletes started to win. And they kept winning. I remembered lamenting that I didn’t have enough red in my wardrobe (although I did have a coveted pair of red mittens — an impulse purchase made many months earlier — that you couldn’t get for love or money during the Games themselves).

I was happy to get to a couple of hockey games, but you know what was the most fun about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics? Taking in all of the excitement in the streets, and at the various pavilions and celebration houses around town. The atmosphere was electric. By the end of the Games, the world media was calling them the most successful Winter Games ever.

The photo above, taken in early February 2010, pretty much captures my feelings about Vancouver 2010. Several weeks before the Games started, the international media began arriving in droves. Next came the athletes and their coaches. And then, in the last week before the start of the Games, it was as if the flood gates had been opened and the tourists arrived en masse. They were everywhere.

Welcome world, indeed.