One of the oldest cities on the continent of North America, the architectural style of Quebec City is a melting pot of eras and styles from the past 400 years. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, a major part of its appeal is its French charm and cobbled streets. However, instead of mimicking the streets of Paris, much of Quebec actually takes influence from Normandy and the North of France. Over the years, however, modern elements have been added as well as the restoration of older buildings – creating a beautiful contrast between the historical and contemporary. Here’s a quick guide (and map) to some of the most notable buildings in the city.
The skyline of Quebec is dominated by the luxury Châteauesque-style Château Frontenac Hotel. Perched on top of the Cap Diamant, it was designed by architect Bruce Price and is a primary example of the many château-style hotels that were built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in an attempt to draw in luxury tourism (the Gare du Palais train station is another example of similar construction work from that period).
The architect was from New York, designer of Montréal’s Windsor and Viger Stations. For the hotel he borrowed influence from French castles and took its name from Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, a key figure in the history of New France (he was governor of the colony from 1672 to 1682, and again from 1689 to 1698).
Several modifications have taken place over the years, such as the addition of the central tower in 1926. The Citadel Wing also wasn’t part of the original building and was constructed 1899, while the modern Claude-Pratte Wing (with fitness centre and interior swimming pool) was built in 1993.
North America’s narrowest street
From the base of Le Chateau Frontenac, descend into the scenic passageways of the Old Lower Town. Here you’ll find Rue du Petit-Champlain, one of North America’s oldest and narrowest streets, which is lined by 17th- and 18th-century mansard-roofed stone buildings.
Many historians claim that the Lower Town was where French Canada was truly born and efforts have been made over the centuries to maintain its distinct European charm. Place Royale, right in the heart of the Old Town, is home to some must-admire buildings such as the Centre d’interprétation de la Place-Royale and the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church.
The city’s historic gates
Along the eastern perimeter of Old Quebec, stands the only remaining fortified city walls in North America north of Mexico. Along the wall you’ll find four surviving gates: Porte St. Jean, Porte St. Louis, Porte Prescott and Porte Kent. All the gates aside from Porte Kent, have been restored or re-built at one point or another but the designs still mimic the original construction.
Oldest skyscraper in North America
Built in 1930-1931 as a new headquarters for the Price Brothers Limited, Édifice Price (Price Building in English) is the tallest building in Old Quebec and one of the oldest skyscrapers in Canada. In present day times, the building is now owned by the City of Quebec and the top two floors act as the residence for Quebec’s Head of Government.
In order to respect the Francophone character of early 20th Century Quebec, the Montreal based architecture firm Ross and Macdonald stuck to an art deco style of construction that mimics the neighbouring Clarendon Hotel. In order to soften the appearance of the Quebec skyline, the building tapers in creating a similar shape to a wedding cake (though balconies have since been added). The first few levels are also decorated by geometric motifs that can be seen from the ground. As a final decorative touch, the building is topped by a Châteauesque-style steepled copper roof.
Quebec is primarily a Roman Catholic city and there are 122 religious moments within its boundaries. The most notable buildings are the Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral and the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church.
The first church is situated in Old Quebec and has been around since 1647 (making it the oldest church north of Mexico) and played a crucial role in building the city’s religious foundation. The original church has been victim to a lot of fires and battles over the years, with a lot of restoration work taking place. The large cathedral seen today was completed in 1925.
Across in the Lower Town of Quebec City stands the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which was constructed as part of the previously mentioned Notre-Dame-de-Québec Church. Like its parent church, it has been through many restorations attempts and has acquired an impressive list of architects who has worked on it at one point of another. Jean Baillargé, François Baillargé, Joseph-Ferdinand Peachy, David Ouellet and Louis Jobin can all lay claim to helping nurture the church seen today.
Quebec’s modern side
While the people of Quebec are proud of their French heritage and have worked hard to preserve the cobbled streets of their European grandfathers, the city has moved with the times and has expertly blended modern architecture into its 17th Century heritage.
One of the most striking examples of modern architecture is the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion, part of the esteemed Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. The building was opened last year to host the gallery’s modernist collection and the exhibition space clocks in at 160,000-square-foot and hosted no less than seven collections for its opening. The glass building features a 41-foot-tall lobby and a show-stopping spiral staircase that ascends to a third-floor terrace that offers sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River.
What’s your favourite piece of Quebec architecture?