History for Dummies

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Whilst I certainly can't claim to have a strong knowledge of Canadian history, one of the first things I did upon arrival in Canada was to borrow “Canadian History for Dummies” from the school library, although unfortunately I can’t even claim to have read the whole book. In fact, I only managed to get through the first four or five chapters but it was enough to give me a bit of an insight into the tumultuous events that led to the birth of the country we now know as Canada.

I never studied history at school, which I’m beginning to realise was a bit of a shame, as I quite enjoy learning about the people and events that shaped the world. Traveling to new places and seeing new things is so much more interesting when you have some understanding of the how and why behind them. Even just that little bit of knowledge from the first few chapters of Canadian History for Dummies has helped a great deal as we travel east.

We’ve just spent the last few days in Québec City, sometimes referred to as the Cradle of French Civilisation in North America. I dare to suggest that Québec is actually the cradle of all civilisation for North America generally. So much happened here in Québec that shaped the political and economic boundaries of the entire continent. During the early days of white settlement, Québec’s position as a gateway to the St Lawrence seaway was of such strategic importance that it was said that whoever controlled Québec controlled North America. With such a key strategic and military role to play, Québec was highly sought after by both the French and British forces, and was subsequently the place where several key battles were fought. Obviously, there is a whole lot of background to it which I won’t go into here, but basically the French claimed Québec, set up a colony, but got invaded by the British who eventually took the place over in the name of Her Majesty. There was actually quite a bit of claiming and reclaiming going on between the Frogs and the Poms over a number of years, but basically that’s what happened. Spare a thought for the poor old original Québecois settlers, who endured all the hardships of starting life in a new and strange country, then essentially got shafted by the Brits, but equally shafted by the French who essentially turned their backs on them and said “You’re on your own, mon ami!” While you’re at it, you might also spare another thought for the original native inhabitants of the land, who really got shafted by everyone but that’s a whole other story!

So anyway, I found it fascinating to be learning some of this history (of which I previously knew almost nothing) while getting the chance to be wandering around Québec City seeing the places where Samuel Champlain and Jacques Cartier explored, the buildings that were inhabited by people like Frontenac, and the battlefields where Wolfe’s and Montcalm’s armies met their bloody ends. We got to stand atop the battlements of the St Louis Gate, we climbed into the rampart dug by Wolfe’s soldiers, we gazed across the St Lawrence river to where the english battleships would have been moored, and we strolled along the oldest street in North America, the Rue de Petit Champlain. As I’ve said before, this really is the best kind of history lesson.

Anyway, this summer visit to Québec was a perfect counterpoint to our brief visit back in January for the Winter Carnivale. Seeing the same place both with and without snow was fascinating in itself. Quite apart from the amazing history of the place, Québec is a beautiful city in its own right with an incredible atmosphere. The narrow, lively streets are crowded with amazing restaurants, bars and shops. Street musicians fill the air with sound, artists sell their paintings on the streets, people everywhere are happy and having a great time.

Our hotel, Hotel Port-Royal, is located in the old lower town and has proven to be an excellent choice of accommodation; classy, comfortable and within easy walking distance of the entire Old City. We had dinner tonight in an outdoor cafe of a building built in 1759... how often do you sit in a nearly 250 year old building for pizza and wings? Although I tried my best, even my lousy French wasn’t a problem here as most people who work in tourism are quite bilingual.

Apart from a number of walks through the upper and lower cities, we also went for a drive down to the Parc du Chute Montmorency - or Montmorency Waterfall - where we took the cable car up and the stairs back down. Alex, Kate and I walked out to the base of the falls where we got thoroughly drenched. After sitting in the sun to dry out for a while we then drove down to the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupré. Although we dropped in to both these places during our winter visit, it was good to see them again in the warmth and the sunshine!

We really enjoyed our time Québec. It is a very special place, oozing with atmosphere, charm and history, and unlike any other city we are likely to visit. We continue on our big trip tomorrow and although I know we will enjoy all the places we will visit over the next few weeks, there is something quite sad about knowing we may never be back here in Québec again. C’est la Vie, eh?

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