Quebec City is the capital of Quebec, a Canadian province. Quebec City’s Old Town, perched on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence Seaway, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of only two towns in North America (the other being Campeche in Mexico) to retain its historic city walls. Quebec City has a population of around 700,000 people.
Quebec City is the provincial capital of Quebec (though it is referred to as the National Capital in the province). Much of the activity here is administrative and bureaucratic in nature, which would ordinarily make a city boring. Fortunately, the city has a great history, having served as New France’s stronghold capital since the 16th century. Although the town’s day-to-day life might be a touch drab at times, the bustling historical center is well worth a visit.
Quebec was colonized by Europeans for the first time in 1608 in a “abitation” commanded by Samuel de Champlain, and it celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008. The dates of Champlain’s arrival in the city are usually agreed to be July 3rd and 4th, and they were honored with large festivities. Native peoples also lived in the region for many years before Europeans arrived, and their presence has been felt ever since.
Quebec was founded by the French to stake a claim in the New World, and the term initially applied only to the city. It is an aboriginal name meaning “where the river narrows,” referring to the significant narrowing of the St. Lawrence River immediately east of the city. It is perched on 200-foot-high cliffs with panoramic views of the Laurentian Alps and the St. Lawrence River. The fur and timber trades were the principal businesses during French control (1608-1759). In the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, the French lost the city and the whole colony of New France to the British. Because many of the French nobles returned to France, the British ruled over the remaining French people. Fortunately, the colonial authorities permitted the French to keep their language and religion, preserving much of the culture. During the Potato Famine of the 1840s, an influx of Irish immigrants occurred. Ships were confined at Grosse Ile, east of the city beyond l’Ile d’Orleans, due to cholera and typhus epidemics. The corpses of those who died on the trip and in quarantine are interred there. The city was under British control until 1867, when Lower Canada (Quebec) merged with Upper Canada (Ontario), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to become the Dominion of Canada.
Although French is the official language of the province of Quebec, English is commonly spoken as a second language by practically all of the workers in Quebec City’s tourist districts. It is also not uncommon to hear Spanish, German, and Japanese spoken at numerous Vieux Quebec restaurants. Outside of the tourist regions, some knowledge of French is recommended, and may be required, depending on how remote the area you are visiting. It should be noted that, although senior residents may struggle to maintain a conversation in English, most persons under the age of 35 should be able to converse in English. Less than one-third of the population is multilingual in French and English.
Both the city and the province are referred to as “Québec” in French. The context and the habit of referring to the province with the masculine article (“le Québec or au Québec”) and to the city without any article (“à Québec”) define which is intended. This might cause confusion while following provincial road signs since the City of Quebec (Ville de Québec) is exclusively referred to as Québec on official signage.