The uniqueness of Canadian seasons is to experience summer and winter in two different ways, in which the green summering extravagance beautifully contrasts with the white radiance of winter which brings in severe and harsh cold. It is because of these extremities, we wanted to explore Québec City (one of the most visited cities in the country) during these two seasons. It is said to be especially alluring in winter. Knowing fully well that most of the tourist attractions would be closed in winter, we planned a short trip to Québec City. We could have taken the one and half hour flight but we chose the eleven hour drive through the snow-laden Trans-Canada Highway and Autoroute from Halifax instead. We would be crossing the province of New Brunswick en route. Thus, we set off for a perfect winter retreat at the dawn of Christmas Day in 2019.
Out of the ten provinces of Canada, Québec is the largest, with Québec City as its capital. The province was established in 1608 by the legendary French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who christened the name Québec, borrowing the term from the native inhabitants of the Algonquin – Ojibwe communities, who used to call the place Kébec, meaning ‘where the (St. Lawrence) river narrows.’ Since then, Québec remained as the French bastion and is the only Francophonic province of Canada, where French is the official language, and cherishes its French identity with a predominant Francophone population. Québec also participates as an independent member alongside the federal government of Canada at the International Organisation of La Francophonie. Hence, we were initially confused by the omnipresence of the French language. All signages starting from roads, to shops, to food stalls and even parking lots were in French. The Québecois or the French Canadians (residents of Québec) were very reluctant to communicate with visitors like us in English as well.
Some exciting facts worth sharing about the province of Québec are its time zone and weather pattern. Québec falls within the Eastern Time Zone that is an hour behind Nova Scotia (where we live), which follows Atlantic Time and one hour ahead. That signifies, we would be gaining an hour in Québec. Likewise, the weather pattern of the Québec province is quite different from Nova Scotia. The climate in Québec is continental in nature that experiences warm summers and harsh winters, often accompanied by sleet (frozen raindrops form ice pellets as they hit the ground), and freezing rain, the most dangerous of all winter precipitations. Freezing rain causes a solid sheet of ice to form on the ground, making it treacherous for traffic and normal pedestrians walking. When we arrived in Québec City, we were greeted with severe freezing rain alerts due from the Boxing Day!
Also, the Trans-Canada Highway, one of the longest highways in the world, runs through all the ten provinces of Canada from the Pacific in the west to the Atlantic in the east. When it enters Québec, it assumes its French nomenclature, Route Transcanadienne and Autoroute. Like every province of Canada, Québec has its own Flag depicting its signature symbol, the Fleurdelisé (the Lily-flowered), consisting of a white cross on a blue background, with four white fleurs-de-lis. Throughout Québec, this enchanting fleur-de-lis is the ubiquitous symbol, from souvenirs, to apparels and gift items, so as to depict the sovereign culture of the Québecois.
We left Halifax as early as 4 o’clock and reached our destination in the Christmas evening, having traversed over thousand kilometers and cherished the beauty of the frozen St Lawrence River. This is one of the longest rivers in Canada and shares its water with the United States. It narrows down in the province of Québec, before widening to form the world’s largest estuary at the Gulf of St. Lawrence and joins the Atlantic Ocean thereafter in the north at Cape Breton.
Québec City is situated on the banks of St. Lawrence River, and its economy is deeply indebted to its water. From cruise ships to super-giant containers and cargo vessels, the city serves as the most preferred destination for tourists throughout the world. It also occupies the top position in the Canadian list as the most visited tourist location after Vancouver and Toronto. Though most of the attractions were closed because of winter and will reopen in summer, we did not return home empty handed, as our plates were overloaded with Christmas bounties instead.
As soon as we reached, we dropped our luggage in the city of Lévis, located on the south shore of St. Lawrence River adjacent to the Québec City, swallowed a quick lunch and set out for our evening sightseeing. Both the cities of Québec and Lévis are well connected and can be travelled by bus, car, or by ferry that operates on the St. Lawrence River. The ferry, with the facility of carrying passengers of approx. 590 and up to 54 vehicles together, offers breathtaking views of the Old Québec City from water. We preferred, however, to drive via Boulevard Champlain to reach the heart of the city.
Québec City is the only walled city in North America, north of Mexico, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, twisted between the Old Town (Vieux-Québec) at the top surrounding Château Frontenac, and the Lower Town (Basse-Ville) lying below. Most of the city’s architectural treasures are within the fortification of the Old Town, interspersed with four surviving gates, that were renovated several times since their creation in 1694. Located atop steep cliffs overlooking St. Lawrence River, the city’s proud French heritage of the Old Town is elegantly blended with the magical Christmas décor, captivating Christmas trees, and spectacular Trompe-l’œil murals, that makes this area the most photographed city within the province. These exquisite murals are three-dimensional, portraying realistic images. Fortunately, we could witness some of the awe-inspiring murals on the streets of Rue des Jardins, Côte de la Montagne, Escalier Casse-Cou and Rue De La Chevrotière, while exploring by foot, through the meandering icy and slippery cobblestoned streets braving -21 degree Celsius’ teeth-grinding cold on the wintry Christmas Night.
Québec City’s most coveted attraction is the Fairmont de Château Frontenac. Built in 1894 for the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Château Frontenac is the most prominent building that is visible from miles away. It enjoys the signature of luxury tourism for affluent travelers of the world. As one of its entrances of this iconic hotel was open for public view, we seized this opportunity to witness the grandeur of its interior décor that had once welcomed Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lord Mountbatten for formulating Second World War strategies in 1943.
The second and last part of this article will be published on 1st January, 2021, 11:00 am IST.