Province 5: “Je Me Souviens” Quebec

I was excited to return to Quebec after 7 years since my last visit.  It is pretty rare to have a place in the world that I have been to but Callum has not…and Quebec City is one of them.  When I was finishing my PDP (“how to be a teacher” year of university) I had the opportunity to do a 6-week intensive language program at the Laval University during the summer semester.  When I was poor, I took every unique opportunity to travel anywhere new that I could.  I finished my PDP coursework via correspondence and joined the beginner’s French class in July of 2010.  It was a wonderful experience which I remember with great fondness.  The weather was balmy, the summer festival concerts exciting, the people interesting, my friends from uni were there too, and the food was heavenly.  The only reason I didn’t get to be 300 pounds was because of all the walking I did while there.  I opted to stay in residential housing with a family, and my commute to school was a lovely 15 minute walk through the Sillery neighbourhood.

I digress.  Our trip together may have been previously hyped up based on my nostalgia, and I don’t think Callum was as enthralled with our nation’s mostly French province as I was, but, we did have a good time looking at some things which I will now get to.

Our arrival into Quebec was in the afternoon, so we had time for an activity and we opted to see Montmorency Falls which are just a bit out of QC itself.  In true Conduit style, we viewed the falls from three different locations: first from above, then at the side, then from below.  It’s a pretty unexpected site and Callum is a fan of waterfalls.

We spent a couple of days just walking through the old Quebec part of the city which is really what you want to see when you go there.  It is very European-looking and is home to the Chateau Frontenac, a giant castle of a hotel.  Basically, Wikipedia explains it better and more succinctly than I can: “the narrowing of the Saint Lawrence River proximate to the city’s promontory, Cap-Diamant (Cape Diamond), and Lévis, on the opposite bank, provided the name given to the city, Kébec, an Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows”. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America. The ramparts surrounding Old Quebec (Vieux-Québec) are the only fortified city walls remaining in the Americas north of Mexico, and were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 as the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’.”

Quebec is the largest province land-wise and has the second highest population of people at about 8 million.  Everyone speaks French there but they all know English too, though they appreciate an effort with the French language before lapsing into polite English.  The French that is spoken in Canada is a bit different to that of France, and, it is often explained that Quebecois can understand French, but the French struggle to understand the Quebecois.  Kind of like Spanish people having a hard time understanding Mexicans, I imagine.

The very weekend we were in QC, the festival d’ete (annual summer music festival) was occurring.  You’ll never guess who was headlining one night: Metallica, one of Cal’s favourite bands.  We tried to get tickets but as expected, they were all sold out.  We tried to scout a location where we could—ahem—get in for free later that night, but, we actually got locked into a bizarre little patch of land with 8 other people who were also scouting out the main stage.  There’s this small part of the citadel’s land which leads to the Plains of Abraham (famous site of a famous 15 minute battle where the British finally took control of Quebec from the French), via a small metal bridge.  Anyone who has been there will know the exact place I speak of.  The plains is where the main stage was set, so if we could have watched the concert from that spot, we would have seen what everyone else could see who were backed up against the temporary fencing, but instead of paying $100 a ticket, we would have seen it for free.  This exact spot is how tourists would normally access the famous fields to have a wander when the summer festival is not on, but, as mentioned, there was temporary fencing due to the concerts.

Well, while lamenting the fact there were no gaps in the fencing with the other people who were enjoying the Metallica sound check at 11am with us, we all somehow got LOCKED INSIDE an area about the size of a mansion.  Whoever was checking the fencing that morning failed to walk around a couple of trees to see if anyone was actually inside.  Well, we were!  When we all decided to walk back down to the street level, we realized we were caged animals and no one was around to let us out!  One French women FREAKED OUT, and started yelling at the guards of the Citadel who are actually unrelated to the concert guards, spouting her issue with standing in the sun too long, being thirsty, how ridiculous it was to be locked in, etc, etc.  (Two minutes before, keep in mind, she was calmly telling her husband that they couldn’t stand there that night, and was in a rather jolly mood.)  I just laughed and looked for a way out.  Callum managed to climb over the fence and was LITERALLY walking towards the guards to ask for help WHILE this French woman was screaming for help, as if we were stuck on the Titanic or something.  She screamed “He can’t just leave us here!  We need to get out!” I stared at her a moment to ascertain whether she was being hysterical just for fun or what.  She was pretty sincere.  I told her, or tried to tell her that “uh, that’s my husband, don’t worry.  He’s getting help.  He wouldn’t leave me here.” She did NOT want to stop screaming though.

The guard came back and looked shocked that there were 7 grown adults behind this cage.  He used his walkie-talkie and assured us someone would come to unlock the gate.  I joked that we should all get free tickets to see Metallica that night for the “extreme inconvenience that this was” to our day.  I couldn’t really scale the fence like Cal did, so opted to wait patiently.  The others were desperate to be free, so they pulled the fence apart as wide as they could and we all climbed out like little rabbits making the Great Escape, much to the horror of the guard who begged us to stop.  We all high-fived and the screamy woman was suddenly very jolly again.  We all joked that now we knew the weakness in the fence and could come back that night.  We didn’t, but we did sit outside some other gates and listened to part of the concert which sounded really good!

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After a few days of trying to recreate my memories of QC and Callum deciding at this worst of all times to go on a diet, (there were chocolate almond croissants, for goodness sakes!) we moved on to Montreal, a city I had never been to.  Montreal is said to be the most multi-cultural city of Canada.  I kind of think the whole country is so, but, Montreal indeed did have a variety of people.  We visited a trendy neighbourhood, had brunch at 2:45pm one day, walked through old Montreal, visited the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal (NOT a cathedral, actually) saw an IMAX film, ate crepes, and again, like so many other places, wished we had more time to spend.

The part of the province of Quebec that we saw was very small indeed, but most of the population lives in that very area.  I would love to return to Quebec one day to explore more than just the cities.  Everyone should go to Quebec; it’s so neat!

 


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