Fortifications of Québec

North America’s only fortified city saved from ruin.

Written by Nelle Oosterom

Posted January 28, 2011

The remains of Old Quebec are a palimpsest — layer upon layer of military history dating back four centuries to the time of Champlain. The UNESCO World Heritage Site tells the story of how Old Quebec was strategically situated on high cliffs for optimum defence. It thrived for a century and a half as a French colony before the British takeover in 1759. Under England, Old Quebec continued to function as a bastion, this time against the continuing threat of invasion from the United States.

The spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River and surrounding area make it a natural tourist attraction. Built overtop of Champlain’s original Habitation, the imposing ramparts and wide ditches recall the era of walled cities of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. At the heart of the fortifications stands La Citadelle, built in 1820–31.

The fortifications were headed for ruin after the British military pulled out in 1871. But Lord Dufferin, the Governor General of Canada from 1872 to 1878, loved Old Quebec, and established La Citadelle as a second residence. He persuaded local politicians to save the old French walls from destruction.

One of Canada’s most visited historic sites, Old Quebec gets about 500,000 visitors a year.

Time Period: Early 1600s to late 1800s.

Things to do: Take a bilingual guided tour of the ramparts and the heights of Quebec. The walking tour includes a stop at an ongoing archaeological project. At La Citadelle, take in the museum of the Royal 22e Regiment — the famed Van Doos. Time your visit around a five-day annual festival celebrating life in New France. There are also theme days, school programs, and a variety of special events, including concerts and talks.

Getting there: The Fortifications of Quebec are in the heart of Quebec City.

Visit Parks Canada’s website

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