THE CITY OF
THE MISGUIDED TOUR
part I … THE FORTIFICATIONS NORTH-WEST
Where I am is right by the Porte St Jean - or rather, no I'm not. According to the engraving on the stonework, I'm at St John's Gate and the engraving is written in English and not defaced, sabotaged, scratched out, replaced or blown up.
Really, I don't know what these Québec separatists are supposed to be doing. Call themselves terrorists? They couldn't even terrorise a kindergarten!
As for the gate itself, it isn't the original, and not by a long way either. The original 18th Century gate was replaced in 1867 by one that was much larger, presumably to ease the flow of traffic. That one was swept away in 1897 (in a road improvement scheme, not in a terrorist outrage as it happens) and for a while there was no gate at all - the present structure being erected in 1936.
It's the rue St Jean (as you might expect) that passes underneath the Porte St Jean. It was part of my plan to come down that street on the way out and to talk about it much later, but somehow I managed to sidetrack myself - "no surprise there" ...ed. You'll have to wait until September 2013 to find out more about that.
But whatever else there is to say about it, it seems to be the restaurant quarter of the city and that's probably a useful thing to remember, particularly as it is close by the 800 bus stop and near to a few places of entertainment.
So now that I'm here at the Porte St Jean, the thing to do is to climb up onto the top of the gate and see what I can see.
We have of course the magnificent Canadian Shield - the Bouclier Canadien - in the background. In the foregound we have the modern Gare du Palais and the magnificent Ancienne Poste, the Canadian Post Office building, and I'll talk about those in due course
Slap bang in the centre of the previous photo was a huge, well, 1920s-type of monstrosity, the type that I would ordinarily describe as Late-Victorian Factory Architecture, the design and construction that inspired people like Albert Speer and 10 years later, the "Comecon" School of Architecture, whose drab and dreary buildings littered Eastern Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Either a Hospital, for the Robert Giffard Hospital is out there somewhere, or else it's part of the University. Its significance here on these pages is that my bus terminus is situated in its shadow and it's as well to take my bearings.
In the foreground in blue-and-white is the flag of the Province of Québec.
As an aside, while you are wandering through these pages, count the incidence of the display of Québecois flags compared to the display of Canadian national flags. It might give you some idea of the extremism of the people who are running the province. I do recall some discussion back in December 2012 where the Québec parliament spent more time discussing the display of one national flag within one small office of the parliament building than they did discussing the desperate situation of the Québecois economy.
Coming from an oppressed minority myself, I'm all in favour of minorities standing up for themselves, that's for sure, but sometimes you have to wonder what it is that goes through the heads of some people the moment they manage to grab hold of a little piece of power. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that this lack of tolerance shows the people in charge of such a debate to be no more and no less bigoted than those against whom they are battling.
It's the kind of thing that gives minority groups a bad name and brings them into disrepute.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, to the right of that large building in the previous photo, to the left of centre in this particular shot, you can see a twin-towered church which may well be the Church of the Nativity of Notre-Dame. Its style is typical of Québecois religious architecture of the latter part of the 19th Century.
That's out at Beauport, one of the eastern suburbs of Québec, and that's where my motel is. To the right of centre you might make out a big highway bridge. Where I'm staying is somewhere behind there.
In the background is the Mont Ste Anne, the big mountain behind Ste Anne de Beaupré.
I've decided that I'm going to be walking widdershins around the walls and so I'll take a photo of what will be the final climb back up to the Porte St Jean when I've finished this part of my visit. I'm not sure what state I'll be in when I finish this climb. It makes me lose my breath just looking at it. This photo does give you an idea of the condition that the city walls are in, and that's no thanks to the fathers of the city, as I shall explain later.
It also gives you an idea of one of the major difficulties of defending a walled city that is on a sloping site. In order to fire a shot over a city wall, normally you would need something like a mortar or howitzer, with a high angle of elevation. A high angle of elevation means a steep angle of drop, and so damage is pretty much limited to the point of impact. Furthermore, this steep angle of drop together with the weight of the projectile causes the projectile to bury itself in the earth and so the blast would funnel upwards and not cause much damage.
With a city wall on a steep slope such as here, the attackers could set some field artillery at a high point outside the city and fire shells at a shallow angle obliquely over the walls. At a shallow angle the shells would stand much more chance of hitting an object and because they would explode on the surface and not in the soil, the blast would spread outwards and do much more damage.
It's for this reason that, speaking generally, in World War II a V1 Flying Bomb did much more damage than a V2 rocket, although the rocket carried a payload that was many times heavier.
I bet you always wanted to know that, didn't you?
So onwards and upwards, that's where I'm going. Next stop is the Porte Kent, about which I shall have a few things to say in due course.
Another thing that you might want to know about fortifications, is why the reverse slope on the inside is so shallow and so open. Normally, it wouldn't be, because of course if the city walls were breached elsewhere and the attackers were to enter, the defenders on the remainder of the walls would need protection behind them.
Here though in Québec, the city is protected on three sides by steep cliffs and the two rivers that are here. This part of the walls, facing the Plains of Abraham as we shall see in
a few minutes
would be the easiest part to breach and so the defenders would retreat to the nearby houses and could pick off the exposed attackers at their leisure.
That car park that you could see in the previous image is also a cab rank for the fiacres, the horse-drawn carriages of which there are more than enough in the city.
The horses have a kind of blanket between their hind legs, the purpose of which is to catch their droppings. You can guess therefore what goes into the compost bin just here, and on the other side of the bin there's even a little shovel for the drivers to use.
The bin is owned by the City of Québec, so no wonder the flowers around the town look so well. It does remind me of the story about my neighbour back in Shavington in the early 1960s who had a ton of horse manure delivered to him by Freddy Shone the milkman. Little Johnny Chesters who lived next door to me asked the neighbour
"What are you going to be doing with all of that, mister?"
"I'm going to put it on my rhubarb" replied the neighbour.
"Oooooh" replied little Johnny. "Our mum puts custard on ours".
There you all are, probably asking yourselves how old is that joke, but let me tell you, that joke was brand new in 1961.
As I was walking around this part of the walls I fell in with one of those people whom Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, once famously described in most unpleasant and improper terms and he (the visitor, not Prince Philip) engaged me in a very healthy conversation. He was round about my age and his English was excellent, although he was not convinced about it. We talked for quite some time about all kinds of things.
He was on his way, with a big group of Japanese tourists, to see Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. That's one of life's big mysteries too - why it is that Anne of Green Gables is such a roaring success in the Far East. It's really quite a phenomenon, and there is no good reason why that should be so. When I was in Charlottetown back in 2003 I didn't notice all that much to write home about.
Another thing that he mentioned was that a few years ago he was in London and he went to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen, but apparently she refused to see him. I did suggest that maybe he should have explained that it was nothing to do with him that his dad and his mates had pinched Singapore and Hong Kong in 1941, and he thought that that was an excellent idea.
As an aside - "you'll become accustomed to these" ...ed - I've made it a rule to have at least two meaningful conversations every day while I'm on the road, and that was number one. Yes, I need to drag myself out of my Splendid Isolation.
From the point where I was standing was an excellent view over to this beautiful semi-Gothic, semi-Renaissance, or Deuxième Empire (according to the architect but I wouldn't have so described it) building. It's actually the Hotel du Parliament, the Parliament Building.
Previously, the Parliament and the various ministries were scattered about the city but a major fire in 1876 destroyed all of the buildings in this area just outside the city walls and so the Government sequestered the land for the purposes of constructing a building in this strategic location to centralise all of the different Government departments.
The task of designing the building was given to Eugène Etienne Taché. Construction began in 1877 and it was completed in 1886. It's a quadrilateral building with an interior courtyard and in a devastating blow against British imperialism which went straight to the heart of the colonial masters, part of it was built over the city's cricket pitch.
This part of the city walls is actually a redoubt the purpose of which was to cover the Porte Kent and the Porte St Louis. This is the Porte Kent just here at the Rue Dauphin. The gate is named after the Duchess of Kent.
It's not the original gate either - that one was far too narrow for the traffic of the late 19th Century - and so during Lord Dufferin's project concerning the fortifications, about which I'll discuss at great length - "groan" ...ed - in a bit, the gate was restyled and enlarged.
Once more, you can see the advantage of coming to do this kind of thing in the Spring before the leaves appear on the trees.
From up on the city walls it's absolutely impossible to have a decent view of the Porte St Louis and so you need to go down onto the Rue St Louis and see it from there. It's the tradition to take the photo from outside the walls of the city but me, I'm doing it the opposite way round and photographing it from within the walls, a view that is seldom seen in pictures and I don't know why, because it's much more impressive from this side.
Well, I do know why, as it happens. Photographers as a rule are notorious for late-night drinking and night-clubbing, that kind of thing. If you want to catch a photographer for an early-morning shoot, you need to catch him on his way home. Usually it won't be until mid-afternoon that he will be about, by which time if he comes here, the sun will be right behind him if he's outside the city walls looking in.
Those of us who are teetotallers and too old for clubbing and thus can manage to heave ourselves out of our stinking pits at the crack of dawn will find that if we stand outside the walls looking in, in order to take the traditional photo, we have the sun shining right into the lens of the camera - hence the photo this morning from the reverse angle, complete with fiacre. You lucky people, you!
As for the gate itself, it's another one that was widened and rebuilt during Lord Dufferin's project in the 1870s. It was designed by the Irish architect W.H.Lynn and built in 1878.
St Louis, by the way, was King Louis IX of France who led two crusades to free Palestine from the clutches of the infidel. The first of his crusades, actually the Seventh Cusade, invaded ... errr ... Egypt, during which he was captured and had to be ransomed for an astonishing sum, said to be one-third of France's annual revenue. The second of his crusades, in fact the Eighth Crusade, he invaded ... errr ... Tunisia, during which he died of dysentery.
There's a redoubt here too just after the Porte St Louis where there's a magificent view right the way down the Avenue Dufferin (or is it the Avenue Honoré Mercier? I'm all confused now) to the harbour and the rivière St Charles. That's the fountain of Tourny in the centre of the photo, presented to the city to commemorate its 400th anniversary.
The Avenue Dufferin is another reminder of the clearances here, not just following the fire of 1876 but also of Lord Dufferin's project during the course of which he ordered the clearance of all of the buildings within 60 metres of the city walls so that the walls could be viewed in all their splendour.
I'm still climbing up towards the crest of the hill and the view looking back down along the walls to where I was earlier is quite impressive. You can make out, just above that white building there to the left of centre, the turrets of the Porte St Louis.
The street that you can see here that runs inside the wall is called the Côte du Citadelle, for reasons that will soon become apparent, if you would care to turn to the next page.