THE CITY OF
THE MISGUIDED TOUR
part IV … THE PARC MONTMORENCY
At the bottom of the first flight of the casse-cou stairs is the Prescott Gate. From on the top, you can see the Côte de la Montagne, the road that passes underneath and then zig-zags off to the left down to the old part of the town. You can see the St Lawrence in the background.
If you are on foot however and want to take the short cut, the Casse-cou stairs continue down to the right just about where that group of people is in the centre of the photograph.
The gate here by the way is not the original gate. That was built in 1797 and named in honour of the Governor-general of the time. The Côte de la Montagne, which it bridges, was the main road between the upper town and the old town and port down below and with the passage of time the congestion at the gate was indescribable and so in 1871 it was simply swept away.
The gate that's here today was rebuilt in 1983 and is a simple concrete span of so little architectural merit that I didn't even take a photo of it.
The view from off the top of the Prescott Gate the other direction back up the hill gives us this rather beautiful building. It's the Palace of the Archbishop of Québec, designed by Thomas Baillairgé and built between 1844 and 1847 to replace the previous house that was situated in the Parc Montmorency, where we will be in just a minute.
As originally built, the front of the Palace and the main entrance were situated in a small courtyard at the side of the Seminary, somewhere else that we will be visiting in a moment. But under Lord Dufferin's improvement scheme, the layout of the building was changed and a new facade and main entrance built here at the angle of the Côte de la Montagne.
I mentioned the Parc Montmorency just now. You can make out the boundary wall, some lawn and some trees on the right of the photo of the Archbishop's Palace above.
Jean Talon, probably the most famous of the Intendants, the Governors-General of Nouvelle France, had a house built here in 1667 but the site was much more famous for the Archbishop's Palace that was constructed here between 1691 and 1696 for Archbishop St. Vallier, the second Archbishop of the Diocese of Québec.
From 1792 the building housed the Parliament of Lower Canada, the contemporary name of the region that roughly corresponds to the Province of Québec, and following the union of Lower and Upper Canada (the region of Toronto and southern Ontario) in 1840, the reconstructed building served as one of the four seats of government (the others being Kingston, Montreal and Toronto).
You can of course guess what happened to the house of Archbishop St. Vallier before too long - a phenomenon that we will encounter again and again and again on our travels around Eastern Canada. Yes, we had a major fire which totally destroyed the building. That is the reason for the public open space that's here today.
And you have to admit that to leave the site open as a public open space was probably the right decision too because if there were a way of editing out the roofs and the other bits of urban impedimentia, this would be one of the most spectacular views down the St Lawrence. It's not all that bad as it is.
And while we're on the subject of roofs at the moment, have a look of the roof of that building just there. To me, that looks suspiciously like a solar roof.
I should perhaps mention that when people say that the St Lawrence flows from west to east, it really is only a figure of speech. In fact, in the main it flows from south of east to north of west and even more so just to the east of Québec. Consequently the building over there is facing more-or-less due south, the most perfect orientation for a solar roof.
If it is indeed a solar roof, it's nice to see that there is some kind of renewable energy being used in the city. But with this bitter wind that's blowing around in the exposed parts of the city, why there aren't any wind turbines is totally beyond me. They can manage to have a few on the waterfront in Halifax after all, so why not here?
That building over there in that photo is, would you believe, the old Post Office and the guy there beseeching it is Monsieur Cartier. Not Jacques Cartier as you might expect, but one George-Etienne Cartier.
No relation to Jacques, George-Etienne (not Georges-Etienne - he was named for the King of England) trained as a lawyer but was an active participant in the "revolution" of 1837 and fled to the USA for a while. Upon his return he went into politics, supporting inter alia Confederation, the railways and primary education, and becoming right-hand man to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
What he's actually telling the people in the Post Office is
"in order to assure our existence, we have to cling onto the land and leave to our children the tongue of our forefathers and the ownership of the soil"
although why the people in the Post Office would want to know that is something that he never did explain - neither did he explain what their children were supposed to do with the tongue once they had inherited it - or why they should want it either.
But never mind that for the moment. Here's a better view of the aforementioned edifice. It was built in 1873 as the central post office of the city and occupies the site of the famous Chien d'Or inn which was demolished in 1837.
The building was enlarged considerably in 1914 and is still in service today as the central distribution point of the city's mail.
In front of the building is a statue to François de Montmorency-Laval, better-known as Monseigneur de Laval, the first Archbishop of Québec. His statue is by Louis-Philippe Hébert, someone else we shall be encountering again (and again) on our travels, and was erected in 1908.
And while we are on the subject of the statue, in a fit of irony that clearly went way over the heads of the city fathers and the ecclesiastic authorities of the day, 8 houses were demolished, with 8 families losing their homes, so that they could erect the statue of someone who was in charge of the organisation to cater for the spiritual needs and to ensure the temporal welfare of the population.
It rather reminds me of the hypocrisy of the so-called "Christians" of the Republican States of the USA, who campaign vigorously against abortion on the grounds that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" yet quite happily keep a firearm close by their side to blow away anyone who trespasses against them.
So abandoning another good rant for the moment, let's cross the road behind the park and have a look at this building with the big pointy spire and the cross on top, a glimpse of which we caught from up on the Place d'Armes just now.
It is the seminary of Québec and owes its existence to Archbishop Laval whose statue we met just now. He decided that it would be a good idea to have some kind of central school for training local youths for entry into the priesthood of Nouvelle France and the seminary was thus established in 1663.
In 1852 the Laval University, the oldest French-language university in the whole of North America, was established on the site and remained here until 1950 when it departed for St Foy. The university's School of Architecture remained behind however and it is still in there somewhere in that large collection of buildings.
There are lots of other exciting things in there too, such as the Museum of French North America, a huge collection of important historical archives, into which I would love to dive to see if I could find the original plans for the Chemin du Roy and there is also the tomb of Archbishop Laval.
Time however is pressing on and I have other things to do.
Retracing our steps a little, we find ourselves back at Thomas Baillairgé's Palace of the Archbishop of Québec, built between 1844 and 1847.
When we saw it earlier today, I mentioned that the building was originally orientated the other way round, with the main entrance opening into a courtyard that led to the Seminary and the Cathedral. However, under Lord Dufferin's improvement scheme, the orientation of the building was changed and a new facade and main entrance were built here to open into the Côte de la Montagne.