THE CITY OF
THE MISGUIDED TOUR
part X … RUE NOTRE DAME
From here I cross back over the rue du Marché Champlain and Good Grief! As I do, I hear a klaxon - a motor horn. It's the first one that I've heard since I've been in the city and I don't recall hearing even one during the five previous days that I've been in Canada. Anyone who comes from Europe will of course be quite used to motor horns and if you lived in Brussels as long as I did, you will have heard so many that you will be immune to them.
Even more astonishing is the fact that the motor horn was not aimed at me. That's a first as well.
Having made it safely back across the road, I can take you to see the Maison Chevalier. Built in 1752, it was named for its owner Jean-Baptiste Chevalier who was something of a rich merchant and arms dealer.
Apparently it was built quite solidly too because it was hardly damaged at all during the bombardment of the city by Wolfe's forces in 1759. However, like most buildings here in Canada, it wasn't built to survive the effects of a subsequent conflagration. Yes, I reckon that there's hardly a historic building in the whole of Canada that hasn't been the victim of a fire at one time or other.
Anyway, after the aforementioned conflagration it was rebuilt and for quite a while it was a coffee house. And not just any old coffee house either but The Place To Be in 19th-Century Québec. Like most places around the old port though, the early 20th Century was not kind to it and it lost much of its former glory. Things changed in 1956 when it was bought by the Provincial Government. It was then restored and is now a museum.
The area in front of it, by the way, was a natural inlet of the St Lawrence, hence the reason why the road curves around here rather than going straight along the river front. This inlet was originally used for the construction of ships, but was filled in about 250 years ago.
With the Maison Chevalier out of the way I walked up the rue Notre Dame to the Place Royale. This was originally, would you believe, the site of the garden that was attached to the original wooden fortress that was built in 1608 to serve as the trading post for French North America.
As the town developed, this became the principal market place and earned its name when a bust of the French king, Louis XIV was erected here in 1686. Something happened to bust that one and the one that's here now dates from 1948, by which date the square had become totally run-down and semi-derelict. It has certainly benefited from the restoration programme of the Lower Town that began in the 1960s
You're lucky to have this photograph too. As I was preparing to take it, some woman came and stood about 6 feet right in front of me and settled there for the Duration. In the end, I had to be most impolite with her before she finally cleared off. I'm sure that she did it deliberately - some people are like that.
So now that you have seen the site of the garden of the fortress, I bet that you are wondering where the fortress was actually situated. Here we are a little farther down the rue Notre Dame looking back towards the Place Royale and we see the Church of Our Lady of the Victories - l'Eglise Notre-Dame des Victoires. This church is actually built on the site of the fortress.
The fortress, known as l'Habitation, was the first permanent settlement in French North America. It was abandoned as the town expanded and the church was constructed over the remains during the period 1688-1723, to serve the population of the Lower Town. Badly damaged by the bombardment of 1759, it was restored in 1763.
You might be wondering as to the "Victoires" in the name of the church. These relate to a battle between the forces of the Comte de Frontenac who we met earlier and those of Admiral Phips, who we shall meet subsequently, in 1690, and also to an incident in 1711 when a fleet led by the British Admiral Walker (who we shall also be meeting in due course) was lost in the St Lawrence estuary during a storm.
Mind you, no wonder that Jesus has deserted everyone these days. Whatever happened to "love thine enemy" or "forgive those who trespass against us" or "turn the other cheek"? Naming a church after events that led to the deaths of your fellow man is enough to make anyone turn in his grave.
The irony of it all quite often goes completely over the heads of some people, even people who really ought to know better. Sometimes I despair of these so-called "Christians".
Down at the end of the rue Notre Dame we have on our right the little Parc la Cetière. This is an interesting little park because in 1972 during the programme of restoration of this area, an archaeological investigation uncovered the remains of five houses that were built here in 1685.
In front of us though is one of the magnificent wall-end murals for which Québec is famous. There are several of these dotted about and they are all really well-done. One day I'll have to track down a few more of them.
Here I climb back up the hill towards the Prescott Gate to look back to the rue Notre Dame end of where I took the previous photograph.
You might think that that's a painting too, but it isn't. What this photograph actually proves is that when governments and official bodies actually put their minds, their hearts and their souls into it, it's possible to carry out a first-class restoration of a historic area, because from here these two buildings look magnificent. It's a lesson that many other governments and official bodies would do well to learn, given the ruthless sweeping-away of much of the western world's heritage in the name of progress.
We aren't going that way quite yet, though. We're going back down the hill in the opposite direction towards the Riviere St Charlesas there is yet more to see around there. It's quite a walk away from here, so we need to put our best foot forward.