Good Old Quebec City


After living for so many years in this country, I was glad that my trip to Quebec City, capital of the province of Quebec, finally happened this Easter long weekend. My GPS told me that my 800km one way trip would take some 9 hours but I made it in a little more than 8 leisurely hours including pit stops and pee breaks. I knew that I was in Quebec territory when highways turned into autoroutes, road signs and billboard ads became rather cryptic and the familiar 3 letters of your favorite chicken house turns into this . The so called Charter of the French Language law was passed by the province of Quebec National Assembly in August 1977. The province made it mandatory “to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business”. Since 1977, you need to travel at your own risk in Quebec highways and throughfares. Heck, I had a hard time plugging in French street names on my GPS let alone the voice prompter of my GPS not knowing how to speak French street names correctly. The message is crystal clear. It is their place and you better learn their language – take it or leave it.

I am normally satisfied with self help tour brochures but for lack of  time I opted to take the bus tour of old Quebec City along with my wife and daughter. I was glad I did because I had a crash course on Quebec’s illustrious history and appreciated the reason for the centuries old squabble between the French and the Anglos in this country. I now understand the separatist spirit of the Quebecers which up to this day and age remains tamed but precariously alive. French explorer Samuel Champlain arrived in 1608 to establish a colony for mother France on a plateau along the St Lawrence River to be later called Quebec. The name “Quebec”, which comes from the aboriginal Algonquin word kepék meaning “(it) narrows”, originally referred to the area around the Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap (wikipedia).


As the tour guide went around the old fortress city giving us a brief history lesson, I also learned that the British eventually captured Quebec City in 1759 and jointly ruled Quebec for centuries. In last year’s year long fete celebrating 400 years of the founding of Quebec, many Quebecers weren’t too keen on the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, where some 4,000 invading British troops overwhelmed the French defenders. Sentiments die hard, even for centuries. Even until today, the French-Anglo rift although much subdued still exists. Die hard separatists prefer to fly its blue fleur-de-lis flag over the Canadian flag.  Two national referendums on Quebec autonomy were conducted and both resulted in favor of the sovereignists. The last one held in 1995 resulted in a 48%-52% narrow split in favor of remaining in Canada.

The tour bus guide without a hint of reservation tells his passengers in heavily accented English – ” the cities of Toronto, New York, Chicago or even Montreal can be called cosmopolitan, but Quebec City is not. We are unicultural”.  He simply meant that Quebec City is where it all started and its people struggled mightily hard to preserve its language , traditions and culture until this day. In this place there is no compulsion to speak English. Although English units are being taught in school, you can be unilingual French all your life and enjoy its music, movies and arts and advance in your chosen profession without fear of any setback. Quebec City is an amalgamation of the old and new world yet you get the feeling that you are in Europe and not North America. The Quebec countryside with its farm houses and narrow streets is charming and pretty but unmistakably North American though, if not Atlantic Canadian, not quite the same as the rural setting I saw in Southern France. The province of Quebec is truly a distinct society, proud of its rich culture and heritage, it’s people progressive and hardworking. I wish it remains in Canada forever. Que Dieu vous bénisse – Quebec !

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