Quebec City

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Quebec City

Founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 at the point where the broad St. Lawrence narrows enough to form a strong position capable of commanding maritime traffic, Quebec began as a small fur-trading post. Over the century and a half of French rule it grew into a substantial city, modest in population but combining all the functions of a colonial metropolis. As the capital of New France, it housed the civil and ecclesiastical administration, in addition to its role as military strongpoint, seaport, and commercial center of the colony.

Along the river at the foot of Cap Diamant lay "Lower Town," an area of shipyards, warehouses, wharfs, and taverns. Because of Quebec's severe winter climate, shipping was mostly limited to a few busy months in the summer. From Lower Town, a sinuous road led up a cleft in the cliffs to the plateau above. Upper Town's landscape was dominated by the palaces of the governor, the intendant, and the bishop, as well as the cathedral, the seminary, the hospital, and a number of convents. One of the peculiarities of Canada under the French regime was the complete absence of municipal institutions; colonial officials appointed by Versailles established market days and laid down fire regulations.

Improvised fortifications begun in the seventeenth century were gradually improved, so that by the 1750s Quebec could boast reasonably complete city walls. A British siege was repelled in 1690, but when the enemy returned with an overwhelming invasion force in 1759, the city finally fell. For two months prior to the decisive battle of September 13, Major-General James Wolfe's army had subjected the civilian population, already weakened by hunger, to a ferocious bombardment. And yet, although the British regime began amidst ruin and devastation, the city rose from the ashes to resume its position as the capital city of Canada, only to yield its economic and demographic supremacy to upstart Montreal in the nineteenth century.

see also Empire in the Americas, French; Fur and Skin Trades in the Americas; New France.


Charbonneau, André Yvon Desloges, and Marc Lafrance. Québec: The Fortified City: From the 17th to the 19th Century. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1982.

Hare, John, Marc Lafrance, and David-Thiery Ruddel. Histoire de la ville de Québec, 1608–1871. Montreal: Boréal, 1987.

Harris, R. Cole, ed. Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol. 1: From the Beginning to 1800. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986.

Havard, Gilles, and Cécile Vidal. Histoire de l'Amérique française. Paris: Flammarion, 2003.

Lachance, André La vie urbaine en Nouvelle-France. Montreal: Boréal, 1987.