This is the Year To Visit Québec! by Bonnie and Bill Neely

This year Québec City, Ville de Québec, has many special events and festivals planned to celebrate her birthday January through October and invites you to join the fun. This beautiful city, the oldest in North America and the first permanent French settlement on the continent, has now seen four centuries pass while she just grows more beautiful as a World Heritage Treasure. Her official birthday is July 3, since on that date in 1608 Samuel de Champlain planted the French flag and named the new settlement Kebec “the place where the river narrows”…the Great St. Lawrence waterway. Among the birthday presents are a wide new boulevard and long greenway beside the river in Lower Town and a nearly thirty feet high lighted fountain. The already world-renowned Winter Carnival and Summer Festivals will be grander than ever, with extra special events day and night.

The mighty St. Lawrence River attracted fur traders to its many tributaries for the wealth that lay in the thick pelts of many native animals. The River is always a sure source of food, and in early discovery days this was the easiest way to explore the area and is still a busy transport pathway. Original laws for the settlers required that all farms be allotted river frontage, so even today from planes you’ll see long, thin strips of land divisions. From the water the banks look like “one big village of farmhouses” for several hundred miles on both sides of the River. For over 1,000 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean the river flows, with tides sometimes twenty feet high.
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Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico. This, the oldest city in North America, has survived six sieges. Within the fortified walls of the Old City are well preserved original houses and churches. In Lower Town at Museum Maison Chevalier, built in 1752, you’ll see a fine French Canadian furniture collection. Docents in traditional dress are throughout the city as hosts to visitors. Built on two different levels, the Upper Town is up steep stairways and roads and is enclosed by historic walls and is where you’ll find the famous Frontenac Hotel, cathedrals and Town Hall. The Lower Town with quaint narrow streets where the harbor stretches is busy with river commerce. Québec City was laid out in 1881 in French Renaissance style, designed by Eugène E. Taché with bronze statues done by French Canadian sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert The beautiful Hôtel duParliament is the province’s National Assembly Building.
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Québec City and Montréal became rival cities back in early settlement days. Because Québec was the first that ships from France reached, the city enjoyed the first deliveries of goods, including European goods for sale and the best looking women to become wives. Often Québec citizens purchased the entire shipment and resold goods to Montréal for profit. Today the rivalry continues because of ice hockey, the national sport. The Montréal Canadiens and Québec Nordiques are the BIG rivals. Young children learn to skate by pushing a chair on the frozen ponds.
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Québec City’s Winter Carnival in February is world famous, and this year will be the grandest of all celebrations. See the fabulous outdoor ice sculptures and be sure to visit the famous Ice Hotel, with its walls and furnishings constructed each year in November entirely of ice, only to melt in spring! Go for the skiing in twelve to fourteen feet of natural snow and for long dark winter nights dancing with the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Hundreds of kilometers of trails are perfect for cross country skiing and in the other seasons these are wonderful hiking and biking trails.
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Montréal is a very cosmopolitan city and is home to nearly half the province’s population, with over one-third of these being of many different ethnicities. These mixes of cultures help raise awareness, world consciousness and understanding among locals. The city is known for its great ethnic restaurants with inexpensive meals. As you mix with the people or sit for coffee or dining it is fascinating to hear residents switch easily between French and English and often other languages. Shop-aholics love the many department and boutique stores on Rue St. Catherine, and winter cold is no hindrance because the city has nine miles of shopping below ground with over 1,000 stores. Montréal has also been the center of fur trade for over 100 years. You’ll find prestigious theater productions and excellent concerts by l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. This is a city that appreciates culture.
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We recommend Montréal Airport Hilton Hotel, just a ten-minute free shuttle ride from the airport. You’ll discover elegant French cuisine, including fois gras and escargot, in its surprisingly wonderful Jardin Restaurant.
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In spring bring your boots for slush. Watch busy farmers as you drive through the countryside and see Canada Geese in V formations against blue skies returning to their breeding grounds. The St.Lawrence Seaway is thawed and thriving with commerce. You’ll enjoy sugaring parties at the busy sugar shacks, and baseball until October. The French Canadians love the sport so much they coined French terms for it, and the stadia are usually filled with fans who love to sit outside in sunshine.
In summer, which does not start until the end of June, fishing, water sports, tennis, golf, and camping provide everyone with fun they enjoy. Be sure to bring sun screen and mosquito repellent. Street markets are beautiful arrays of color with fruit and vegetables locally grown. The aromas of French bakeries and European cafes beckon any time of year and retain aspects of the art and charm of France. You’ll even find artists creating in the streets. In autumn visitors flock to see the amazingly brilliant colored leaves, realizing that the photos on calendars are not enhanced! Locals cut firewood, put up protective snow fences, insulate roofs and windows, and enjoy good wines from their harvest. The picturesque settings with a riot of color provide artists’ and photographers’ dream locale.

French people love parties, festivals, and celebrating the joy of life, joie de vivre. Of course there are local festivals celebrating whatever is in season throughout Quebec all during each year: jazz, blueberries, pigs, camping apples, folk music, humor, theatre, and whatever else entices friends to gather to share warm liquids or cold brews and enlivened talk and good times. You can check the calendar of the region you choose to visit for the current scheduled days of festivals. The French Canadians love celebrations, and this year will be their best!